THE 40’s JOURNAL: FACE, MIND, FEET, AND OTHER THINGS I’VE GROWN TO LOVE; Entry 2: My Body
My daughter raced down the straightaway and around the corner.
“Wait! Wait! Slow down!”
I couldn’t catch up. She was too fast. This wasn’t even her skateboard. It was mine, but she didn’t like her Spiderman skateboard because it wasn’t fast enough.
Yes, that’s my little baby dare devil who is now five and over 200 meters away from me—much too far for this hypervigilant Mom.
Last August, I injured my knee doing Muay Thai. It happened while jumping rope; I felt a sharp pain shoot through the middle of my knee. Tried about five burpees, but couldn’t finish them. That day I stopped working out. Haven’t been back since. It’s been over five months.
Prior to the injury, I went from training about once a week to working out two to three times a week for a month and half. I was beginning to notice some other aches and pains in my body besides the shin splints I already had from years ago: a slight pain on top of my left knee cap and some soreness in my left hip. I thought I just needed to work through it: stretch a little more, soak in some Epsom salt, take some Arnica. But these pains progressively became worse. And that’s when I felt the sharp pain in my knee.
That week I saw Dr. Mitra, my primary care doctor. She recommended I stop working out for a couple weeks. X-rays were taken. No sprain or arthritis in the knee or hip. She referred me to a doctor in orthopedics who said I had overworked my body.
“Some might have pain due to underactivity, but your pain is due to overactivity,” she said.
I told her that I wasn’t feeling rejuvenated after the workouts. She explained that when you overwork your body and don’t feel energized by the exercise, that’s usually when you become vulnerable to injury. She then recommended a few exercises, told me to ice my knee and return in a month. She said I could work out and just ice my knee after my workouts if I felt pain.
I still didn’t work out. I didn’t feel ready. My knee still hurt and I didn’t think it was wise to train if there was still pain. I was scared. I didn’t want to risk injuring it again.
What a vast difference from how I felt when I was first told to stay off the knee. Back then, I wasn’t happy at all! I wanted to return to the gym as quickly as possible. I didn’t want to lose the strength and skill I worked so hard to develop.
Two weeks turned into three months, then four. The frustration turned into fear of working out. Truly, I wasn’t just afraid of working out. I was afraid of all physical activity. I was afraid of reinjuring myself and being unable to chase my daughter. Four months of no physical activity. That wasn’t me.
But it was necessary. Rest has a way of teaching you things. It forces you to reevaluate your m.o. and make it to sit down to listen to what the body has to say.
You’re a hard worker. Always have been. That’s what I heard.
Everything I do is all about discipline and dedication. This is even how I approach play. I think it’s the athlete in me. The competitor in me. Or maybe the academic in me. It’s a bit difficult to tell since these things have always informed each other and have shaped my life since childhood. From rollerskating and spelling bees as a kid, to speech contests, sprints, and long jump as a teenager, I always concentrated on getting better, measuring my success by how much I improved or how many trophies and plaques I won. Same thing in the classroom throughout elementary, middle, and high school: I worked hard to get the results I wanted which usually meant getting that beautiful A, some certificate of achievement, or a profuse amount of praise from the teacher. I’ve always been more inclined to be as disciplined as possible, putting efficiency and productivity first, foregoing gratification until all (or most or a big chunk of) the work has been completed.
In general, this is an admirable quality—one I’ve grown quite proud of.
However, throughout my youth, I also learned to push myself through injury.
Shin splints. Tape ‘em.
Sore ankles. Icy Hot. Tape ‘em.
I was quite excited to learn Muay Thai in my late 30’s (and then skateboarding at 39), thinking to myself, “Alright! I still got it!!” The added bonus was developing about 16 lbs. of muscle in my arms, legs, and hips. I didn’t want to lose anything that I worked so hard for: the strength, the skill, the shape.
It had been four months since the last workout and resting had chipped away at my “work- hard” ethic.
Ever since I saw the Bones Brigade documentary in 2012 and later took Afro-Samba classes in 2013, I began to realize that I needed to play again. I was enjoying the hell out of engaging in an activity that would not undergo some form of evaluation.
But after a big fall while skateboarding, slight knee pain in dance class, and then the Muay Thai injury, I think I was getting a bit carried away with the “I still got it!” mentality and needed to slow down. I had to put physical play on hold.
Hard work takes a toll on the body. On some level, I understood this already. This is precisely why I would meditate or escape into the woods for long walks, or get a quick pedicure (just for the foot massage) until my energy was reset. I was aware of the rest the mind and spirit needed. Aside from sitting, sleeping and getting massages, I don’t think I fully understood the various types of rest the body needed.
If we consider the ordinary, repetitive movements that are a part of our daily routines, and then consider rigorous workouts on top of that, it should be no question that such things can wear the body down. Therefore, we need to take care of our bodies. Heal our bodies.
