Invisible Disabilities: The Importance of Listening

Yoga Medicine’s Alice Louise Blunden shares her experience with having an invisible injury, how it affected her to have her pain ignored, and why it’s important for medical practitioners to listen to their patients.

Just Listen

Living in pain can be exhausting both physically and mentally. Whether it’s recovering from an acute injury or something more chronic, the body is working in overdrive to do its best to heal and restore, while the mind is constantly asking anxious questions. When will this pain go away? How can I make this better? The reality isn’t much fun. Especially when you are doing your best to live, love and enjoy your precious life as much as possible. Because, let’s face it, living in pain is a big reminder of our inevitable mortality.

In some cases, the cause of the pain is clear. The truth can be hard to deal with,. But, at least by knowing the root cause of the pain you can (hopefully) start making steps to treating the pain in the most appropriate way. However, in so many cases, it’s often difficult to identify exactly where the pain is even coming from. X-rays, MRIs and other examinations can show that there’s absolutely nothing wrong on a physical level, yet the pain persists. This can leave you feeling lost, confused and even more frustrated with the illusion of pain.

Either way, the onus is on the individual to tune into their bodies, tap into their sense of mindfulness and follow their intuition. Taking on the injury as a personal enquiry to investigate how and what you can do to support yourself through this painful process.

An Injury with No Clear Cause

In August last year, I had a kitesurfing accident. Every single muscle in my spine went into spasm and I couldn’t move. However, results from the x-rays showed no signs of any fracture or injury to my spine at all. Over next month, the muscles in my spine started to release. I slowly began to be able to move my body once again.

However, I continued to have this lingering pain in my neck and Thoracic spine that I simply couldn’t ignore. From October last year to February this year, I visited both my GP doctor and physiotherapist on five separate occasions. Each time, I was turned away and simply told that it was nothing to worry about; I didn’t need another scan, the pain would go. After each visit, I left feeling even more confused, powerless and lonely. My intuition knew something was wrong but no one was listening.

It wasn’t until I discussed the details of my pain to Yoga Medicine teacher Dana Diament that I had the confidence to follow my intuition once again. Dana had recently completed the Spine module as part of her 500 hours. She listened carefully to my description of the feelings that I was having in my neck and in my spine. Then, she advised me to go back to my GP and insist on having an MRI scan. Having someone genuinely listening and giving me educated suggestions of what could be causing the pain gave me the confidence and power that I needed to take control once again.

Taking Back Control

This experience of living in pain has highlighted to me how incredible Yoga Medicine is. As teachers, we are deepening our understanding of the body, allowing us to support Western Medical systems. This knowledge allows us to guide and empower our students to take responsibility for their health. Had Dana not listened to me so carefully and encouraged me to have an MRI scan, I would probably still be feeling like a whining hypochondriac, completely oblivious to the fractures in my neck and disc issues. Yes, it is true that simply knowing that injury is there doesn’t mean that it is healed. But, at least I can understand a little better where the pain may be coming from.

With the knowledge that we are acquiring through the Yoga Medicine 500 and 1000 hour modules, we have the ability to support the Western medical system. There’s no doubt in mind how incredible Western medicine is. But in the same breath, there is a huge demand on these systems and people in need are being dismissed as a result. It blows my mind that I had 5 separate appointments with doctors and physiotherapists in which I told exactly the same story and described the same symptoms. Yet it wasn’t until I spoke to Dana, a yoga teacher, where I actually felt like I was being listened to.

The Power of Listening

As yoga teachers, our power to listen to our students cannot be underestimated. I am sure that there are so many people living in pain who are feeling alone, lost and confused. While we are not in a position to diagnose, our detailed knowledge of anatomy, of common injuries and dysfunctions in the body, enables us to apply yoga therapeutically. It also allows us to give both advice and referrals when we think it is necessary. By simply pausing and listening we can truly support Western medicine systems and really support others in their healing process.

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