Listening To What Our Bodies Have to Tell Us: A Lesson From My Shoulder

I have a bad shoulder. I never broke it or injured it in any way. I don’t have a torn rotator cuff or labrum, and never had to have surgery on it. You might say, in a way  that this is all a self-inflicted injury. 

Since my freshman year in college, my right shoulder has decided to yell at, scream at, and berate me; throwing a royal temper tantrum during particularly stressful periods of my life. In fact, there have been times when I did not think I was going through a stressful moment when my shoulder decided that it needed to let itself be known. I naively would think all was well and calm when my shoulder disagreed and decided that I needed to hear its opinion on the state of my life.

Over the past year, it has flared up on and off with vigor. Last spring it was keeping me awake, sending aches and pains down my arm as I tried to sleep. 

In June of 2022 I had the blessing of meeting and working with an amazing physical therapist. She poked and prodded me in the best of ways and assigned exercises and stretches to make sure that I worked it out. The funniest good news she had for me was that my issue was “so vanilla“ and completely and totally average. I never knew I could be happy to be just average.

Through mid October, I was very diligent in doing my homework. Over the summer I happened to work with a retired physical therapist as a part of a church group. When she found out I was working with a physical therapist she wagged her finger at me, and said “do what she tells you!“ For the summer and into the beginning of the fall, I did just that.

My mistake came in October, November, December… letting my tiredness, busyness,lack of sunlight, (name, any other excuse) get in the way of me doing my exercises. 

As a result, about four weeks ago, I realized I could not stand my shoulder anymore, and made a new round of appointments with my physical therapist. I have to tell you she has been a model of grace and forgiveness without ever even offering it. She never questioned in that first return appointment if I had failed to do what she prescribed  or if I had failed to manage my stress. She simply looked at my shoulder, felt it and knew what the new course of action now needs to be.

Soon after I had my first appointment with her this spring, I had breakfast with a dear friend, who is a pastor and interested in spiritual healing. We were talking about life and all the rest, and I told her about my challenges with my shoulder. She cocked her head to the side and looked at me closely, asking which shoulder. When I explained it was my right side, she informed me that in some healing philosophies that side is the feminine one. It is the side that holds and is responsible for the caretaking part of us. She said to me simply, “Start listening to what your shoulder has to tell you.“ She explained that I might not be able to make any immediate changes to rectify the issues, but it is a good step to acknowledge it and name it.  

For the rest of the day and the day after I focused my intention on listening to my shoulder. Clearly, I heard over that 48 hour period, “let go.“

I didn’t know that my shoulder could be so wise! 

I am only half joking as I say that. I continue to reflect on the many ways that I need to hear that very command to let go of too many things that I have held too closely: understanding more and more about my own motivators and desires. 

I lead workshops and write about the “Life You CHoose,” and I am very sincere when I say that I am constantly applying these principles to my own life. It turns out unpacking the many voices and influences that motivate our actions is a lifelong discipline. Apparently it is one that even my shoulder wants to assist in; in its case literally unburdening me from the weight of these factors.

My physical therapist truly is amazing. The part that I think I love most about going to see her is experiencing how she reads a body like a textbook. She will start to massage my back and shoulders, and as she does, she reads aloud the information that she finds. As her fingers run across a knot, she explains the role that muscle plays in holding my body erect and how my life and work influences the condition of that muscle. She knows me and knows what I do and how I listen and speak with people. She will feel a muscle, say the name, and describe how that muscle has become particularly tight because I lean in and roll my shoulders forward in an effort to listen more closely to people. She tells me that is from the “compassionate, listening” that is a part of my job and how that gift is important. However, I must counteract it by doing such things as “posture resets” during the day and using a standing desk as I write. 

So I am learning to let go, and to listen – to listen to her as she reads aloud from the stories and lessons my body has to teach me that I am totally unaware of on my own. And as she does, I learn to let go. 

Today she put my neck in traction for the second time. I had no idea that neck muscles could get so tight until she hooked me up in a strange contraption and told me to relax as my head hung suspended above the exam table. 

When she connects me to the traction contraption, she wraps me in warm blankets and attaches a tens unit to stimulate my muscles. My shoulders slightly contract and wobble as my neck lengthens and relaxes, my head hanging there in a very strange way. Before she leaves the room after hooking me up, patting me down, wrapping the heating pad around me and hanging my head in the middle of the air, she tells me that I have fifteen minutes to meditate; then turns off the light, closes the door, and leaves me to listen.

For information on upcoming Life You Choose workshops, visit my Upcoming Events Page.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. I’m not surprised to read about the connections between the mind and body and all the emotions that intertwine both. Years ago I learned as a massage therapy student that those with shoulder pain frequently carry “the weight of the world” on their shoulders. That anger frequently rests in the “glutes” (buttocks muscles) and chest pain may reflect heartache/grief. I learned how clearly our bodies try to speak to us. Listen carefully and honor the messages your body sends.


    1. Charlene, As always I appreciate your insights! I didn’t know about the associations with the other body parts. I have heard trauma is stored in the hips. Thank you.


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