Since my dad died, my physical body has been in some ridiculous, bone-deep pain. My upper body especially feels like a truck ran over me. My right shoulder hurts. (I must admit, this shoulder pain is an old one, a chronic pain that goes back to some un-remembered trigger more than a decade ago.) My rib cage hurts, my neck hurts, my left elbow hurts. No headaches, though, and believe me, I am not complaining about this.
Muscles, tendons, joints, connectors, levers. All tender, all sore. From there, a stiffness goes down to my hips, which feel tight and creaky and like I can barely use them to propel me forward. Most disturbing of all, I have this terrible pain in my right knee which is making me limp, literally. I look like an old sailor when I walk.
Well. This is not acceptable. I am an active, athletic person. I am only fifty-three years old. I should not be falling apart like this.
A friend kindly sent me an email the other day in which he wrote that he hoped my pain was lessening a bit. He was referring to any emotional pain I might be experiencing since Georg’s death, and I wrote back and said, “The feeling is not pain, really. Just a very deep sadness.” However, I think he must have been onto something, because there is definitely pain involved here. I am in pain. End of discussion. In fact, I have been dealing with it since the beginning of October. For some reason, I just wasn’t owning the concept of “pain,” though I have been trying in many ways to relieve it.
My usual “go-to” pain relief methods (red wine, tequila, chocolate, potato chips, more red wine) are not an option here. I am not going to drink or eat this particular pain away. I am also not going to find a person (male or female) who can cheer me up or buoy me up or make my bones hurt less. However, I did try a chiropractor. The first one was not a good fit for me. I am on to chiropractor number two, and he listens better. He suggested icing my knee four times a day and rubbing it with a homeopathic salve called arnica gel. He also gave me permission (validation?) to listen to my body and do what it is telling me to do.
What are you telling me to do, oh body of Lisa?
And the body answers: stretch.
So, although I have done yoga for most of my adult life because it is the groovy thing to do, (and I am a groovy girl) I am doing it now because I must. I must ease my muscles into new strength. I must breathe lubricating oxygen into my joints. I must place my body just so in space and let the bones fall into the sockets that they belong.
I love “down dog,” “triangle pose,” “child’s pose,” and one that my yoga teacher calls “the universal stretch.” I’m not even sure if this last one is a straight-on yoga pose, I just know I love it because it makes me feel like I am spiraling into heaven.
Here it is, the Universal Stretch:
Lay on your back on the floor with your arms outstretched like you are Jesus on the cross. Bend your knees up and set your feet flat on the floor. Shift your hips a couple inches to the left. Straighten your right leg down onto the floor and cross your left knee over your body and try to get it as close as you can to the floor on your right side. Turn your head to the left and look at your left hand. Try to keep your left shoulder pushing to the floor. (This will be a little hard to do.) Lay there for a while and feel how your spine is like a gentle, winding road traversing the countryside of your soul. I mean, after you breathe through how stiff you may feel. Then, do everything on the other side. Try it. You’ll see.)
The woman in the photo is doing the closest thing to the universal stretch that I could find on the Internet. Conveniently, she is situated in a cozy autumn landscape! I would suggest that she turn her head to the left to look at her left hand. Then, instead of pressing on the knee (which is fine to do), I say let go of it and leave it to gravity and the muscles to pull the knee to the ground.
Well, there it is. The countryside of the soul, spiraling into heaven. Not some faraway heaven, but heaven right here on a beautiful autumn day. While I am alive and generally hale and hearty, I am taking responsibility for my well-being. We are born alone, we die alone, and we alone, can take care of ourselves best, no matter what the season.
Sometimes we need doctors, sometimes we need friends, sometimes we need a glass of red wine or a Tylenol or a brisk walk or a short nap, but mostly, what we need to alleviate pain is to be more attuned to our own unique existence. To have the ears to hear what the body says and then, the smarts to listen.