Discussing “Pain” in the Singapore context [part 1]

DISCLAIMER:
This will be a pretty long anecdote/opinion piece so I have divided it into two parts for your benefit.

With longer working hours, the consequences of a sedentary lifestyle have been observed in the growing epidemic of chronic pain. Observe the working adults around you; you might see them involuntarily cracking their neck or unconsciously rubbing their shoulders in the hopes of temporarily relieving pain. Cases of chronic low back pain have also dramatically increased.

So why have we passively accepted and even accommodated this unwelcome presence of pain in our lives? From my own observations, pain (especially chronic pain) in Singapore has been perceived in the two extremes, however contradictory.

  1. Pain is a sign of hard work
  2. Pain is a sign of weakness

Let me explain myself. In Singapore, where most people are caught up in a rat race to be the best, the concept of “no pain, no gain” has become entrenched. It started off as an exercise motto that promises greater value rewards for the price of hard and even painful work but now it has been applied in all kinds of scenarios, including at our workplace and at school. In a way, that saying validates our competitiveness and justifies our long working hours. However, we have gone too far by glamorising that thinking. We have even begun to use pain to justify our hard work; for example, if you have muscle aches after a punishing workout, that is a good sign that you pushed yourself to the limit. If you have knots in your shoulders from working long hours on the computer, you are an excellent employee.

This is because we have been given the message that in order to succeed, we need punishing workouts, we need to work until we are completely exhausted, we need to work doubly hard to the next person. After all, pain is weakness leaving the body, right? No. In the short term, that might work, but it is damaging in the long run. It is not sustainable and the consequences have begun to show.

Speaking from personal experience, I have injured myself a few times because I subscribed to that belief. I was immersed in yoga for a few months and I feared that I would lose my hard-earned fitness if I took a day or two off. At the same time, I was balancing a time consuming part-time job and my first year of University. I was not getting enough sleep, not eating well enough and as a result, I was constantly exhausted. And in a flow class one day, I lost my focus for a moment and I hurt my wrist. For the next few months, I could not get myself into a proper chaturanga, plank poses and variations hurt greatly and I was forced to stop.

-> read part 2 for my revelations.

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