Cat From The Mat

Mind the Body Gap

“Pain is inevitable.  Suffering is optional.”  This saying implies a choice.  It also speaks to the mind/body relationship and the possible disconnect between the heart and the head.  When I am emotionally in one place and telling myself that I should be in another, I can feel pain, which is real. But what if the suffering is just my own resistance to reality? 

We live in a culture of chronic pain management, an industry that has grown since the 1970’s.  Having surgery, popping a pill, or numbing ourselves with alcohol can be short-term strategies to help alleviate acute symptoms.  However, the pain may come back in another form, since the origin of the discomfort may not be fully addressed.  Our bodies will speak to us until we listen.

The documentary film “All the Rage” ( explores this topic via the unconventional work John Sarno, MD.  Recently deceased, Dr. Sarno originally focused on how back pain could be an expression of repressed rage as well as other unresolved feelings.  Emotional memories stored in the body manifest as physical symptoms when oxygen is cut off from muscular tissue.  Over time, this O2 deprivation might create dis-ease, turning a local problem into a systemic issue.  

Muscle memory lives in the correspondence between muscles and the Central Nervous System.  Sensory nerves send messages from the muscle spindles to the brain giving feedback.  Then the motor nerves respond from the brain back to the muscles to complete the ongoing communication loop.  This happens so quickly, like a mere reflex.  There is though a moment before and after the nerves enter and exit the brain, known as the synaptic gap.  This is where choice occurs.  If this happens on a micro level, why would we not practice this on a macro scale?

When I get frustrated, I notice that certain muscles contract.  It’s as if I react without thinking.  This contraction creates a holding pattern.  And overtime, when under stress, this tensing has lead to back discomfort. Rather than a nuisance, this physical limitation indicates that my cells are not getting the nourishment that they need.  In that moment, I can recognize this tightening and choose to feel the emotional message before I can address it.  

Slowing down to pause offers agency in how to respond. Trying to control my external environment, as well as other people’s behavior, leads me down a path of increased frustration and mental contraction.  Pain comes from the incongruence between what I want to have happen and what actually is occurring.  I feel relief in knowing that I have the awareness to manage my inner terrain, so that I may find ease.

Yoga is defined as skill in action.  It’s a practice of minding the gap: between the origin and destination of nerves, between inhales and exhales, or pausing before a knee-jerk reaction.  Beneath anger often resides sadness and fear.  Until those emotions are embraced, the root of the issue might never go away.

The next time you get enraged, I encourage you to not try to fix anything; rather, feel the surge of energy in your body and breath into it.  The holding pattern might just pass quicker without leaving any emotional receipts that your muscles have to file away.  This might also alleviate the urge to blame others as well as yourself.  Suffering might be optional, while self-regulation is all the rage!


Cat From the Mat

September 2017