Our bodies are brilliant storytellers, yet oftentimes “the audience” isn’t listening. Our body may sing a song of joy by moving with ease and grace, or send a sharp shooting pain asking for attention. It may flare up as a request to slow down, or relax deeply as a huge “thank you.” Take it all in, each and every detail of the story being told.
These messages constantly being relayed are like little guide posts telling you exactly where you need to go. The repetitive cramping in your foot during a Pilates class, the feeling of tenderness in your lower back every time you spin, the neck tension that appears the morning after yoga—they are all asking you for attention. How should you respond? How can you honor these messages without feeling like you’re “just too weak” or need to be “fixed?” Shouldn’t we assume pain is just part of the process of getting in shape?
The best thing we can do for our bodies is listen and respond with compassion and care. When we respond with the kind of admiration and attention that a child would like to receive after telling their story, our body will continue to speak to us and guide us on the path to embodiment and optimal wellness. When we don’t listen and remain preoccupied with all things external, or if we continue with the movement patterns that are bringing us pain, our body will contract, possibly even go silent, and perhaps come back with a much louder response.
Distinguishing between good pain and bad pain is a perfect place to start. A little soreness in your shoulders after a yoga class can feel really good. A sharp shooting pain, or the inability to put your coat on with ease? Not so good. A symmetrical sense of a challenging glute workout can be an indicator that you’re getting closer to those buns of steel. A one-sided tightness in the center of your glute that nags at you all day long is probably an indicator that you need to modify this exercise.
To strengthen your ability to hear these messages and respond with compassion is a process. Just like when building muscular strength, start light, pay attention to your body’s response, and you’ll hear more and more.
- Listen for signs. Diversify your workouts and give your body time to really feel the repercussions. Take note for 24 to 48 hours after a particular movement practice to listen to your body’s response.
- Honor the signs. Return to that previous movement practice with more awareness of the good or bad pain that your body shared with you. Add progressions or regressions to the exercises to honor those messages.
- Educate yourself. If there’s a movement that’s still not resonating and creating the sense of strength you desire, do some research, learn about the form, or find the proper modification that feels right for you.