Afraid of pain? Here’s how to slap it in the face

Don’t we all dread a trip to the doctor? Getting poked and prodded and pressed and by lord knows what? Those are maintenance pains and we avoid them by staying healthy.

I, however, took pain avoidance to a whole new level.

Once, my dad’s friend told me how, during a softball game, a mis-thrown ball whacked his head and ruptured his eardrum. After that, I took caution at Little League practice, running the bases with my head ducked and hands covering my ears for extra protection.

More recently, while descending steep hiking trails, I’d scoot on my booty inch by inch, rather than risking a face plant (annoying my boyfriend to no end).

I decided I needed to get over this and joined a women’s kickboxing class. It’s been awesome—but because we’re hitting punching bags and not each other, it has done little to help me get over the pain hurdle.

Then I attended a class called Witch Kung Fu, hosted by Maja D’Aoust, a well known occult lecturer known as the White Witch of LA. The flyer mentioned, “You will get slapped,” and this triggered slight anxiety. No one likes to be slapped!!

Turns out, the slapping was invigorating, even, dare I say, fun!

Using Qigong techniques, the class teaches women how to take hits and prep themselves for uncomfortable physical contact.

A Qigong routine begins with a series of self-inflicted slaps, beginning on the crown of the head and working down your body. Used in Chinese medicine, it has many benefits such as increased circulation and clearing out negative mental energy. If you’re feeling lethargic, it’s also a great pick-me-up!

Here’s what I learned:

1) Pain is inevitable–instead of trying to avoid it, get prepared

At least with the doctor we get a warning before he sticks in the needle, but real life not so much. Pain can strike out of nowhere.

Playing a game of cat and mouse with pain, then, is an exercise in futility. Conversely, if you train your body to take the pain, you’re better equipped to handle it.

Qigong works to prepare your body for contact, toughening your skin so that slaps and punches lack the sting they normally would.

2) In a relaxed state, pain is easier to endure

Has the doctor ever told you, “Just relax?” Easier said than done, right?

Truth is, relaxing eases the tension in your body, which in turn reduces pain. It also relieves anxiety, leading to a calmer mental state. Rather than viewing the impending pain as a big, scary cloud ballooning on the horizon, you can take it like a whispering wind in stride.

Qigong uses breathing techniques to prep yourself, timing your exhales so you can take a blow to the gut or a punch in the back with more stoicism that you would under ordinary circumstances.

3) Pain management is a masterable skill just like anything else

After getting slapped in the face, my immediate reaction was, wow, that wasn’t so bad. And the more frequently you get slapped, the less it stings.

That’s why practicing Qigong every day will build up your tolerance to pain, physical or otherwise.

A rejection or an outburst of anger from another can feel like a slap in the face. And just like a slap, it can leave a mark.

The mark, however, is not a permanent one. In time it fades, and life goes on.

What about serious injury or trauma, though? Life-altering events that require hospitalization or cause lasting emotional distress?

There’s no easy answer, but the more we toughen our internal and external leather, so to speak, the easier it will be to endure the arrows life slings at us.

What I learned that day is that while we can’t always control what happens to us, we can control our response. Pain can hurt on the outside and the inside, but it can’t penetrate the deepest parts of us, those parts that define who we are.

What are some pain-avoidance tactics you have used? What steps will you take to confront the pain?

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