Chronic Pain and How Mind-Body Awareness Leads to Acceptance

In 2002, I suffered from a concussion and head injury trauma to my head, neck, and back. For months after my injury, I suffered from intense headaches (called Occipital Neuralgia), dizziness, and extreme pain in my head, neck, and back. Years have passed since my trauma, but the pain remains in memory of my upper back and neck.

As I entered college, I still suffered from severe back and neck pain, along with migraines from my injury. My friend insisted that I try yoga with her and that it could help possibly help me with my pain. I decided to try a class and figured why not? I’ll at least give it a shot.

The minute I stepped into my first class, I struggled. It was incredibly difficult and honestly not enjoyable for me at all. It was the opposite of what I thought yoga was: relaxing, slow-paced, and soothing. My mind raced, hoping for the class to end. Not only was the mental aspect hard for me, the physical part was too. I was a tumbler, a gymnast my whole life who trained with strength, flexibility, endurance, but yoga was different. It was all of these things, but also incorporating breath and mental strength through holding poses for extended times.  When I reached Savasana, I was like thank God, I made it through this class. The day after my first class, I was so sore that I could barely walk. However, I felt so different. I was more in tune with my body and my breath.

After a few more classes, I felt a transformation in my whole body. I started paying attention to my breath, incorporating my breath to movement and also to strength. I started noticing my body. My awareness tuned into my inner self. This strength was different than anything I experienced before in my life. It was not just physical strength, but also mental strength and clarity.

I noticed the impact this practice had on my daily life. I was more grounded and because I was more grounded, I became aware of my body and how much my pain took over my entire body and mind to the point where I retreated in this pain. Becoming more aware of my body and tuning into this pain, breathing into it through my yoga practice helped me accept my pain and also helped me manage it. After consistently practicing yoga, my pain became bearable. I became aware of my pain when it showed up in my life and in my body. Acceptance of this helped me breath into it and focus on the present moment, instead of retreating into the pain and tensing up to only make it worse. To me, yoga was my life saver. For the first time in my life, I felt like I could accept, be in the present, focus, and control my pain.

I finally found a practice that helped me control my breath, thoughts, and my body as a whole system: a connected system.

After leaving college, I became a research fellow at the National Institutes of Health in a Neuroplasticity laboratory. I wanted to make a difference in helping others with depression and brain injuries. During this time, I was dealing with a lot of personal and family issues and was not practicing yoga regularly, while adjusting with being out of college early and starting a new, intense job. My chronic back pain came back.  Here it was again, in the same areas that I hit when I fell. My back pain was so debilitating, I would be up all night with spasms that felt like knives stabbing me, knocking the wind out of me.

After working at NIH, I began my training as a PhD student in genetics. My back pain only became worse. I kept pushing forward and pushing myself through the pain because I felt that I had no other choice. I went to countless physicians, physical therapists, underwent steroid injections, muscle relaxants, systemic steroids, and nothing helped.

I was at a breaking point. I was hopeless. A prisoner of my pain. One day sitting in lab, I received an email from a fellow postdoc who started teaching yoga classes at my center. I sat at my desk thinking to myself, I need to go back and start up my practice again. I decided to go to her class. Again, I struggled to start. After attending more yoga classes at my lab, I decided to make the effort to consistently practice at a studio near me.

After forming a consistent practice, I felt a major difference. My back pain was not gone, but I felt like it was becoming better. It was becoming “manageable” and I began to accept my pain.  I was feeling more in synch with both my mind and body: with my emotions, with my thoughts. I also started building more confidence, accepting what is, and listening to my body. This practice is a life-changer to me and has made such an impact in my life as my healer.

By listening to my body, I realized how my body holds the truth to my life and myself. By unlocking this truth through yoga and through Phoenix Rising yoga therapy, I have learned to accept my traumas and my pain, to change my life, and to work towards balance: emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually.

This story is very close to my heart. It is my inspiration to share with others dealing with pain and who have endured traumas. Every day, I am gaining more awareness, acceptance, and truth that are giving me tools to deal with my pain and helping me live a fuller life true to myself. I want to share this practice with others so they too can listen to their body as a healer for acceptance and inner truth in their lives.

About the Author

Sarah Ferrante, Ph.D.

Leave a Reply