“Your class is really great,” said a client, just leaving pilates boot camp this past Monday.
“Thanks so much,” I replied.
I arranged my face compassionately as I waited for her to complete her thought.
“…Actually, I think it’s too hard.”
Which is when I told her that she can always take a break and she can always modify the movement, if it gets to be too much.
“But,” I said, “There’s a difference between good pain and bad pain. Part of growing and maturing in our fitness is distinguishing between the two. Bad pain could be our joints complaining from too much strain cause of improper alignment, insufficient strength–or both–while good pain is what we feel when we are maxing out our muscles. When we are experiencing tiny little tears in the fabric of the muscle–which, as the tears heal, actually makes the muscle stronger–well, it hurts. Or when we’re just plain tired or sore from a past workout–that can hurt, too. But good pain, we welcome. That shaky muscle feeling when we do one more set, despite our extreme muscle fatigue. That last push while we hike up the mountain, though our quads are burning. Those are what let us know we’re growing and getting stronger, actually. Bad pain–well, then we STOP what we’re doing and figure out what’s wrong before continuing.”
I encouraged her to keep coming to class and, though the class won’t actually get easier–it will FEEL easier because SHE will get stronger.
It’s all about perspective.
And since this was simply the end of an exercise class–and not a therapy session–I wrapped up the conversation and decided not to get into how the concept of good pain vs. bad pain actually applies to the whole human experience. Not just the studio.
Let me explain. Today, I did some work on a pilates reformer. If you’ve never seen one, it might help for me to say that it resembles a medieval torture device. There are levers and springs and coils and bars and handles and it’s intimidating until you get to know it.
THEN, it’s awesome.
And, man, it basically forces you to work properly–meaning that some larger muscle group that generally likes to swoop in and save the day, Superman-style (Seriously. I might as well just put a red cape on my quads and call it a day), isn’t available, leaving the targeted muscles isolated and actually, like, working.
And I felt it today. My hamstrings and glutes were all shaky and I was wondering why I was bridging the way a newborn baby foal might take its first steps: tremblingly.
And while whinnying.
Just kidding about the whinnying.
But, also–which is maybe more to the point–it hurt.
But look, guys, I kept doing it because it was GOOD PAIN. The kind that makes me stronger. The kind that, once it leaves, will leave me a better person. The kind that is fleeting–while the results are not.
And that’s the trick: fix your mind on the results.
I literally speak to my mind this way.
(Or try to, anyway.)
“This is good pain, Latshaw; don’t you dare put your leg down now, just cause it hurts; think about what it’s doing for you.”
But what if we thought about pain this way all the time? Outside of the studio, I mean?
What if when our heart hurts, we decide what kind of pain it is. If it’s bad pain (i.e. your manipulative aunt keeps hinting that you look fat in those adorable purple skinny jeans–kind of superficial example, but MAYBE DON’T HANG OUT WITH AUNT RUDE), we stop the activity. We don’t give her a chance to continue it.
Like, every time my friend texts a certain boy, she ends up crying herself to sleep.
Stop the texting. Move on.
But a good pain.
Like when you differentiate from a family you love.
Or when you end a relationship that needs to end.
Or when you are grieving.
Or when you suddenly find yourself the new kid in town with no hang-out friends who are “givens” on a Friday night.
All of this can be good pain. All of this can, yes, completely steam roll us, but then–go on and take a closer look at the person who rises from the ground. I will bet you are stronger. More compassionate. Kinder. Less afraid.
I know this is just an exhausted metaphor, but forgive me, I am gonna join hands with all of our ancestors and talk about the wonder of the pearl one more time.
This beautiful, rare stone that ONLY OCCURS as a result of irritation within the oyster.
What’s that equation?
So maybe, if you’re in pain, think about that pearl. Look for it; it will come. I’ve seen it, actually. And I look forward to finding more.
Both physically and emotionally.
(And don’t even get me started on how completely symbiotic those two things are, anyway.)
(Yes, I am ending this whole post with a parenthetical sentence. What.)