Sukha-who? In yogic philosophy, sukha refers to the idea of ease, or gentleness; dhukha refers to what we would consider the “opposite”—suffering. But the idea of opposites reinforces all-or-nothing thinking, as if there are no qualities in between, and no overlap. But when we recall the actual experience of a certain state, we recognize that its “opposite” did not disappear or cease to exist; rather, it retreated or lay dormant for a while.

Think of the circular symbol for yin and yang: In the dark (or yin) side, there remains a pinhole of the light (or yang) half, and vice versa. To be even more precise, the words “side” and “half” are not technically appropriate: the depicted forms of yin and yang within the framework of a circle are more like conjoined teardrop shapes in of a paisley prins. Thus, at all times, yin and yang function within the framework of a whole—it is only our illusory perception that they can be separated from each other and their Oneness.

The idea of sukha/dhukha can be extended to movement modalities, as well as to therapeutic treatments, wherein “oneness” is conceived of as balance. A very basic sukha/dhukha movement concept would be running vs. walking; or vinyasa yoga vs. restorative yoga; or, even more literally, hot yoga vs. yin yoga. In terms of healing modalities, deep-tissue massage or Trigger Point therapy lie on the yang or dhuka side of treatment; qigong or acupuncture typically is more gentle, or sukha.

Note, however, that sukha, or yin, qualities are no less potent; their power lies within their less overt states. The dark of night yields the power of the moon, just as the brightness of day sun energy. Dusk and dawn reveal the “both/and” nature of sukha/dhukha, and yin/yang.

Yesterday, I was physically reminded of the inherent healing potential of sukha/dhukha interplay. After my regular morning swim, I decided to use the health club’s hot tub. While I am a “bath girl,” and love a good soak, I do not typically use the hot tub at the gym; sometimes the water smells too strongly of chemicals, and the super-elevated temperature can be very drying to my skin. But yesterday, my body needed some extra treatment, so in I went.

Afterward, feeling pretty darn “sukha,” I climbed out of the tub, and re-entered the pool. Essentially, I gave myself the equivalent of a jump in a snow bank, post-sauna. Squelching my squeals, I swam vigorously toward the shallow end: Out I came, circulation swift, mind clear.

This morning, the body aches that can arise overnight simply were not there. I chalk it up to the stimulation of blood flow and muscle contraction/expansion that resulted from yesterday’s “sukha/dhuka treatment” of immersion into heat, followed by a quick hit of cold.

Whenever you are stymied by tight muscles or aching joints, or even mental sluggishness, look to hot/cold therapy. You do not have to have access to a pool and a hot tub (nor a sauna and a snow bank); you can reap similar benefits by submitting yourself to a blast of cold water after your warm shower.

Many people know to apply some form of heat to relieve muscle tension; conversely, a bump or bruise responds well to cold treatment. Heat stimulates blood circulation (via vasodilation), which helps bring nourishing oxygen to an aching area, as well as aid the removal of cellular waste. Cold, on the other hand, causes vasoconstriction, which helps to reduce inflammation; it also temporarily reduces the sensation of pain.

So, why would you choose to combine the two thermal modalities? Hot/cold (contrast) treatment is also exceptionally effective for specific, localized areas of pain or stiffness. This discomfort indicate an imbalance between full/empty (i.e., inflammation), or expansion/contraction (i.e., muscle “knots”). The hot/cold applications act as a nudge for the body to reinstate the natural pump of contracting and releasing muscular fibers: temperature extremes act as the kneading hands of a massage therapist.

Sometimes, one issue may create or exacerbate another. If you overuse a muscle or put too much burden on a particular joint (i.e., repetitive stress injury), nearby muscles and joints may try to pick up the slack; consequently, you wind up with not only the original damage, but referred and associated pain. Hot/cold treatment helps to address this domino effect: At the source of your issue, you can reduce inflammation and release muscle tension; this helps to free the secondary structures from their bolstering duty, thus alleviating their stress and pain.

The formula is simple: Begin with 30-60 seconds of cold (ice pack, frozen peas, etc.), followed by 3 minutes of warmth (heating pad, hot water-soaked towel, etc.). Repeat two more times, for a total of three rounds. I find that if my primary concern is pain-causing inflammation, I like to end with a short course of cold (i.e., 30 seconds). If, however, I am trying to eradicate muscle “knots,” I prefer to end with a short course of heat (1 minute). As with most alternative healing modalities, (informed) intuition is often your best guide.

A special note: Not all inflammation is “bad.” In the initial or acute phase of an injury, blood rushes to the area with an army of enzymes and antibodies that work to repair cell damage and ward against infection. So, do not use cold (and definitely not heat) immediately after a sprain, for example: Allow the body a day of natural, beneficial inflammation, and then aid and abet.

Also: Please be mindful that hot/cold therapy may not be appropriate for everyone. If you have a vascular or heart condition, or a sensory disorder (including diabetes), the “pumping” and thermal components of this treatment may be inadvisable; please clear these suggestions with your doctor first.

Cheers to feeling better!


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