I was able to move through my childhood unscathed. Maybe a scratch or bruise here and there, shin splints or a pulled groin muscle that healed eventually. There was that minor concussion after full contact sparring when I used to do kung fu. Actually, maybe I did get injured more than I thought I did but when we’re young, you bounce back and tend to forget. Then we get our first chronic injury, the one that keeps coming back to haunt us. That happened the first time I hurt my lower back. I didn’t even know why or how it happened. These days, I have a good idea but I had to experience chronic pain before I could understand some of the underlying causes that we often overlook. I was barely 21 or 22 when the chronic back pain started and I remember thinking that I had finally gotten old and that it might be down hill from then on. At the age of 22, I thought that I had reached old age. These days, I see teenagers who look like they had already reached the end of their lives, backs hunched over from texting and video games and I now know that injuries have nothing to do with age. It could happen anytime to anyone.
The first thing I learned about injuries and pain is that it doesn’t have to be caused by specific trauma like a car accident. The pain can just start unbeknownst to us. We have no idea where it came from or why its there. It could have been caused by mental or emotional stress, a lack of sleep or recovery, overuse; or it may have been there for months but we were too pent up on adrenaline, caffeine or pain killers to notice. Then one day, we can’t hide from it anymore and the pain makes itself known.
My back pain recurred many times in my life, before I made the choice to commit myself to fitness and keep my core healthy for good. It came back again after I worked in an office. Maybe it was sitting in a chair all day that did it. The lower back would get so swollen and I would need to see a therapist or chiropractor but I had no idea why it would become inflamed and lock up on me. It occurred again after giving birth to my son and that was the worst because it actually took me a few years to recover from that. The pain went away in a few months but my back would still bother me if I sat for too long or witness most forms of stressed. Training myself to be strong and athletic again, despite my weak link was an experimental journey that involved fear of doing the wrong thing, fear of being too weak, fear of resting it and not making it stronger, fear that making it stronger would be too much and finally the faith that came with believing that it will get better. I also hurt my knees and that took about a year or more to recover. This happened when I was teaching over 30 classes a week. My knees became worn down and I finally stopped teaching Zumba.
So I know what its like to be teetering on the edge of wanting to do something and wanting to not do something about our pain. We don’t know when we should be resting or when we should be building. Some people heal up after finally finding the right regimen, some never do and just accept their chronic pain. Some of us rest too much and allow ourselves to atrophy, others pound away at the injury, doing everything they can to strengthen their bodies when they should have just rested that area all along. We all heal at different levels and, unfortunately all the technology we have can’t always detect exactly what we should be doing. A lot of times it has more to do with how we stand, sit, sleep, think and eat.
Despite all the suffering I felt, I have to admit that being injured is one of the best things that has happened to me (knock on wood). I’m grateful because it taught me mindfulness. It made me realize that healing is not as easy as some people make it out to be. I also learned that healing modalities such as yoga, tai chi, pilates etc. may work or may worsen an injury and you have to figure out what is best for you. It also made me realize the true meaning of mind body. It isn’t taking a power yoga class because you want to look like a hot, new age chick in a bikini. The initiation of yoga and pilates into conventional gyms have changed the original mind body approach of these modalities. Yoga is meditation. It’s learning the body’s limits and strengths. We breath and move with awareness so we can learn what works and what doesn’t. Bringing conscious awareness into how we move helps us understand ourselves. It helps us to gauge if we are doing too much or too little, if our soreness is healthy or a sign that we are doing something incorrectly or abusively. This kind of awareness is priceless.
Injuries have taught me to be deeper, to make my work outs an internal art, to meditate, to incorporate mindfulness, mental illumination and emotional reflection into my healthy lifestyle. I have learned to consciously engage smaller muscles that I never knew were there before. My search for a pain free life has opened me up to many ways of thinking and moving and has empowered me to share with others. No one’s body is the same. We all have different sized limbs and muscles but the more we understand, the more empowered we become.
Pain has taught me that I’m not immortal and has driven in me the lesson that I am no better than anyone else. This, I believe, is a good thing because it is the ego that creates judgment, hostility, dictatorships and oppressiveness. Pain has taught me compassion and empathy and these traits are the heart of love.
If you find yourself having to deal with pain, please read my post on the steps you should take in case of an injury:
Do understand that there is no one panacea for pain. The best advice I can give in our quest for a cure is to be mindful. Pain is just a loud message your brain is sending you that something is not right. It may take you a while to understand the message but the search for an answer will help you in all aspects of your life. The pain may be a call to solve a problem you have been ignoring for far too long. Often, its a bad relationship, job or situation. Sometimes its just the way we have been treating body. Pay attention. It may be a call to learn more about your body and mind so you can live a fuller or deeper life. Humble yourself and listen.
Here I am with my son turning 40 years old, and feeling less pain now than I did when I was in my 20s.