Hakuna Matata: positivity, pain, & associations


"Hakuna Matata." What do you think when you hear that?


...what a wonderful phrase! Hakuna Matata! Ain't no passin craze.


It means no worries, for the rest of your days...


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Yeah, I think of Lion King. And dancing and singing in the jungle.



Maybe there's a reason the phrase pops into my head (along with the song) several times a day.



And maybe not.



Maybe it helps my mindset - that repetition of cheerful, optimistic sentiment. Or maybe it's because of my mindset that I find the song in my head so often.



Maybe I just like it :)



Whatever the case, it's fascinating that because of Disney, this Swahili phrase I'd otherwise know nothing about is forever associated with a happy-go-lucky meerkat and warthog.



Our associations are interesting things. Sometimes they're meaningful, important, and appropriate. Sometimes they help us. And other times, they don't.



Inappropriate associations can cause strange reactions, emotionally and physically. Appropriate associations - curling iron and HOT - can help keep us safe.



I had a nasty incident with a curling iron when I was little. Needless to say, I kept my distance for a long time and I'm grateful to have naturally curly hair :)



How many times have you smelled something in the air that brought you back to a specific place and time? Or illuminated a deeply mysterious longing within you?



A smell, a sound, a sensation...they can all trigger a subconscious, and sometimes emotional response. It can be challenging trying to figure that all out.



When it comes to movement, many people have subconscious associations that can bring on pain. I'm sure I do.



The environment you're in, the people you're with, the language being used all affect your experience with your body.



I’ve witnessed how telling someone to "squat" or "lunge" induces sharp knee or back pain. But if I have them step and reach to my hand (same movement, different language) they feel nothing.



The language changed the experience. Maybe it detached them momentarily from their past associations.



I've worked with clients who could barely do anything in the gym without pain. They moved gingerly, timidly, seemingly afraid of the equipment and how their body might respond.



Sometimes we'd spend the entire session breathing, stretching, and doing VERY gentle exercise.



And then I'd find out they spent SIX straight hours gardening...and did so on a regular basis. With minimal discomfort.



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I've devoted much of my time, energy, and money to learning more about the body and how to help it feel and function better. But our nervous system is astoundingly complex, so please don't get the idea that I can explain exactly what the hell is going on.



I know for sure that your pain, and other peoples' pain, is very real. Your experience is yours alone, and it is VALID. It's also very complicated. It might or might not have to do with a structural damage or inflammation.



Your past experience, your subconscious and conscious expectations and beliefs, your levels of stress, and your breathing - among other things - can all influence how your body feels in any given moment.



Do you feel threatened? In danger? Worried something might be terribly wrong? That will most likely manifest as some sort of pain somewhere.



Fun Fact: in November of 2017, once I finally scheduled shoulder surgery, my shoulder pain immediately plummeted...almost down to nothing!



I went and did 15 pull-ups, just because. Smart? No. But pretty damn cool.



I felt less risk, less threat. No matter what I did in the next few weeks, they were going to cut me open and fix what needed to be fixed. I think that’s how it works…



Even though I was fully aware of the reason for this phenomenon, it remained a dumbfounding experience.



While you may not be able to control the pain you experience (mental, emotional, or physical) you have some control over your response to that pain.



Take a deep breath, and a long exhale. Can't do it? Force out your exhale, and that breath in might become easier. Lengthen each successive exhale just a teensy bit more. Here's a breathing video you might enjoy.



Observe where you feel tension. If it's at 100, can you bring it down to a 98 on your next exhale?



Think: "I'm okay. This is feedback from my body (and/or brain)."



If you have the mental energy, think about what might've triggered this reaction. Where is your association?



Is it physical damage? Change in perception or awareness? A threatening environment in some way? An excess of stress that’s just now crept above your threshold?



I sincerely hope some of this can help. Pain is really tricky. It can be frustrating, aggravating, and truly soul crushing at times. And also instructive and helpful in many cases.



PS - I had really awful left leg pain the last two nights.


I tried massaging it with my hands, rolling out with a foam roller, stretching, hip/knee/ankle CARs. Spinal CARs.


I told it "I love you" over and over and over. I smiled, frowned, and punched the crap out of my pillow after two sleepless hours went by.


It wasn't until I really committed to focused breathing that anything changed. Breath in, and a breath out. Breath in, longer breath out. Breath in, longer breath with a 3 second hold. And then I'd hum for three exhales. And repeat.


Each time the pain woke me up I let myself feel the frustration and then did my breathing. Each time, I eventually fell back asleep once the pain subsided just enough. "Hakuna Matata," I muttered under my breath as I dozed off...