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The Onion - Peeling Back the Layers of Pain

Updated: Jun 18, 2023

When did it begin? How deep does it go? Where is the core of the issue? And how can we properly heal?

These are the real questions we should be asking when we encounter pain. Instead of running for the bottle of Advil, sitting with the pain, and figuring it out requires lots of patience, but ultimately can save a lot of time, wasted medical bills and possibly treatments, and more. So why don't we take the time to truly figure out the origins of our suffering and fix them? Because of the temporary uncomfortability we will encounter along the way.

Case study: I have been in pain with my left shoulder for at least 10 months. I had, yes very stupidly of me as a yoga teacher, performed a strenuous yoga practice to record for a channel. I needed to do it, but my body was not in a place where I should have. So, I did it anyway. Immediately after, my rotator cuff felt strained. I knew it would happen, and it did. So I suffered through this self-fulfilled prophecy of a rotator injury for many months, most of which I did not treat by any means. Resting it was about all I could muster the strength to do, and that's what I did. The problem was, this was not going to heal my shoulder, it was merely going to give me the time to get to a place where I could focus on it.

This is The Onion. I talk about it a lot in yoga. It is the layering of our being, from the outer and most dense aspect of the physical body to the inner realms of the soul and bliss center at our core. We are most informed by and in understanding with the outer body layer, and yet we usually ignore it, as I did here. Pain can occur from an injury, but it can also manifest from a lengthy period of ignoring emotional, mental and spiritual issues. Where to begin in a healing process can be a challenge for those of us who understand The Onion, yet I believe it is always best to begin with the body and then move from there. Because even the body has layers to it that you can peel back.

After about 10 months of babying my shoulder, I knew that I needed to do something. Having closed the studio and gone through several adjustment months where I still worked quite a bit, I had to get to December, the last month of 2022, and a time where I had strategically carved out space for myself, to tackle it. So I went to my chiropractor and we determined, yes, it was a bad rotator sprain. This was important, so that I could eliminate in my brain the need to go to my doctor and down the rabbit hole of physical therapy, screenings and potential surgeries, like the one my brother is contemplating having for the second time on his rotator cuff. Just before leaving for Florida, I had two appointments with Mike, my go-to Acupuncturist, who is really able to get energy moving. His second session, just a day before leaving for Florida, felt very deep, like we were touching upon something that wanted to move, but was not quite ready. This was the first time I could feel the fluttering of energy underneath the pain. And also the first time to find any relief in it after many months.

Ten days into being in Florida I was able to get an appointment with a local massage therapist, a woman named Maya, originally from Nepal. We hit it right off. She'd been in business since 2002, just a couple of years after I had, and she really understood her craft. I had a wonderful session with her where we focused on the shoulder, which I explained came from this stupid yoga injury. She was able to relieve a lot of tension and soreness there, and to get the joint more mobile again. Yet the pain and restriction still exist.

As luck would have it, my laptop screen decided to go, so I had to spend a couple of days off of my computer. It gave me the time to see Maya and to contemplate this shoulder. In the wee morning hours, when the energy is clear, it came to me in a flash: when I was closing the yoga studio, I had very little help moving items, and I was forced to carry some pretty heavy things out to my car myself. I had a memory pop back in of carrying something down the steps, to the curb, and around the corner to my car. I remember sitting it down once, wishing I had help, loathing all the people in my mind I thought could or should be there to help me, and being generally really upset and angry. I almost could not get the item to my car, and really strained my shoulder in the process, but I had more to to, so I sucked it up and got back to work. And that's where I shut down.

The strain during yoga left my shoulder open to the upcoming injury I would occur moving the items during the closure of the studio. Maya's skillful hands had penetrated the outer layering of protection that I had packed on the shoulder, a connection to my heart, to avoid the pain of feeling so alone, the pain of letting everyone down by closing the studio, and the illusion that I had to carry this all by myself with nobody else to assist me. There sure was a lot tucked in under that outer layer of pain - I couldn't even see the whole truth of how I injured it. And now that I am finally clear, I can move forward with the actual healing.

The Onion works many ways. Whatever layer you begin with, you can peel something back to reveal a deeper layer. Only then can you work at that level and on that layer. And then you may even be able to peel back deeper layers, and eventually be able to heal those.

As I contemplate all of the emotional baggage from closing the yoga studio that was hidden below the physical damage on the surface, I can see a repeated theme in my life. I have this tendency to feel isolated in my challenges, like I must muster all the courage myself because I have no support. Sometimes I have created situations where I have no support. Other times I have the support, but choose not to ask for their help. And other times the support shows up, and I still somehow feel slighted by those who didn't turn out for me. Where does all that come from? What is hiding under the next layer? Karmic baggage? Illusions created through duality? Soul lessons I am here to heal? Ah, so much to sort through.

This morning I pulled out my favorite Thai Balm, slathered it all over my deltoid and rotator cuff muscles, and sit here typing with an icy-heat penetrating the layers of skin and muscle. And, I am making a second appointment with Maya too. But the true healing is of my heart, and origins of the emotional abandonment issues I have. Just this awareness has moved energy and created some healing. And I am looking forward to moving more.

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If you have pain, consider looking deeper into the layers. Yes, seeking medical assistance is always a good idea because you can see just where you are on the physical level. But, considering alternative treatments such as acupuncture, chiropractic care, massage therapy and private yoga sessions, can often create a safe place for deeper healing to occur. We cannot always avoid surgery. Sometimes we allow pain to go on for too long and that is the only treatment option. But other times, if we allow ourselves to peel back The Onion through holistic treatments, we can truly heal ourselves at the core level.

We owe it to ourselves to dive into these, often ancient practices, for healing. These are my go-to's. If you would like a session with me, book a Thai Bodywork session where we can focus on a specific area. Or, perhaps a Quantum Healing, where we begin with Reiki and work on an energetic level to move stagnated energy around the pain. And if you need a referral to an any other awesome therapists in NJ, please reach out to me. But here are a few of my people:

  • Mike Bonacci of Lawrenceville Acupuncture

  • Brian Civinski of Civinski Chiropractic in Hamilton, NJ

  • Mike Friedberg of Wenonah Chiropractic

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Looks like I am getting your emails now, Tracey; all good. And: this resonated for me...

Dr. Tracey L. Ulshafer
Dr. Tracey L. Ulshafer
Jan 09, 2023
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Wonderful! 💚

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