My physical body has been screaming to me all week, with pains in my shoulder and wrist, cramps, sinus issues, brain fog.
As you might imagine, it’s not exactly helpful to my work.
It’s not a good week for this. But when is it ever a good time?
Pain is one of the largest disruptors to productivity Varying studies try to quantify the dollar value, but you don’t need the information to verify your knowledge.
Check in with your experience:
How much do you get done when your body is in pain?
Common Approaches to Pain
The simple thing to do would be to take a pain killer and move on with my day.
Or I could push through the pain.
Those are the typical paths we take in western culture: numb or ignore.
Look at the pandemic — a different kind of pain, but still illustrative.
The Body Speaks Through Sensation
There’s another option: I can recognize that pain is a messenger, and pause to listen to what my body is telling me.
When your body is sending pain signals it’s harder to focus. This is by design: the pain signals are trying to get your attention.
The body doesn’t have words; it uses a language of sensation. Each twinge is a message. It’s like a kinesthetic Morse code.
The body is a remarkable tool, far more sophisticated than we give it credit for. It knows what it needs, it knows how to heal itself. It just asks that we listen to it.
Unfortunately, we are taught early in life to disregard these messages in favor of what the mind tells us. Or in favor of what gets rewarded in our society: pushing through.
How to Listen to the Body
The only way to hear the messages is to sit in the discomfort of the pain, both physically and mentally.
This means not making the pain wrong, not resisting the pain, not blaming the pain, not questioning why it has to be here now, and not arguing with the pain that it shouldn’t be here and I don’t have time for it.
Instead, I create space to explore it. I choose to get curious and inquisitive about the pain and it’s messages. That means feeling the physical pain and noticing how it changes, as well as noticing what fears arise and what grief calls to be expressed.
I do this both “on my mat” in my physical practice, as well as off the mat as I go about my day. It’s about having a conversation.
And let’s be clear: this is a practice. It unfolds in small steps, holding space for as much as I can tolerate in any moment.
The more I can sit with the pain, the more I explore its edges, the more I expand my capacity to be with it, the better I get at hearing the messages.
What I’ve Learned About Pain
(1) Ignoring, Numbing + Pushing Through Don’t Work
It’s tempting to ignore or numb, to just push through so I can get more work done. But I’ve learned from experience that failure to listen for the sake of short term gains in my work often backfires. The messages get louder, the hits to life and work get bigger. Eventually you don’t get a choice whether to push through, because the body will shut you down.
(2) Fighting Pain Intensifies It
Trying to fight the pain also doesn’t work. Resistance only intensifies the physical pain, and adds layers of complexity that become harder to untangle.
Not only do you have physical pain, but also you have the emotional pain of resisting what is happening, the mental chatter of the mind, and the existential crisis of wondering why is this happening. You have anxiety on top of pain.
When that happens, the energy that could have gone to healing instead goes to fighting reality. Then it takes longer for the pain to resolve.
(3) Listening is Healing
I’ve learned that when I allow spaciousness for listening, the pain typically dissipates on its own.
How to listen to the pain is beyond the scope of this post, but it’s multi-dimensional — involving movement and stillness.
Productivity is Holistic
Holistic Prodictivity is rooted in the understanding that to create your best work and be most effective you need to look beyond time management and workflows, and consider the entirety of your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual being.
Your mind doesn’t travel to your computer or your speaking gigs or your client meetings without your body.
Listening to what your body needs and caring for your physical health is the foundation of everything else.
Taking the time to listen may feel unproductive in the moment, but this is a long game.