Oh, That Feels Good
When we feel hungry, we have no doubt about what we are feeling, and how to respond. When we have to go pee, we have no doubt about what we are feeling, and how to respond. When we hold our breath for a long time, we have no doubt about what we are feeling, and how to respond. In each of these situations, we are certain about what the sensations of our bodies are telling us, and we are certain that there is a perfectly natural, obvious, and useful response that meets our needs completely. When we feel hungry, we eat. When we have to go pee, we go pee. When we feel the need to breathe, we breathe. In Middleway Method, when we talk about paying attention to the sensations of our bodies, and then acting on the natural responses available to us, we are talking about those kinds of simple, real things. When we talk about “the wisdom of the body,” it is a very practical kind of wisdom that we can act upon easily. Accessing the wisdom of our bodies is not a particularly sophisticated skill. It is an ordinary capacity that is built into us at birth.
When we feel muscle tension, soreness, and pain, we have no doubt about what we are feeling, and of course, our natural response is to try to get rid of the discomfort. To this end, we use the tools that we have available to us. Many of us take anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen or analgesic medications like acetaminophen. Many of us enjoy baths, hot packs, cold packs, massage, sleep, cannabis, alcohol, opioids, acupuncture, Reiki, or anything that works. Many of us use more pain, in one form or another, to get rid of our pain. We may use deep tissue massage, triggerpoint therapy, painful stretching, foam rollers, tennis balls, door knobs, or anything else that works. In any case, our goal is to get rid of our pain.
Sometimes, what we do to get rid of our pain works, and sometimes it doesn’t. This hit or miss approach is different than eating when we’re hungry, peeing when we need to pee, and breathing when we need to breathe. Those natural solutions always work when they are applied to their corresponding problems. They are tried and true solutions to obvious needs. So why are the things that we do to get rid of pain less consistent in their efficacy? Because they are not natural solutions that perfectly match their corresponding problems – they are invented solutions, often based on conceptual frameworks rather than the basic laws of nature.
Just as there is a natural solution to hunger that works every time, there is a natural solution to muscle tension, soreness, and pain that works every time. This bold statement isn’t an advertisement for some great healing modality. The solution to muscle soreness isn’t something that someone invented and is now marketing as a miracle cure. No one invented eating when necessary, trademarked it, called it their great idea, and sold it for sixty bucks an hour. Some folks do try to take credit for the benefits of eating. They come up with complicated methods, recipes, and practices, and present them as intelligent solutions, when in fact unprocessed food works perfectly well on its own. The solution to muscle pain from tension is just as simple, just as natural, just as flawless, and just as available to us as eating whole foods. All we have to do is remember what that natural solution is.
Imagine that you have a cut on your hand. You were chopping vegetables, and the knife slipped. It isn’t a bad cut. Just a little blood, and a little pain. Your natural inclination is to suck on it or wash it, and then protect it until it heals. Certainly, you aren’t inclined to massage it or perform movements that hurt and pull it apart. That wouldn’t make sense. We know to leave a cut alone until it heals itself. After some time healing, we can move and touch the area where the cut was without re-opening the wound. Similarly, when we have a painful bruise, it doesn’t make sense to massage it. Massaging a painful bruise hurts, and we are inclined to listen to our basic body wisdom that says, “Don’t do that.” But for some reason, when we strain a muscle doing some strenuous activity, or wake up with a stiff neck, we frequently and repeatedly perform movements that find and produce pain, and then ask therapists to do the same. Clients come in to my treatment room and say, “When I do this, it hurts,” while performing some odd movement that they would never do, except to find and produce pain. My first response to their performance of the painful movement is, “Well, don’t do that.” That’s the message that pain is giving us: Don’t do that. Listening to that voice is the first, simple step in the natural process of reducing pain in the body.
What we’re looking for are the sensations that say, “Keep doing that. I like that. That feels good.” Quite simply, pleasure is the solution to muscle tension, soreness, and pain. I’m talking about the physical feeling of goodness, of relief, of ahh. It never ceases to amaze me how resistant we can be to those kinds of feelings. One of my favorite moments during a Middleway lesson happens when a receiver realizes that they don’t like pain, and instead prefer pleasure. Often it is the kind of person who comes in and says, “You can’t hurt me. I have a really high pain tolerance, and plus I’m always in pain, so pain is kind of relative for me.” They are giving me permission to hurt them further. But remember, they have come in for a lesson because they want relief from their pain. Because they’ve hired me to show them how to reduce their pain, I’m going to provide that service. Sometimes, the first thing I do is hurt them. This meets their expectations, and shows them that yes, in fact, I can hurt them. It also shows them they they do not like pain. Especially when the second thing I do is something that feels great, really pleasant, quite relieving. By showing them the contrast between pleasure and pain, I give them the opportunity to make an informed choice.
Given the choice between pleasure as a solution to pain or pain as a solution to pain, which do you choose?
When was the last time you lay down on the floor and just moved yourself in ways that feel great? Not intense stretches, not searching for those stuck spots and intensifying the feeling of stuckness, but instead just doing things that feel really good? What does really good feel like? Why is it elusive? In truth, it is very simple, very clear, and very obvious. The problem is that we are so attuned to paying attention to problem sensations that our sense of solution sensations has atrophied to near blindness. Next time you go to get a massage tell your therapist, “I want you to only do things that feel great, and if you aren’t doing something that feels great, I’m going to make suggestions and requests until we figure out what feels great.” For many therapists, this will be confusing. Many therapists are stuck in a technique rut that mainly consists of pressing on things that hurt. For them, the task of doing things that feel great may be nearly impossible. It might work better just to ask a good friend to do it. I call it the “Princess Treatment,” “Caveman Massage,” or simply, “Press here.” As the receiver, your job is to figure out what feels great, and tell the person helping you. When you find that contact that makes you say, “Oh, yeah… That feels great…” and you breathe a sigh of relief, feeling the tension melt away, it’ll seem silly that we need to talk about this at all. It is painlessly obvious.
When we find our solution sensations, they are completely satisfying and completely effective, just like eating when we’re hungry. The whole body says, “Ahh…” The emotional body that’s been on guard relaxes, let’s down it’s guard, and rests. The real lessons to be learned come when we confront the fundamental attitudes with which we approach the tension and discomfort in our muscles. For many of us, it is quite difficult to stop pushing where it hurts. Facing the choice between doing something that hurts and doing something that immediately relieves our pain, we find that we are deeply habituated toward finding and increasing our pain. We may be so accustomed to that behavior that it may seem absurd, impossible, or strange to even consider not doing things that hurt. But in order to break out of a cycle, we have to do something new. So the next time you’re feeling muscle tension, soreness, or pain, try doing something that feels really good. Not “hurts so good,” but, “Ahh… Oh, yes… Oh, that feels good,” with a sigh of relief.