Neil Pearson

Have you ever practiced relaxation during a thunderstorm?

Yesterday afternoon I was lying on my floor, stretching my lower back, listening to the sound of distant thunder. I have always enjoyed this sound – its depth and complexity are as intriguing as its connection to danger. Beyond the sound is a strong feeling of humility for me, experiencing this demonstration of true power.

After being lost in the thunder for a few minutes I remembered the task I had set out to do. Loosening the muscles around my lumbar spine, pelvis and sacrum. This had become an hourly activity over the past few days, thanks to my cranky old back troubles that have reared up unexpectedly. After 26 years, one would expect that these recurrences wouldn’t come as such a surprise. Expectations are definitely a problem, and so I was working on staying in the moment and finding a sense of contentment while I was stretching my back. Outside the thunder continued, delayed enough that the lightning strikes must have been outside the Okanagan valley.

When my back is at its worst, stretching has little positive effect when performed mindlessly. More pain…greater need for focus on what I am doing. My world becomes limited to keeping my body as relaxed as possible in the midst of the pain, and smoothing out my breath while gently stretching my back. This always takes a lot of mental effort. My mind is equally interested in the pain.

Each time the lightning flashed, I lost my focus. Each time the thunder echoed between the mountains, I listened to it. Each time, when the light and sound show ended, the pain and gripping muscles invaded.

On the verge of giving up, I remembered an experience from just a few weeks ago while I was in Ontario teaching in a yoga therapist training program. The early morning heat had been stifling, and everyone was sweating through the gentle yoga practice. Just as I guided the students to begin savasana (a special kind of relaxation at the end of traditional yoga classes), the skies grew DARK and the rain FELL. I had wondered if anyone would be able to keep their focus inside, since the thunder was so close it shook the ground, and the lightning was bright enough to sense through closed eyelids. At that time I was also feeling envious, wishing I could lie back with nothing else to do but breathe and fully experience the storm. So why not do this now?

Changing my plan, I propped up my back and legs to a place of best comfort, took a few longer, smoother, softer breaths, and then did my best to divide my attention between nature’s entertainment and the sensations related to my body. This was easier. There was some pleasure listening to the thunder roll. I started working less hard, and the muscles started letting go more.

While I lay there, a thought came up a number of times…“Just like the pain, thunder signifies a potential threat”. I am not certain if that is nonsense, my brain trying to make a connection where none exists, or if it is something I should consider more. We’ll see, next time a storm comes across the interior of BC.

  • Neil Pearson combines the practical applications of pain care while teaching through his retreats, pain management products and resources to provide guidance in recovery from chronic pain.
  • [tags] Neil Pearson, pain, breathing, focus, lightning, humility, experience, letting-go, relax, [/tags]

    Author: Neil Pearson

    Neil Pearson is a yoga therapist, physical therapist and Clinical Assistant Professor at UBC. He provides therapy exclusively for people with complex pain problems. Neil shares his knowledge of anatomy, physiology, pain and pathophysiology through

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