Move It Wednesdays, Barbara: Listening to the BODY, not the mind

photo-81Two weeks ago on Saturday, I was really in the mood to blow off some stress with hard physical exercise. It was a long work week. We walked the dog a couple of miles, as is our Saturday morning habit.  We had plans to attend an introduction to Tai Chi in the afternoon, but that would be mellow and a little behind on my step count, so I went to Zumba.  It was a great, great class.  My favorite teacher.  A vigorous routine. And in the end, as a cool down song, we danced to Royals, my current favorite song (song of the book for Book 2 in my NA series), using a lot of Nia* steps, though I was probably the only one in the class who knew it and knows that the teacher used to be a Nia teacher at the Y.  I was sweaty and happy at the end, although I’d sort of ignored my knees a bit and had a feeling I’d pay.  My spirit soared, my mind was calm.

Within an hour, my knees said, “What the eff?” I sat in my favorite chair and iced them, as I often do. It usually calms them down. I knew I didn’t have to do anything but the tai chi class later, so it would be fine.  It’s the trade-off I’ve been making lately: if I dance, I probably won’t do anything else that day except a lot of reading.  Fair enough. I bargain with my knees like they are sentient: I’ll just go to Zumba once a week, and the rest of the time, I’ll do whatever I can to make you strong and feel comfortable.

Well, that Saturday they spoke back. They said, STOP DOING THIS! with pain. That’s what pain is, a signal, of course. I sat in my chair and tried not to cry, not sure whether I was crying more because I might have to give up Zumba or because it was hurting so much.

We headed to tai chi. It was an intro class, mainly a lot of talking, and it was fine. We went through a few exercises, so easy and gentle, all balancing, all meant to get blood flowing throughout the body, through the joints and all the meridians.  It was wonderful, and Christopher Robin loved it even more than I did, so we decided to sign up for classes. The only one we can take together is at 9:45 on Saturday mornings, which means Zumba is impossible. At least that class. I wavered for once second and then said, “Let’s do this.”

Friends, I’ll tell you that by the time I got home, I could only hobble. I knew exactly what had happened: a torn meniscus in the left knee got caught, the knee swelled because of all the activity, and then it couldn’t get free. The more it hurt, the more I tensed, and the worse it got. The right knee has torn menisci, too, but there’s no point to undergoing the knife for just that; as my orthopedist says, it’s like throwing a cup of water on a house fire.  I found some vicodin left over from dental surgery, collapsed in my girl cave and watched movies, and by morning, the knee was feeling normal.  At least normal-ish.  I was hobbling.  My BFF at church said, “You know, you’re always unconsciously rubbing your hands in circles over your knees.”

Christopher Robin said, “How long are you going to keep putting off doing something about this?” as I limped around a walk the next morning.

My massage therapist, not even knowing about my bad day, said, “You know I love and honor you right? You are totally throwing your entire body out of whack with all the compensation you’re doing for these knees.”  Right there on the table, tears leaked out of my eyes.  I wrecked my knees roller skating (speed skating, actually) as a child and teen, when I loved nothing better than flying so fast around that floor that it really did feel like flight.  I took the inevitable injuries with a grain of salt, and nearly all of them were crashing into the floor with knees.  Bad knees (bad joints, actually) run in my family, and my sister had to have hers completely replaced by the time she was 38.

But the dialogue I’ve been having with myself was a Good Wolf/Bad Wolf, the Exercise Edition.  Bad Wolf kept saying, “Get out there and exercise, you lazy sloth! Of course your knees need to be replaced. Because you are fat! If you get thin enough, you won’t ever have to do this stupid thing.”  Good Wolf would say, gently, “Let’s just go for a nice long walk, maybe sit in the hot tub afterward, and have a light supper.”  Bad Wolf would roar, “What’s wrong with you? Come on, lift those weights, get out there and huff and puff.”  Good Wolf would say, “Baby,” (because that’s how my good wolf talks to me, in the voice of a Southern, aging black woman), “your knees are hurting. Let’s take it a little easy today, huh? Cook something. That’ll feel good.”

Bad Wolf has nothing to do with Zumba. I purely love moving, dancing.  And roller skating. I love hiking so much it’s like a song in my soul.  I do it because I am so sad when I can’t.

The next Saturday morning, we went to Tai Chi after we walked the dog (during which I had to stop twice to stretch out my hips, getting too tight because of compensation).  As I went through the entire warm-up, I could actually hear my body, feel how exhausted it was from trying to keep everything in good order for me.  My lower back, my aching hips, the weary knees.  My left foot, my shoulders and neck. Everything, too tight, off-kilter.  As we moved, so easily, so gently, so slowly, so deliberately, I could feel things ease a little, here and there. Blood flowing through my wrists, into my lower back.  I could feel the click and scratch and swelling in my knees.  And I said, “I’m sorry, my body. I am going to take better care of you. I promise.”

