Body Pain or Mind Pain
Is there a difference?
Have you ever had a stressful day and come home to a tight neck or a sore back? I guarantee that you are not alone. This phenomenon is so common that it has made its way into our language. How many times have you heard, ‘she is such a pain in neck,’ or “he is a real pain in my ass?” These are both very common slights, and although somewhat humorous, are actually very insightful.
The body and the mind are reciprocals for all of our experiences. Whereas the body holds aches and pains, the mind carries stress, worry, fear and anxiety. It does this to such a large extent, that most of the worries we have, we are not even aware of. The events don’t have to be catastrophic either. The mind can worry about changing lanes on the freeway, paying bills on time or simply falling asleep at night. The mind is such a vast landscape, it would be impossible address everything we are experiencing. I mean, you could try and make a checklist of everything that you’d like to worry about, but the list would be endless and I think it would be a quite depressing exercise.
There are two solutions to this dilemma and the stress, worry, anxiety or fear has to be processed. It is the same reason that you have to take out the trash when it is full. The autopilot solution is that the mind “processes” or copes with the stress, by introducing pain into the body as a distraction. As long as there is a physical pain to anchor to, the mental angst can be stuffed into the closet. The pain is often associated with shoulders, neck, head and back, hence the languaging we have today. It can also manifest (but not limited to) symptoms such as migraines, stomach pain, inflammation and lethargy. No matter where one experiences the discomfort physically, the cause of the symptom is in the mind..
The conscious solution on the other hand, is to approach mental stressors as they comes up with compassion and mindfulness. This means learning how to listen to the subtle signs the body gives and to attend to the distress through awareness. Mindfulness or awareness is the practice of non judgmentally observing the coming and going of all our experiences. It is the acknowledgement and acceptance of our feelings and the wisdom to know that they too will pass. We can develop this skill through Yoga. We can develop this skill through meditation. We can develop this skills through working with a licenced therapist or a mentor. The important thing is that we have a tool, like a mirror, to show us what we are missing.
I also want to make clear that I am not claiming all physical pain in the body has its roots in the mind. You should always consult with your healthcare provider. What I am advocating is the importance of tending to mental pain with the same regards as we do physical. I believe that mindfulness-based practices, including Yoga and meditation, are a vital parts of both mental health and overall well being.