Self-compassion and back pain

Back pain is a big deal. An estimated 80% of the population will suffer from back pain at some point1, and in Australia, 1 in 6 people have chronic back pain.2
Self-compassion can help.

Six months ago, I couldn’t walk.

I was stuck in bed with acute lower back pain. Even standing in the kitchen to make tea was too painful. I’d somehow triggered an old condition of sciatica that gradually got worse and worse.

This condition had previously flared up from time to time, but nothing so dramatic for years. This time however, my approach was more accepting, less resistant. I “surrendered” into the experience.

“Well, if that’s what my body is saying right now, I better listen!”

It didn’t decrease the pain, but it sure felt softer, kinder and eased my tendency to tense up and brace against the discomfort.

As well as following medical advice, I tackled the emotional and mental side of back pain with self-compassion. Every day I practised Affectionate Breathing, Loving Kindness or Giving and Receiving Compassion, specifically for my back.

I religiously asked myself, “What do I need?” and asked friends, family and colleagues for more help. I felt so grateful to them, and this felt new and unusual to my proud, independent self. I gave that self some kindness and forgiveness.

Although I’m speaking about back pain here, as this was my personal experience, the evidence suggests that self-compassion can help with all kinds of chronic and acute pain.³

Mindfulness helped me discern between when I needed rest and when I was just avoiding exercise. I did gentle physio exercises every day. The inflammation died down with medication, and soon I returned to walking and swimming. I was listening to my body’s needs with more sensitivity than ever. Dancing slowly around my living room one night felt so good, answering a heartfelt wish and feeling the joy of moving again.

After a lovely, long Loving Kindness practice one day, I felt like exploring any unmet needs around my back pain. Something that “pinged” for me emotionally was sometimes feeling unsupported in life. So I called a counsellor and started exploring any life events that felt related. This was helpful; a great complement to practising self-compassion.

Five Tips for Working With Pain

  1. Give yourself a break! 
  • Acknowledging we are suffering and bringing loving awareness to the pain can help decrease our resistance to the pain.
  • Asking, “What do I need?” Maybe it’s rest, maybe movement.
  • Lowering your expectations of what you can do.
  • Adding rest and self-care breaks into the day.
  • Dropping work or activities that feel too exhausting. Say no, if you can!

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Being a friend to myself: a self-reflection exercise

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This reflection exercise can help us understand if there’s a difference in the compassion we show to others and the compassion we show to ourselves.

During this reflection exercise, we’ll be reflecting on how we treat our friends and how we treat ourselves. We can do this either with pen and paper, or without.

You’ll need to put aside about 10 minutes to do this.

“Be gentle with yourself, learn to love yourself, to forgive yourself, for only as we have the right attitude toward ourselves can we have the right attitude toward others.” ~ Wilfred Peterson.

Taking a few moments to sit and settle into the present moment. Making ourselves comfortable. Allowing ourselves a few easy, deep breaths… with a sense of ‘letting go’ on the out-breath. Then allowing the breath to settle into a natural rhythm. Closing the eyes and scanning through the body from head to toe, noticing any areas where we’re subtly holding onto tension… and bringing some kindness to those areas. Perhaps even offering ourselves a silent inner ‘Awww…’, allowing our heart to melt a bit with each ‘Awww.’ If we like, using the out-breath as an opportunity to let go of tension a little bit more each time.

Continue reading “Being a friend to myself: a self-reflection exercise”

Self-compassion break

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Self-compassion break

This short practice trains us to bring mindfulness, common humanity and self-kindness to our suffering.

If we’re currently experiencing emotional discomfort or suffering, we can work with this.

Otherwise, we’re invited to think of a situation in our lives that is difficult, that is causing us stress. Calling the situation to mind, and seeing if we can actually feel the stress and emotional discomfort in our body.

Now, saying to ourselves:

1. “This is a moment of suffering…”

This is mindfulness, acknowledging what is happening.

Other options include:

“This hurts.”
“Ouch!”
“I’m feeling stressed.”

2. “Suffering is a part of life…”

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Self-care break

We all need to stop from time to time and recharge our batteries. Here’s a practical, 3-min self-care exercise that can decrease stress and increases self-awareness, self-compassion and resilience.

This practice uses the acronym S.N.A.C.K.

S is for Stop and self-care. Permission to stop. We can lift our eyes from our screens, perhaps looking at something soothing like the view out of a window, a plant or a family photo. In this phase, we can investigate a soothing touch… placing a hand on the heart or belly, rubbing the arm, hugging ourselves – whatever feels reassuring.

Once we’ve found our soothing touch, we can appreciate this for a moment. Taking in the warmth from that contact or the comforting sensations from the reassuring rub.

Now we can begin taking soothing breaths. Long, easy breaths… exhaling fully on the out-breath… encouraging a sense of letting go. Tuning into the nourishing quality of the in-breath, the way the body naturally energises itself with oxygen.

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The best improv and writing tool ever

Are you stuck for ideas for your scenes and stories? Want a tool to help you start now, with no thinking required? Want to instantly find a character, activity, situation and sense of urgency?

This might be the tool for you!

In my opinion it is the best improv and writing tool ever.

I found it by accident while improv-swotting for the Wurzburg Improv Festival. I haven’t improvised for a while, so was searching for a way to practice by myself, before I meet other improvisers and ruin their lives.

After reading a wonderful article on improv by Dan Goldstein, I was inspired by the idea of starting scenes with an ATTITUDE, and an ACTIVITY on a SPECIAL DAY.

Then I remembered the fantastic Brainstormer App! Simply input three lists and they will display on three spinning wheels. Spin each wheel and receive a unique random scene-starter!

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Here are some of the lists I used:

ATTITUDES
Mischievous, depressed, angry, jealous, moaning, virtuous, vain, suspicious, confused, elated, drunk, grieving…

ACTIVITIES
Dancing, hiding, tickling, writing, drinking, polishing, practising, copying, stretching, jogging…

SPECIAL DAY
Olympic final, anniversary of Hitler’s death, our wedding day, the day I admit I love your brother, your birthday, grandma’s 100th birthday, driving test, the day I get knighted…

So a random combination could be:
CONFUSED, COPYING, OLYMPIC FINAL…

…which prompted this scene: the Saudi Arabian team have entered us at short notice into the Diving Finals. We have never dived before! So I put on a video of Tom Daley and we watch and figure out how to dive like a champion!

I tried combination after combination and really enjoyed creating an entrance and first line for the scene it prompted. It also occurred to me how awesome a tool this was for writer’s block or for story generation.

You can make your own categories and lists using the Brainstormer App. If you don’t have a smartphone or iPad, make cards, or simply print your lists, close your eyes and point!

Well happy storytelling, folks!

Let’s see if this simple tool makes us better writers and improvisers : )