I don’t know what’s going to happen, or when. I know that I’m weary of having to give things up because it hurts. I’m not willing to become a hobbling cripple before I commit to the challenge of surgery and recovery, which is not that easy.  I do know that I’ve kept the muscles in my legs and knees as strong as I can, with the help of the wonderful Tabor, who knows how to help me. He’ll also be there for me afterwards, helping me get strong again.  And maybe then I can dance every day if I want. Or at least once a week without crying afterwards.

I’m also going to stick with Tai Chi for awhile. CR has a sports injury, too, plantar fasciitis (that is a bugger of a word to spell!) and he found some relief in the movements.  I’m going to try to pay attention to the things my BODY is saying every day.  Do I need to walk or swim? Is my body hurting and what will give it ease?  That doesn’t mean I’m giving up hard exercise, understand. On Monday, I really needed the stress relief of a hard work out and when he texted, asking about my knees and what I I felt like, I texted back that my knees hurt a lot, but I needed to sweat and work hard.  Possible?  He said, “Absolutely.”  So we did a vigorous work out that didn’t hurt my knees at all.  I can swim as much as I like. It never hurts.  And I can walk a ton, of course. Always.

Sorry to be so long-winded. Sometimes, a story needs more words. I’ve committed to being real here, and maybe my story resonates with some of you.

Do you listen to your body? Or is it your mind you hear?  Right now, stop and take a second and scan through your precious, beautiful body. What does IT say to you?  

47 thoughts on “Move It Wednesdays, Barbara: Listening to the BODY, not the mind

  1. I had a work friend who had two torn meniscuses (meniscusi?) and who had them each repaired. He had to because they made him unable to do his job which was very physical (stage manager). It made a world of difference to him. Sounds to me like you need to do that. Do you ever do yoga? I’ve been doing it 2x a week (mostly) for the last three years and it really is a great way to keep everything moving and loosen up. The most exciting thing about the yoga is that my DH (out of the blue) decided he wanted to do it too. He has serious lower back stiffness and is very unbendy and I can see what a difference it is making for him.

    My daughter (who you taught in one of your classes) has plantar fasciitis. I hate seeing her hobble. I learned about Yamuna Body Rolling Foot Wakers which are these odd (expensive) gold plastic half-circles with little spiky points on them and got a set for her. They have helped her a lot when she uses them. (Ahem.)

    Do I listen to my body? I tend toward inactivity rather than activity. I think there are times when my body probably does want to go out for a walk my mind is saying I don’t have time or its too cold or windy or whatever. I do tend to be run by my mind.

  2. I was going to suggest yoga too. For me in particular what is helping is Iyengar yoga which focuses on specific poses and holding them and listening to the body and pushing it when necessary but pulling back when your body says enough. At least that’s how it is with the teacher I’ve been going to and I may never leave level 1. Still for the first time in a year my right arm which is a mess from carpal tunnel that I’ve had for something like 20 years is feeling better. My feet which are always a mess, high arch, wide foot, plantar fasciitis in the right one, genetically messed up knees that impact the entire body, all of it feels better.

    I just went back to it and I love it. This time I am pretty sure that I’ll be staying because I just feel better, stronger and while it isn’t one of the flowing highly aerobic classes, I do sweat during class.

    Amazing the damage we do unknowingly to our bodies when we are young and indefatigable. I definitely got a t-shirt from that place around here some where.

  3. Oh, my. Do we have the same Bad Wolf? “Get out there and exercise, you lazy sloth! Of course your knees need to be replaced. Because you are fat! If you get thin enough, you won’t ever have to do this stupid thing.”
    The thing is, I’ve never ever trusted my body. Hmmm. God, I have an entire post to talk about with this. But in the meantime, I don’t swim hard, I do stretching and water walking (actually I think the water walking idea originally came from you long ago). I do know that you can get sweaty in a pool doing really vigorous water exercises. I do know you can also screw up your knees in a pool too, so nothing’s safe, but water tends to be safer.

  4. Barbara,

    Your massage person is right. Your body will do whatever it can to compensate for the knee issues as long as it can to keep you going. That includes throwing all sorts of body parts out of alignment and creating even more problems for you.

    So, I’ll just ask — why not let the doctor fix your knees? You know surgery is nothing I’d recommend first for anyone. But you exercise a lot. You like it. You see a massage person who’s doing all he can to compensate for the knee issues, and you’re still in pain.

