Opening myself to pain

I learned how to do deep relaxation when I was preparing for the birth of my youngest child. I’d had a homebirth a couple of years earlier that went well, but I screamed my way through it because as everyone on the planet knows at least circumstantially, childbirth is painful. I’ve heard it said many time there is no other experience more painful than the process of one’s body opening up to allow a tiny human egress. This could be correct.

Have you ever sat at the top of the highest peak of a dive roller coaster, waiting to free fall 200 feet? It can be difficult not to tense up. In fact, riding a roller coaster can be a very unpleasant (albeit short) experience, one that can at best be suffered through – eyes closed, fingers clenched around the bar, praying for it to end quickly with your life spared.

Well, that’s kind of how I approached my first homebirth in the summer of 1998.

Not the best plan for a peaceful, cozy, joyful experience. Oh it was still a momentous thing giving birth in my home with my husband there, and it was a tremendous feeling of accomplishment to have done it. But my method of dealing with the pain of contractions – to vocalize so loudly and deeply, was a bit traumatic for my husband and probably for my neighbors too.

So for my next pregnancy, I knew there had to be a better way. I started studying deep relaxation and the idea of moving through pain instead of trying to avoid it, get past it, and tense myself against it. In deep relaxation, you stop trying to avoid the pain and you embrace it by allowing all tension to leave your body. One way of describing the process is to imagine standing in knee’s depth at the ocean, facing the waves as they come at you. You allow each wave to pass through you, knowing there is a build up, a peak, and a regress. In childbirth it is much the same. A contraction, which is the vehicle of pain in a woman’s labor, is a wave with the same kind of build up, peak, and regression.

Instead of resisting the pain, I trained myself to go limp with relaxation, imagining myself simply walking through the wave without fear, letting tension drip out of my body through my fingertips. I imagined myself simply letting the baby out, and envisioned the inside of my body softening, relaxing, and opening.

Sound wonky? Maybe – but it worked. My labor with my youngest lasted only about 2.5 hours and it was peaceful – even with a 10 pound baby. You know, it didn’t even really hurt that much. I am still in awe of what a difference relaxation made on my fifth and final journey of childbirth.

Since that early morning on September 9th, 2000, I have incorporated this deep relaxation and the concept of “letting the baby out” into the rest of my life. I’m pretty good at noticing which parts of my body are holding tension and simply letting go. When I let go of tension, I let go of pain. I can envision the inner parts and communicate with my body that it is ok to relax.

For example, when I am stressed or anxious, it tends to show up in my body as a stomach ache. I have learned to close my eyes, go inside myself, and envision my stomach just relaxing. I let every part of my inner body get soft and open up. I walk into the wave of the pain instead of running from it or wishing it away. I’ve gotten pretty good at it.

Oh, and the roller coast thing? It’s exactly the same. When you sit at the top of the hill, hanging there, waiting to drop, trying completely relaxing your body. Just go limp. Just walk into it. Let your arms and legs dangle in front of you as you let your body sink into the restraint bars. Before you know it, you become the bird in flight, swooping, diving, and looping your way to the end of the ride. And it is over much too soon.

My next challenge is to take this technique and apply it to my mind. I may be super tough when it comes to physical pain, but emotional pain is a completely different story for me. I may or may not fall to pieces when confronted with this kind of experience. So it is time, finally, to learn how to walk through and embrace emotional traumas – to “let the baby out” in this area of my life too. I’ll keep you posted.

Being “in my body”

So I’m not ¬†Buddhist, but I wholeheartedly agree with the Buddhist concept of being in one’s body. I must have heard it before, but I recently came to the conclusion that being in my body was a good way to alleviate distress and stress.

I think I must have learned at an early age to “flee” my body because of a desire to avoid the trauma that was happening, whether that trauma was physical or emotional. I learned, in my shame, to exit to another place.

But eventually this no longer served me. Eventually I came to a safe place in my world and I needed to learn how to be with myself. The danger of staying in my body was no longer greater than the the danger of fleeing.

Now, it serves me much better to sit with myself, to go inside, to be in touch with what is going on with my body from a very intimate level. I’m not sure how to explain the way that helps me with dissolving anxiety and physical pain. But it really makes a difference. It calms me and it relaxes my body.

I think what I am doing is integrating the whole me. I’ve been split for a long time and that’s not the healthiest way to be. So integrating, bringing my whole self together by being in my body and by reuniting with past versions of me, is lifting me to new levels of physical and emotional health.

Even in the midst of a crazy season of menopause!