Ten years ago, at age 33, I was given what I like to think of now as a wake-up call. It announced itself instantly. I was lifting my toddler out of the bath and, ‘boom’! Something snapped. I couldn’t move. And I was terrified. Severe back pain stopped me in my tracks. My husband at the time (a professional musician) was at a gig. After I put my boy to bed, I lay down in mine and called my friend and RMT. She gave me some good advice to get me through the night. Hubby brought home muscle relaxants for me later on.
I was taken to Emergency by ambulance the next day as I couldn’t stand or sit. I was given morphine and told to move around. X-rays and scans were booked. Back at home, I was terrified to even walk to the bathroom at first. The pain to get up was searing. My husband carried me there. Once, when he was out, I asked my one-and-a-half year-old son to pass me my pants after I used the toilet. A definite low. But something we can laugh about now.
The tests showed a slipped disc. I have never felt pain that intense, and as I mentioned, I’ve had a baby! Days later, I rented a walker. I went to the gym where I taught. On morphine. With a walker. I had clients booked and I didn’t want to let anybody down. And we had bills to pay. I told my bosses that I wanted to keep working and training my clients and teaching my classes. They looked at me like I was possessed. Pretty sure I wasn’t getting my body’s message….!
I saw my MD and every other practitioner I knew- many making house-calls; I am blessed to have many skilled friends in the healthcare industry– massage therapist, acupuncturist, physiotherapist, Naturopathic doctor, Alexander Technique specialist, and an Osteopath. They were insightful and caring, and I learned from each of them. Perhaps most importantly, they inspired me to trust myself- a body movement specialist after all- and after delivering their uniquely effective treatments, helped me develop my own rehabilitation protocol. I used elements from each modality, as well as my own basic core exercises.
My routine essentially consisted of functional, progressive movement, incorporating basic strength and flexibility (and a healthy dose of patience); baring a striking resemblance to one I might prescribe to my 90-plus clients. Accustomed to intense exercise regimes, it felt all too humbling to drag my 30-something-year-old ego and me back to the bare-bones basics. But it was worth every second.
I was only in acute pain for three weeks (though it felt like longer at the time!). My boss allowed me to work from home on projects she thankfully made seem important– re-writing the gym protocol manual and any other paperwork she could throw at me- so I didn’t succumb to depression and anxiety. I am so grateful for her creativity and foresight on this one.
My body rebuilt from scratch quickly in hindsight. Through the rehabilitation process, I began to realize how disconnected I had been from my body’s wisdom and so much more. I am so grateful now for the experience. I believe that the message to pay attention to my needs and my body had to be blatantly obvious for me to listen. I was still foolishly tempted not to!
Originally I didn’t see it as a sign, let alone a blessing. After learning so much, how could I deny it?
I discovered that:
- I was disconnected from my body.
- I was disconnected from my life.
- I was running on fumes.
- I was living unconsciously.
- I was out of touch with my emotions.
- My stress levels were out of control.
- I wasn’t sleeping much.
- Essentially I really wasn’t taking care of myself with the basics- proper food, sleep, stress management and body awareness, let alone creatively, spiritually, etc.
These days I am in tune with what my body and my mind need. My body has been aligned, happy and healthy since, with no surgery. In addition to learning a great deal about my own tendencies, the experience led me to be more in tune with the challenges my clients face during an injury or a setback. I feel more equipped to empathize and effectively advise both physically and mentally, having experienced my own setback. I know firsthand what it can feel like.
If you are unsure as to whether you are taking good enough care of yourself, or you know you’re not, I have a few ideas to share that may help you avoid a ‘big lesson’ such as mine.
These are practices that I still employ to this day that don’t take much time or effort, but make a massive difference. I hope they help you too.
- Observe your body’s sensations in the present moment when you work out; during strength training, race training, climbing, running, exercise classes; choosing that which feels efficient, strong and supportive. In essence, move mindfully.
- Take a few minutes regularly and on your own just for self-guided gentle movements, tuning into your body’s unique needs; walking, gentle stretching, observing what it feels like each day without judgement.
- Make time for creativity or fun as an outlet- writing, painting, even a freestyle song or dance in the living room alone or with a child (their carefree spirit is contagious!).
- Manage stress using deep breathing/meditation, yoga stretches… or whatever works for you.
Believe me when I tell you that (cheesy as it may sound to you) when you are your body’s friend, it will be yours back. Listen to your body as it listens to you, and watch your life expand!