So, what did I do to heal mine? Paid a visit to the chiropractor.
Before the pain in my left knee and left hip, I had pain in my left rhomboid muscles. I knew it was from years of carrying a heavy backpack from junior high through undergrad. However, even though it’s been years since I’ve used a backpack, I noticed that when I get stressed out, I immediately feel pain in this area.
Considering that all these pains were on my left side (left rhomboids, left hip, left knee), I figured that I might have some alignment issues and decided to seek the treatment of a chiropractor.
Dr. Rob was a sweet, soft-spoken, unassuming man who has been a chiropractor for over 25 years. During our consultation session, I filled out paperwork, explained where I was experiencing pain (indicating these areas on a chart), and shared my history of physical activity and injury. He asked me what my understanding of chiropractic was and then he explained the practice and why he believed in it. His manner and the detail with which he spoke about the history of chiropractic brought me a strange kind of peace. I was in the right place. And finding the right place rested on a mere hunch.
Since November, I have been getting a combination of adjustments and massages (deep tissue and craniosacral therapy). Between visits, I was given a series of exercises to help strengthen my back and hips. Dr. Rob discovered that one leg was slightly shorter than the other. Luckily, there has been improvement over the months. He believes more progress can be made.
One of the most telling questions was when Sophie (one of the massage therapists who works with Dr. Rob) asked me, “So what kind of treatment have you had for your back?”
I said, “Uh,” and then I don’t remember saying anything intelligent after that. I was confused. What kind of treatment would I get for my back? I don’t understand.
It dawned on me that after being in three car accidents and being extremely physically active, I may get an occasional massage, but never did it regularly. I couldn’t afford it. I think in U.S., massages are considered a luxury and priced accordingly, as if massage therapy was the domain of the wealthy.
After a few sessions with Sophie, in conjunction with the adjustments with Dr. Rob, I learned that massages are a necessity. I wonder what would happen if Western society began to view massages as something just as necessary as fruit and vegetables. How often would the rich, poor, and everyone in between seek out massages? How would this affect its price? Its quality? Would we see massages offered only by businesses or would we massage our friends and family, in public and private spaces, for free?
After a month of doing the exercises, I became more sensitive to all the pains and sensations in my body and noticed that I slept well after stretching. I began to consider yoga truly only thinking about the potential benefits of stretching slowly.
I shared this with Dr. Rob and he was very happy and excited, especially when I told him I was considering Bikram Yoga. He was also pleased that this desire came from me and felt this would be a nice way to ease back into physical activity as opposed to immediately returning to Muay Thai.
In December, I took a single yoga class near work. It was alright. I couldn’t tell you what type of yoga it was. Instructor didn’t say (neither did the website). All I can say is that at the time, I respected the instructor. But I continued to shop around. I might return to that class. Who knows? We’ll see.
A week later I started taking Bikram Yoga near my home. During the first class, I stretched things I didn’t even know could be stretched! I was a bit antsy during the breathing exercises (pranayamas). I noticed I had difficulty slowing down, which was quite a surprise to me, because in some respects I consider myself the Queen of Slow, Steady, and Thorough. Over a week later, I attended my second class and not only was I able to withstand the heat, I noticed improvement in my ability to slow down, be more attentive, and maintain the different postures (asanas). What I thought would just be a way to improve my flexibility (and ease the pain in my knee and hip) also turned out to be an exercise in developing strength and balance, a means of releasing toxins from the body, and a way to build greater lung capacity. Perhaps, the most obvious benefit was how chill and clear I was after each session. My attitude toward life and my own capacity to create was wonderful and strong.
Another pleasant surprise was how savasana (a posture in which one is lying down flat on one’s back, completely relaxed) became my regular opportunity to pray. I was praying deeply, purely, honestly. I could look myself in the eye in ways I couldn’t two-three years ago. I could look at my little belly and love it. I was/am learning to live shamelessly and learning to let go of habits I’ve clung to for far too long. It hurts to let them go, let them die, but doing so has allowed me to embrace other aspects of life. This indeed has been the first time the physical and the spiritual were married in one space.
Even though in the beginning these 26 postures (asanas) in the heat were torturous, practicing Bikram Yoga was one of the best decisions of my life. I look forward to learning about the other benefits of Bikram yoga.
In the back of my mind, I wrestle with issues of cultural appropriation as it pertains to the practice and instruction of yoga in the U.S., and being exposed to the postures but not necessarily the philosophy. Those questions have not been put to rest. However, for now, I will learn what I can, let my body teach me all it can, and see what kind of answers emerge.
The pain inside the knee is gone. There is only occasional pain on the top of the kneecap. The soreness in the hip is nearly nonexistent.
Considering all of this, the one thing I’ve learned is that my body isn’t 20 anymore. It is 40. And I want it to last.
Copyright © 2014 Janet Stickmon