After a Crisis of Pain
by Mia Juhn
I thought that Sarah Warren’s Clinical Somatics Level One & Two Courses would help me overcome pain. I had no idea how profoundly it would go beyond that to change my life’s course.
I had pain that would mount during the day, incapacitating me by afternoon unless it had ambushed me earlier in the day. Its origin was mysterious. I was otherwise in superb general health.
I had been through two prior pain episodes in my life for which I had chased a cure from specialist to specialist, months of reading, purchasing of gizmos, searching from science to folk healing. The efforts and frustrations of forcing myself through these ordeals only to find a dead end was often more upsetting than enduring the physical pain. It became a showdown of confidence, on the one hand to make others understand and believe my condition, and on the other hand to understand and believe what they claimed would help me. I was skeptical, bewildered, embittered, and ultimately very isolated inside my pain, inside the limitations pain placed on my life.
In both past cases, I overcame the pain eventually and returned to normal life. When this most recent episode manifested itself, I saw the same pattern. I would now have to seek the cause of a new, likely fathomless mystery about the human body to be able to get through the basic demands of daily life. In the prior pain battle a few years back, I had kept a numbered list of all of the things I tried, all of the practitioners, methods, aids, remedies. The list amounted to 83 dead ends.
When the latest pain episode began to look like it was not going away and would take up residence in my body, perhaps begin to take me apart bit by bit into declining old age, I did not feel strong enough to take up the challenge of finding relief. Being already exhausted by pain, the idea of lifting up the burden of searching to find a cure made me turn my face to the wall, figuratively and literally. I decided to just maneuver around the pain as best I could even though it was closing in on me, limiting me more and more.
I came across Sarah Warren’s YouTube video, Release Your Tight Psoas with Pandiculation, and was astonished that my pain dissolved immediately. Instead of spending the rest of that day in bed, I was up and about feeling supple, capable, and energetic.
The video led me to her website, which led me to her book. I don’t know how to praise her book enough without first saying what sets it apart from other books, because I have read so much in so many fields from muscle chemistry to body mechanics to mind-body interactions, inquiries and opinions from many academic disciplines and popular trends.
It strikes me that most of these books are the products of vanity and competition, collections of facts and opinions that are lumped together topically. They remind me of the connect-the-dots drawings for children. Hey, here are a bunch of things, connect them and see what you can make of it. The authors are primarily concerned with their own reputation and constantly upstage their mission and message with how important they are, who they know, what their career details are, what fame they are headed for. They have never decided who they are trying to communicate with and how best to do that. The connection is never made. It is as if they are writing purely to establish themselves as celebrated for posterity, for generations that will come and admire them, for colleagues and competitors that will envy them, never for the person who picked up the book because of the promising title. If they think about the reader, it is only in the sense of marketing. Likewise, they do not honor their subject. They use it to boost their status, to show off. If it is a jumbled mess of things they gleaned in a literature review, they only mind if it is not fancy enough to pass off as the latest and best knowledge.
Now the comparison with Sarah Warren’s The Pain Relief Secret. In her book, teaching and learning meet. Every aspect of the book is about how she endeavored to understand as much as she could and present it in a way that would serve people who could benefit from it. She never gets in the way of what she is saying, but one is aware of her behind the scenes going thoroughly, wisely, effectively through everything she could unearth that is related to her research, then honestly and responsibly weeding through it and organizing it as it best flows to offer insight. The presentation is always appropriate, plainly but gracefully presented. Not too much, not too little, nothing impedes that delivery of information. She is naturally humble and respectful before both her subject and her reader, following through on her mission of transmitting what she has learned for the good of the reader. I read the entire book inwardly smiling and nodding. As with everything she has written and produced, the flow is effortless. I just had to point my little boat into the current and float.
Immediately afterward, I read Thomas Hanna’s book Somatics and feel that if I had come across it first, I would have found it interesting but would not have been successful in applying the knowledge. Sarah Warren provided the bridge to healing and beyond. Her book does not exploit Hanna to promote herself, as others have done, but makes accessible and effectively extends what he started.