    It seems you can either keep being in pain and limiting what you do because of the pain or you can go ahead with the surgery, suffer short-term, but be much better in the long-run. And then go do what you want to do and enjoy it.

  5. Jill says:

    Every massage therapist I have been to has tried to fix the golf ball sized knots in my neck. Nothing helps. I have had arthroscopic surgery on my right knee (tennis) and now bursitis in my right hip. I hear you about one bad joint throwing the rest of the joints out of whack. My internal med doc is a DO who still does adjustments-I am a frequent customer. He gave me a scrip for Voltaren gel-I love that stuff.

  6. Diane says:

    You have my complete empathy. There is no exercise that I have encountered as an adult that doesn’t hurt some part of me. Walking = plantar fascitis. Biking = sore wrists, sore lower back. Jogging = knee pain extreme, hip pain. Swimming = sore shoulders, sore upper back, sore elbows. Weight lifting = various injuries in various places.

    Basically, I fight through every bit of exercise I manage every day and it hurts… so sorry you have the a similar hand dealt to you! It started for me when I was sixteen and injured my knee while on the track team.

  7. Carol says:

    I’m laughing (in sympathy – it’s a sympathy laugh!), because I feel like all I’ve been doing for the last 3 months is listening to my body, or more specifically, to my right foot. I’ve had to weigh everything I do, from what kind of shoes I wear to how long I can walk, by how my right foot feels about it. Sometimes I misjudge (Beach Clean-up Day, didn’t think about how slogging through sand would make my foot feel!) and sometimes I baby it too much, but overall I see the progress I’ve made, and am glad I had the surgery.

    As for your poor knees, every piece of advice I’ve heard about knee replacement (my poor mother needs it desperately but won’t do it) is that you wait until you can’t stand it anymore and then take the plunge. Sounds like you might be getting close?

  8. Jill,
    Have you ever injured your neck? Do you have neck pain? Migraines? Back pain? Tell me about it. I went to massage school when I go scared about paying for my kids’ college with book money. 🙂

  9. I totally feel you! The Bad Wolf is so, so loud, especially when you’re used to being the strong one (I am WOMAN, hear me ROAR!). But yes, listening to our bodies is extremely important, especially if we’ve spent our younger years listening to other things. I’m a week out from my 25th surgical procedure for chronic pain due to a busted neck, and on the one hand, doing great. On the other, not listening to my body and then being rudely surprised when I NEED to lie down, or eat, or snuggle up to an ice pack. When I snap out of being an asshat to myself and listen to my body, I anticipate the above needs nicely and nothing gets dramatic. When I get all in my head about “OMG I’m doing so well it’s like the surgeries barely even touched me whee I’m invincible!” then… splat. So yes. Be gentle with yourself, muzzle the Bad Wolf or give it a long bone from the monster under the bed to chew on, and listen to your Good Wolf. Sending you, and your knees, healing white light and love.

  10. I LOVE Voltaren gel! My gram’s doctor gave her some samples, which she shared with Mom. After Gram died, Mom had Gram’s samples (full-sized tubes) and got some of her own from her doctor. When I moved in when Mom had cancer, I started using it for my fibro. I inherited all the samples. I used them all up on my fibro and have been sad that my insurance wouldn’t pay for the gel, only the pill form, which is just not the same. So glad you can get it and that it makes a difference!

    Also, does your doc do Cranio-Sacral therapy? That has made a huge difference in my life when I had it done. Don’t know anyone currently who does it, but I am going to look.

  11. I tend to ignore my body and live in my head, unfortunately. I hate deliberate exercise, but enjoyed Tai Chi when I did it and when I had my own house, I would turn on music and dance in the evenings. And I loved walking on the beach, and to and from it.

    Since my return to Seattle, I basically haven’t moved. And my muscle tone is gone, body parts hurt. I desperately need a massage (or lots of them because just one isn’t going to get me back in order). I need to walk and move and open up my lungs.

    But when my body says “let’s walk”, my mind says “oh, I don’t feel like it right now.” I need to get beyond that because I hurt my knees when I fell hard at my mom’s house, before I moved back to Houston, and all this inactivity has weakened my knees so that they are starting to act up. As are my hips.

    I just need to move.

    I hope your knees recover so you can put off surgery until you are ready. Sending healthy-knee vibes to you!

