lesson: moving through pain

It’s not the most elegant of activities, let me tell you. I’m sitting on a foam roller - the new, long one my husband just bought me - with my hands behind me on the mat, and rolling back and forth. It takes quite a bit of concentration to stay in the right position, that is, the one where I am not propelling myself off the roller and onto the floor. Several minutes of foam rolling takes a surprising amount of effort, just to hold myself up and balance while rolling onto all the different muscle groups.

The idea of this simple and effective, though seriously uncomfortable device, is to release the fascia around the muscles. Fascia is a clingfilm-like substance that wraps around all the muscles and organs, offering support and reducing friction when we move. Ideally, all these fibres slide past one another easily as we move (imagine long silky, straight hair) but sometimes the fibres can get stuck together (imagine that hair with ice cream in it, for example). Myofascial release by foam rolling is a technique that stretches and smooths this clingfilm, so the body can rid itself of muscle tightness, soreness, and inflammation; it can also help to increase the range of motion of the joints.

Like many people, I have a love-hate relationship with my foam roller. I know it’s good for me, I know it helps my muscle recovery in a way that enables me to keep running or working out when I would otherwise suffer from a limiting level of muscle tightness. But man, it can hurt! The trick, you see, is to find a sore spot and to concentrate the pressure of your rolling right there, where it hurts the most. The pain is an indicator that the fascia needs releasing in that spot, and the pressure of the roller is what will help to release it. 

We don’t get over pain by bypassing it, we get over it by feeling the pain and working through it.

healing pressure

Interestingly, in the week when a persistently sore muscle (and the desire to be able to run, rather than plod) increased my resolve to use my foam roller, I was aware of another nagging pain. While this one was emotional rather than physical, I noticed the same tendency in me to continue on regardless, ignoring the pain until I became uncomfortably aware of the ways it was limiting me.

Anger is not a very socially acceptable emotion, even when the situation merits it. But personally I don’t think that’s the only reason I avoid it: I think that’s down to just how uncomfortable or, more honestly, painful it is. I don’t want to get in touch with the horribly difficult emotion that is anger without knowing that it’s going to be worth it, and I guess I haven’t quite believed that it is.

This week, as I continue to feel betrayed and disappointed at the hands of people we considered friends, a few things have helped me. The first has been intentional conversations with people who are not close to the situation and whom I trust. The gentle prompting of these spiritual directors and trained counsellors has encouraged me that perhaps I can allow myself to feel some of this pain, even allow myself to express anger in some way. I’m coming to see that a bit of controlled pressure on the pain might be tolerable and even helpful in the end. 

The second thing that helped me is something of David Whyte’s I read, in which he says that ‘anger always illuminates what we belong to, what we wish to protect and those things for which we are willing to hazard and even imperil ourselves.’ Suddenly I understood that anger can be a signpost for us of what we love, or value the most. This perspective helps me to see the anger I feel for what it is, an expression of the loss of some things I truly value - not just the potential for future connection and the expansion of possibility I was reaching for, but also the loss of something I believe was good and part of God’s good plan.

I kind of wish there were a foam roller for emotional niggles, you know? Something I could buy in Decathlon that would reliably release all the stuck-together places that stubbornly refuse to slide smoothly over all the bits of me that just want to keep moving forward.

Failing that, for now I will trust the recovery-enhancing potential of regularly making time to pay attention to the places where the pain pokes through. I will breathe my way through the pain, creating colourful language or pictures to express just how sore it feels, and keep submitting to that healing pressure until I am able to move freely once again.


What emotions are difficult for you to express? Where are you aware of pain that gets poked when you are not expecting it? Or perhaps where unresolved emotions are impeding the way you navigate your relationships? What would it look like for you to pause with that painful feeling for a while?


Oh God, my healer. Give me the grace to pay attention to the places in my life where I am hurting, help me to name that pain and to encounter your healing love in that place.