Before I had even finished reading The Pain Relief Secret, I subscribed to her Level One Course. The first few lessons had amazing effects. I immersed myself in the sessions and looked forward to them.
Then, the unexpected. The pain returned even worse than before. I could barely make it to the floor for a lesson and afterwards the pain was worse, making getting up from the floor so painful that I decided to stop the lessons altogether. Likely another dead end.
After two weeks of increasingly restrictive pain, I decided to try again, because the Arch & Flatten had helped. I did this several times a day for several days. I got beyond the impasse. I gradually worked my way through the entire Level One Course.
What made the difference is that I went back through all of Sarah’s written and verbal guidance. Instead of just reading it to get through it, I went into the reading just as I was learning to go into my body. There was so much there that I had only read as concepts, but had not comprehended. When I applied what I learned from her writing, the lessons changed. Then the lessons really became lessons, in that I learned from them. This is not cerebral learning, though one can analyze it and put labels on things. It is experiential learning, somatic learning.
Everything I needed was there, hiding in plain view. In Standing Awareness, how many times did I hear but not listen when her soft, musical voice encouraged me to notice but not try to change what was currently going on in my body. When I finally opened to this practice, I was able to include the anxious, angry, nagging sensations inside, and my somatics practice increasingly included more and more from my being than merely my physical pain.
My lessons are far more than a physical therapy or exercise. They are a portal to a new way of living. My discoveries have been profound. Every lesson is different each time I experience it. I can fully relax into it because of Sarah’s exquisite planning and creating. I can let go into the process with trust in her guidance. I continue to comb back through what she has written, to go back through the lessons, always realizing how superficially I experienced them before.
I came to these lessons for pain relief, but without an inkling of the profound changes that would come about in my entire outlook and inward looking of my life. Learning to listen to not just my physical body but my inner body, making important connections for the first time, breaking open bad habitual connections.
A valuable discovery nearly overlooked is her Meditation Series. Before, I considered relaxation to be a vice, idleness for empty people, an indulgence that wastes time. Through her guided meditation, I found healing relaxation with effects reaching beyond descriptions I could give them.
I try to never confuse the messenger with the message. I have found merit in some of the things presented by sources I do not esteem. Likewise, I have found foolish notions from sources I consider reliable.
So the fact that I appreciate who Sarah is should not be relevant, but I mention it here because I am always aware that the gentle, lovely, wise, relevant, meaningful effects have come into my life because of who she is. She demonstrates the core ideas of somatics in the many aspects of what she offers, what she does and how she does it. Integrity is not something you can aspire to. You either have it or you don’t. It is imparted from her nature.
I compare this to the Alexander and Feldenkrais lessons I tried, which gave me temporary sensations but did not develop into anything I could rely on. My pain is not totally gone and its origins are still mysterious, but I have gone from being in intense, incapacitating daily pain to an inconvenient spasm every few days.
Two weeks ago a new challenge took me by surprise. A dentist botched injections and damaged nerves and muscles so that I cannot open my jaw, a condition that can take weeks or months to heal and is excruciating. I have not felt that this condition is in charge, as I normally would have felt. It is just something occurring in my body. Looking ahead after just concluding Level One, I am glad to see that the Level Two Course deals with jaw issues among many new explorations.
I am out of my prison of pain. I feel that whatever I now learn is for keeps, because it is something I develop, not something someone tries to convince me about. I feel new space opening up everywhere.
I am grateful that Sarah Warren made her decision to teach.
If you are reading this to decide about taking courses from her, I want you to know that it requires no effort. It isn’t like deciding to start up some treatment or exercise regimen. It is like going for a massage, a dip in a spa, a heartful talk with your best friend. You will slip into it happily and you will embark on a journey you never expected.
If you reach an impasse like I did, go back and read again, practice again. It is practice, where learning and teaching meet.
The Pain Relief Secret: How to Retrain Your Nervous System, Heal Your Body, and Overcome Chronic Pain by Sarah Warren, CSE
Somatics: Reawakening the Mind’s Control of Movement, Flexibility and Health by Thomas Hanna