  12. Oh, Barbara, my heart aches for you. It’s been just over a year since my knee replacement and I haven’t fell this in *control* of my physical self since I can’t remember when. I know you’re looking at double replacement, but I do urge you to get it done sooner rather than later. You’re doing all the right things for yourself and your spirit, you’re strengthening and preparing. The next step has to be doing. You won’t regret it. Well, in the short term, I’ll be honest, you’ll wonder what the hell you were thinking. In the long term you will have an even deeper enjoyment of life and the things you love to do. Trust me on this. {{{Hugs}}}

  13. Krissie, I had a single knee replacement done in September last year at the age of 49. Since then I’ve lost nearly 10 kilos and I can move more. The pain and immobility because of the pain was definitely holding me back from losing weight and exercising. My surgeon and subsequently my physio all strongly recommended using a stationary bicycle to strengthen my quads to aid in, first, pre-op strengthening, then second, post-op recovery. It’s no impact, aerobic and, best of all, you can read or listen to books while you do it. I’m a solitary exerciser (when I exercise) so it worked out well for me. Now I can walk swiftly when I want to (and if feels GREAT!) I can run down the stairs in our house and overall I feel stronger and better than ever. Other health issues have all improved with the weight loss and the additional activity and I feel happier all round. I do recommend knee replacement.

  14. I just read that the four things you can do that will actually help you live longer are (1) Don’t smoke, (2) Eat well, (3), Maintain a healthy weight, and (4). Exercise.

    So far, I’m good on (1). It’s not lost on me that 2, 3, and 4 are all related, I just don’t seem to be connecting with them. Still no kale. But I’m doing better on 2 and 3, so baby steps.

  15. Barbara, you’ve just spoken about my last week. I’d increased my exercise prior to going on a trip next week and kinked my back. I ended up getting an adjustment, then a massage, and felt a little bit better.

    Two days later, my right knee went out (I had an arthroscopy 5 years ago for a torn meniscus)so I called the ortho doctor. He took x-rays and gave me a steroid shot. He was delighted when comparing the x-rays, even though he knew I was in pain. The good news is, I might not need a replacement because I’m a good candidate for euflexxa (hyaluronic acid.) It’s a shot a week for three weeks and helps to lubricate, protect, and cushion the knee. I’m seriously thinking of doing this when I return.

    I’ve been in denial for four years, continuing to push the exercise but secretly living with the fear of surgery. With the shots and reducing my weight, I might not need the replacement. : )

    Hope you’re feeling a bit better today.

  16. Amy says:

    I find it interesting that Tai Chi worked for you. I tried it a few times, but it left my knees aching like crazy. I’ve had far more luck with yoga, which puts me into the same headspace Tai Chi does, without the knee strain.

    I’m not sure I EVER listened to my body until I started doing yoga. My body was just something that carried my head around. Now my body talks to me regularly.

  17. One thing from school, an absolute: the body will compensate for an injury as long as it can. It’s designed that way, to keep you going.
    But the body will also complain. Pain is its way of telling you something’s wrong, and the pain may start softly, but it will worse and worse until it’s screaming at you, if that’s what it takes to get your attention.

  18. I have had those shots and they REALLY helped me. I had one before I went to NZ and had a really good trip. They last about 6 months. Problem is here that they cost $1200 and my insurance is so wonky about paying.

  19. German Chocolate Betty says:

    Voltaren by scrip? Huh. Here in Germany folks are so worried about overuse of drugs that you can only buy aspirin or tylenol in, like, 20 pill blister packs (and only at the druggist’s, not in the supermarket or drugstore).

    But Voltaren gel I can get, over the counter, at the druggist for, oh, I don’t know, maybe $15-18 for a big tube? (Not sure exactly how much, ’cause I have one almost empty and one almost full which I bought when I couldn’t find the almost empty one.) Not cheap, but also not expensive…

    This is really weird — usually it’s the other way around!

    (Oh, yes, and the stuff is really good!)

  20. Kieran says:

    Barbara, get the knees replaced now before the risk of complications from the surgery outweighs the benefits. Blood clots in older patients are more common, recovery time takes longer. Do it while you’re robust!!!

  21. Kieran says:

    P.S. I love your devotion to listening…to your body, to your spirit, to the world around you, and to other people.

  22. Redwood Kim says:

    My FitBit is sitting on the counter, calling me. I haven’t had time to sit down and figure it out yet. Dumb.
    I do have some some straps with pulls hung up in the garage, so pull-ups here I come!

  23. Jessie says:

    The exercise bike is what my surgeon recommended too – and on one of the lowest settings. He said I needed to be flexible not to push against a weight. And I have had both done: one 13 years ago, one 12 years ago. I can do almost everything except kneel on them. And I look pretty pathetic getting up and down off the floor since I cannot lever myself using my knees. The same problem exists with taking a bath. The tub is a challenge. That is it. Those are the only limitations. I do everything. The surgeon did warn me that if I chose to lift heavy things and hike with a heavy backpack I was going to wear them out sooner. Just like when you routinely overload your car, the tires die faster.

