Chronic pain and psychological flexibility

Guest Blog by Master Instructor, Ana Cukic

“Will my pain go away? Please make it go away!” I have made this desperate plea to health professionals over the years. I would be overwhelmed with both the pain and fear of not being able to do the things I love, as well as what I have to do to stop the pain. Because I’m guilty of black and white thinking: I’m either in pain or I’m not; I can do something or I can’t.  But like most things, there are shades of grey.

Just like we are allowed to feel more than one emotion, I have learned in middle age to find ways to enjoy what I value (like physical fitness), within constraints.  I have accepted pain as a part of my story.

I have had chronic injuries since I was in my youth. In my twenties, as an elite athlete, I knew the wear and tear on my body would affect the rest of my life. But my attitude has not always been positive. Over the years, I’ve had to work on psychological flexibility regarding my physical well-being.

Psychological flexibility, as defined by Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, means “contacting the present moment fully as a conscious human being; and, based on what the situation affords, changing or persisting in behaviour in the service of chosen values.”

So where does Pilates fit into managing chronic pain? The Pilates principles of concentration and control require a strong mind-body connection. We practice staying in the present and being aware of what we are feeling and thinking. Awareness and acceptance move us forward.

As the pandemic has shown, limitations teach us creativity. We can enjoy ourselves even though we are not feeling all “rainbows and unicorns”.  Injury and chronic pain urge us to find new paths to our core values. It becomes less about being pain-free and more about the journey of living our best lives.

Research shows that compassionate health professionals are key to developing psychological flexibility: at Retrofit, we strive to create that community of compassion. It is about an openness to be vulnerable and to communicate. We at Retrofit are your biggest cheerleaders.

Whether you have chronic pain or not, I challenge you to be aware of your limiting thoughts. What exercises do you avoid, simply because you have decided you shouldn’t do them?  What exercises do you want to do better, but aren’t sure how to challenge yourself safely? Maybe you want to better manage flare ups. Maybe you simply want to challenge your current routine.

Roadblocks force us to learn new ways; pain provides new paths to be active. Let us help you live fully and happily within the many shades of grey!