Pain is Your Best Friend • Pain as a Teacher

“Pain is your best friend. It is infinitely more honest with you than pleasure. Despite what you might think, the painful experiences you have had benefit you far more than the pleasurable ones, even though most of us spend our lives trying to duck and hide from them. But when you can centre yourself and be able to look pain in the eye, then you have transcended the limits of your ego and this humanity. It is then that you enter into the possibility of becoming a great being.”
—Swami Chetananda

(above) My MRI Scan

My Back Injury

I was a healthy, fit and flexible yoga teacher. Then suddenly, two years ago I suffered a debilitating back injury: A right sided paracentral disc protrusion which impinged on my right S1 nerve root. Basically, lower right sided back and hip pain and sciatica.

I couldn’t sit down on a chair, or on the floor for four months and I had to literally kneel at the table to eat meals. Every day my friends and family could see the pain I was suffering in my eyes. The right side of my lower back and my entire right leg was in constant pain, as the sciatic nerve was constantly in contact with my protruding disc. That’s one quarter of my body in constant pain, day and night.

My treatment consisted of x-rays, painkillers that knocked me out, an MRI scan and day surgery with nerve block injections, (to the right sacroiliac joint, the facet joint and the right lumbar nerve root S1 at L5/S1). I have seen physiotherapists, osteopaths, Reiki healers and chiropractors, all of whom have helped along the way. I am much improved now but I still suffer with pain every day. I no longer take painkillers every day but my piriformis aches and my hips feel “old“. I’m now learning to live with mild pain, which sometimes stops me sleeping well.

Fortunately, as a yoga teacher, I have kept moving. I managed to continue to teach and I also studied the YHLB Yoga for Healthy Lower Backs Institute course. I’m now one of just 400 teachers in the UK qualified to teach this specialised and effective course. I am also eternally grateful to Clare Hyland at Ashtead Chiropractors, for her amazing care and being the one who made me feel pain free for the first time again.

Lessons That Pain Has Taught Me

Lesson 1

Yoga is not about touching your toes. It is the journey down there. One of the hardest things for me was to go from being very flexible to not being able to do even the most basic and restful of postures. I couldn’t even rest in child pose or hug my knees into my chest on my back in apanasana. The realisation that your body can’t do the things it once did is hard to take. But over the last two years I’ve managed to recover 80% of my flexibility and have finally touched my toes again. I’m just now very careful and mindful of everything I do. It has been a journey but I have learned a lot along the way. I’m grateful for the body I have now. I also realise we are all different and we are where we need to be in our yoga practice and daily lives. Obstacles are put in our way for us to learn from them.


Lesson 2

Pain makes you more mindful of your body and more grateful for it when you are free from pain. We don’t normally notice our bodies when they feel good. But we always notice our physical bodies when they ache or cause us pain. Having pain makes you really aware that you have a body. I felt more alive with pain but now love the moments when my body is free from pain.


Lesson 3

Chronic back pain is serious; and unless you have had it you cannot comprehend how it affects your life in every way. Your whole mobility is affected from standing, to sitting to lying down. The pain is so bad you don’t know what to do with yourself, or what position to get in to be most comfortable. You cry. You scream. You may even foolishly think you can go camping, (I live to tell the tale!) You take painkillers that make you so tired you can’t even walk to collect your children from school. You can’t drink and you can’t drive (obviously never together any way, but because of the painkillers and because you can’t sit down). And you feel old and immobile. You are the worst dinner guest ever, as you are in so much pain and can’t sit down, drink or be fun; (you are already a pain in the a**e as you are a vegetarian!) You lose your confidence and sense of self because you are not used to being so useless; and you really don’t feel like yourself – it’s as if all of the fun and youth has been sucked out of you! Basically it was the most painful year of my life. I have had 2 children and this back pain was worse than the birth of my first child – a painful 36 hour labour! So I have been there and it sucks!! And I do not want to go there again.


Lesson 4

Pain has made me a better teacher. I wasn’t able to demonstrate postures for months so I hope that I now describe postures in more detail and with more clarity than before. I’ve also learnt a lot about my own body other peoples’ bodies by really watching what people are doing and how carefully they enter and leave postures. I also consciously do not teach certain postures, as some over rotate the hips and that can put pressure on the sacro-iliac joint or put too much pressure on the lower back and hips.

It has also made me more sympathetic of others who are in pain, who are in recovery, or who who have suffered in the past.


Lesson 5

Everything happens for a reason. Pain was sent to me for a number of reasons. I saw a number of specialists along my journey to recovery; two of whom separately said to me that the pain was sent to me for a reason. They said that this was a sign to slow down; to turn inwards and reflect about my own path and what I wanted for my future. I know that it was also sent to me so that I continued to pursue my yoga therapy route, of helping others with their back pain and so that I can now empathise with those in pain.


Lesson 6

Pain allows you to let go of your ego. As a yoga teacher and over the last 16 years of my yoga journey I have learned to compete less with people in life and in a yoga class and not “show off” or try to impress others or my students with ridiculous bendy or complicated positions. Even saying that, I must confess to the odd time I have been caught thinking to myself: “Umm that was pretty good eh, after I have balanced in a headstand having raised my legs from the floor with micro movements to a vertical position!!” Pain allows you to let go of your ego. Having one minute been Miss Flexible to becoming Miss Totally Inflexible, I realised that, to some extent I had not totally left my ego behind. Now after my injury, I do have less ego… Now I think I’d rather let someone else fill my shoes and demonstrate a posture and I also encourage and praise others more. It can never be: “Look at me, me, me!”


Lesson 7

Enjoy improving. Physical pain can cause mental pain. When your body is in pain your mind feels this pain and this affects you on an emotional level. You have to overcome pain on a daily basis, be able to motivate yourself to do the things you would normally do, and essentially be strong for yourself. Pain does not make you happy, it makes you miserable. Pain doesn’t make you confident it strips you of your confidence. Pain makes you feel old, stiff and boring… But you must tell yourself that you can improve your pain. Keep moving. Use your exhale to relax and let go of pain.  Find a YHLB course. Take time out to find out who you really are in these moments of stillness. You will get your new improved and better self back!


More Lessons…

Do you have a lesson that you have learned from your own pain that you can share with us?

Find Help With Yoga at Body Soul Yoga

If you suffer with sciatica or lower back pain you may be interested in finding out more about our Yoga For Healthy Lower Backs Course, or our Private Yoga Therapy Sessions. Please contact us for further details and we hope to be able to help you soon.

Faye x

Posted 27 February 2018