I was a grateful runner. When a run was particularly sweet, or it had been a while, I gave thanks for my legs and lungs and every part of my body that made that movement possible. I knew it could be otherwise. I knew someday it probably would be. I didn’t know that day would come on June 1 of this year, or that my grateful tweet would mark the day.
In the last couple of years, 5 and 6 mile runs were common. I would occasionally push out to a 7 mile run, and my longest distance was an 8.5 mile run. But I’d pay the price for these longer runs; various aches and pains raised a ruckus, and I’d drop back down to the 5K and 10K range.
After this spring’s sprint triathlon, I had signed up for an October 5 mile race in Durham — an event that also featured a half-marathon. Hmm, I thought. Maybe this year I could train up to some real distance?
Great dream … but I pushed too far, too fast, and some chronic aches turned into Persistent Problems. I rested a few days, then a week, then waited a month to see a doctor, and got a prescription for physical therapy. I thought I’d be back on the trail in another month or so.
It’s been three and a half months now, and I’m still on the DL. I thought I had plantar fasciitis, and maybe some rotator cuff instability. Apparently what I actually have is a body laughably out of whack. It’s a wonder I ever walked, much less ran. My ribs are up under my shoulders, my lower abs are AWOL, my hamstrings have let my quads do all the work, and my lower back tries to be in charge of everything.
I can’t even describe to you how my physical therapists are trying to rewire and retrain the decades of poor mechanics that have me all kinked up. Every week they bend me like a Barbie doll and measure our progress.
For months there has not been much to measure. They give me a new set of exercises and send me home to work some more.
I’ve learned a thing or two, and not just about my hamstrings. (There’s a reason why “hamstrung” is a synonym for counter-productive.) In my case, the heartstrings also are involved.
I noticed a funny thing in our first couple of sessions. As my therapist was doing soft-tissue work (like massage, only not as pleasant or relaxing), I felt grief welling up: an intense if sourceless sadness. And at home, doing my exercises, a melancholy sensation would rise from my gut into my chest.
I remembered Matthew Sanford’s words, talking in an On Being interview about his experience of the car accident at 13 that left him a paraplegic, and how the memory of the accident and the damage it did was stored in his body. His mind could and did shut down, as bones were breaking in his back, neck and hands. But his body could not escape, and took in everything that happened. The memories of those traumas were stored in his body, and became griefs that he moved through, years later.
Of course, I am not facing anything near as traumatic as that, and yet in 50 years of living I have had my share of experiences in my body that my mind would just as soon not know happened and indeed tries to block out. But my body has no such escape. It remembers. It hurts. It feels sad. I do, too.
I suspect this is not uncommon. I know more than a few people who have done PT for a while and then stopped. I have begun to ask people if it made them feel sad. Several of them have looked nonplussed; several have said, wonderingly, “Yeah … you know, it did, kinda.”
Sad that you can’t do what you once did? Yeah, maybe. Sad that you have to do these repetitive exercises instead of run and play? Sure. But these don’t feel like the sum total of the sad. There’s more there … though it’s hard to say what or where.
I have had to find a way through the sad, so I can keep going with the exercises that are reteaching my body how to move and breathe and be. Here’s one way that I have found.
Most of my exercises involve doing something (moving into and holding or tweaking a posture) for five breaths, and repeating it five times (i.e., 25 breaths). I am using those repetitions to breath lovingkindness meditations. With each inhale, I think “May I feel …” and on the exhale I fill in the blank and hold the thought along with the long exhale.
May I feel safe …
May I feel strong* …
May I feel healthy …
May I feel happy …
May I live with ease.
* I added this one.
On the next round of five, I extend the meditation to someone else: members of my family, my co-workers, people in the hospital where I work … this meditation is helping me to feel compassion for myself in this process, as well as deepening my compassion for and connection to others. Not to mention getting me through five sets of five repetitions of not-fascinating exercises and the grief they engender.
I am learning in my body another thing Matthew Sanford said: “I have never seen anyone truly become more aware of his or her body without also becoming more compassionate.”
Some parts of my body have been working too hard for years; others have been nearly silent. When I am able to run again, I hope to do a better job of hearing and holding all the parts of my body, the quiet and the quick, the grieving and the glad.
What about you? Have you ever been surprised or stirred by emotions in physical therapy, massage, or yoga? How did you understand or process what came up for you?