    Also the tai chai is excellent. My friend who does tai chai bounced right back and was back to full speed after surgery much faster than I was.

  24. I am so with you on this, except I don’t push my body harder. I don’t push my body at all. I guess I’m the opposite. Just going up and down my stairs hurts my knees. If I turn too fast, or just lock my knee too far without noticing. They try to give out from time to time, but I do know if I made an effort, the pain would lessen. It’s worked in the past.

    I need to do the exercise bike, as that’s what my doc said is the best. I adore pilates, but can only do the floor exercises. They’re still good though. But do I do them? Sigh. No.

    I have this rec membership going unused. In one month, my life will be different. I WILL create a space in my life for exercise. I know it’s easy to say “in a month” and I hope to make something happen before then, but in a life that has become constant chaos, obligations, and responsibilities, I also have to stay sane.

    I hope you find relief. I’ve had friends in the past who’ve gotten knee replacements and been the better for them. With your active life, I bet you’re a perfect candidate. Whichever way it goes, I wish you luck. That constant pain (which I have now that it’s cold) is really no fun.

  25. You’ll get there. Sometimes life really IS too chaotic to do anything except ride the wave.

    Sorry you’re also feeling that pain. If they give out, that’s a pretty substantial sign of damage.

  26. Spent about 12 years as a catcher in softball, back before there were knee guards. But I’ve exercised regularly in the past and the pain all but went away. So I know I could make them better. If nothing else, I need to strengthen them to prepare for replacements.

  27. Barbara, by any chance are you doing Taoist Tai Chi? That’s the form that I do. I started almost two years ago, shortly after my weight loss surgery. I’ve experienced many health benefits and improvements. The leg strength it’s helped me build was the foundation for me being able to first walk more, then try Zumba and other activities. It has also relieved all my remaining carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms.

    I got a FitBit a week or so ago. Such fun and very motivating. When I’m close to 10,000 steps, I will take an extra walk just to put me over. (Did more than 11,000 steps today.)

  28. Hannah says:

    I know what you mean about Zumba. I love zumba. Can’t do it anymore because of my knees. Every once in a while I go anyway. Tell myself I just won’t jump, etc. And I limp out of there. I think compensating for my knees has aggravated my sciatic nerve, also. I try yoga every once in a while, though it’s difficult to do a lot of the poses because my knees don’t bend all that much. Last year the orthopedist started talking about knee replacement. Don’t want it! An arthritis doctor prescribed physical therapy. I thought it would be a waste of time. How can PT compensate for bones scraping together? But after two months of PT my knees feel amazingly better. They still hurt, but they work better now. My insurance decided I was done but I keep up with some of the exercises at my gym. Also ride the stationary bike several days a week. But it’s so frustrating not to be able to do Zumba, which didn’t feel like exercise at all, but just felt like fun.

  29. This post made me want to hide under a rock, so I’m making myself comment.

    I can say that I have a stationary bike – I think it’s called recumbent? You sit with your legs in front of you instead of below you and I like it quite a bit. I’ve been doing interval training a couple of times a week. Trying to work up to everyday.

    The stress in my life is crazy bad right now and I know the exercise helps, but I’m so exhausted by worry and the mental planning to keep my son safe. I know I can’t save him from himself but I’m doing my damnedest to keep him alive until they get the meds figured out.

    Stoopid, Stoopid DH is pushing me to do volunteer work on top of the job search, and the suicide watch and trying to keep life normal for the other kids. He accused me of thinking he was controlling and I managed NOT to say hell yes I think you’re controlling and I also think you’re a huge dick. So points to me for not escalating the situation.

    My body is screaming for a week on a beach somewhere and more sleep that is good for me, but my brain is on constant vigilance and crying only when I’m alone so as not to distress my already standing on the edge son.

    I wish my mom were alive. She would fly out here and help. She thought my kids were wonderful and could only help to have someone like that in the house.

    Okay, enough of feeling sorry for myself. Head up into battle. I’ll try and remember to ride the bike for my body and stress relief. I’ll endeavor not to kill my dh. I’ll support my son anyway I can. I will try not to worry about money or the fact I’m not really writing much right now.

    Ah, pershaps I should let go and trust the universe to take care of us. Just let it all go.

    All that whining finally got me somewhere. Thanks for letting me do it here.

  30. I’ve had the shots. They didn’t help. but knees are such strange things. The cortisone shots don’t help either, though I got one in each knee at the beginning of the summer before the play. I think the three shot thingy usually helps. Just not me.

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