The absence of pain is not the same as having a tolerance for pain. The fact that some people tolerate pain better than others fascinates me. Often in class I’ll remark that on one level it is an ability to tolerate pain that separates professional athletes from us mere mortals.
Pain is a fascinating thing because it isn’t a thing. It is a message from the brain that we should be aware of a situation that might be a problem for us. It is a warning sign and nothing more. Though it is a warning sign that is worth heeding to one degree or another.
The individual response to pain can be quite different. For some, repeated exposure to pain inoculates you from it to a degree and tolerance can increase. But for others repeated exposure to pain makes each subsequent experience more painful and intense.
To that end, our emotional state affects the way we respond to pain with anxiety and depression often leaving someone more vulnerable or sensitive to pain.
Genetics likely play a role in the levels of your pain tolerance and studies show that exercise and the desire to exercise can increase our ability to withstand pain. Our brain and nervous system is remarkably teachable so it is clear that anything is possible.
Another book I read way way back when, that was highly influential (I was 17 and ripe for it), was called The Crack in the Cosmic Egg, by Joseph Chilton Pearce. It was a book on belief systems and the ability to transcend the corporeal world, telling stories of fire walkers and crazier tales of people impaled on hooks, swung on ropes over fields as a harvest offering, and living to share in the bounty of the crop.
I write all this as I look at my massively swollen and sprained ankle that doesn’t really hurt. I think it is healing well because it barely hurts and I walk well on it when I use it. The ankle is definitely tired and achy by the end of the day but that strikes me as normal.
I’m including a video I like that I have put up on the blog before: