Listening To My Body

Although I’ve proclaimed the gospel of mind-body connection (as above, so below—my mental state and my physical body are not islands in the same stream, they’re the water and the flow), I needed The Universe to teach me how it feels with a mallet, so I threw out my back a few years ago while roller skating, and that kicked off my midlife crisis. A chiropractor, blue hair, and a turn-it-upside down career change followed.

This morning, I had to listen to my lower back. It’s been talking for days, but I’ve refused to listen. Yesterday, standing up straight hurt. If I lengthened my spine, dropped my shoulders, and popped my chin up the way I know it all ought to be, a dull and persistent pain instantly overtook the left half of my mid-lower back. So I drove all day.

I made it worse by keeping my body in relatively one position for hours while I drove around unknown neighborhoods south of me in search of For Rent signs, because one of the lessons for me in this pandemic is that my family no longer fits in our physical space. Four of us inhabit a two bedroom apartment. Myself and three kids: 15, 12, and 6. Plus a cat. Everyone needs their own room with a door that closes. We have too much stuff. Our emotions don’t fit here anymore.

So I took us driving through the rural areas that offer more space for less rent. Armed with a notebook and a camera, we headed into the rural no-man’s-land that marks the beginning of the part of Illinois that has nothing to do with Chicago (the city is, for the record, my favorite part of Illinois, and so this whole mission to move might just be pandemic madness). We made it three counties down and came back, and now walking hurts. My back is trashed.

Image of a trailer with patriotic flags and three crosses in front of it
Look where I’m not moving. It got us out of the apartment for a day, though, and I think we’ve all quit romanticizing rural life for the moment now. Which isn’t to say there really aren’t good, even wonderful, things about living out in the country. But maybe I need to slow my freaking roll right now.

I’m pretty sure I did this on Sunday when I went social-distance kayaking (I’m not really sure there’s any other way but socially distantly to propel a one-man craft through water, but times are what they are so I feel like I have to say it). While the paddling worked out my arms and shoulders, I think the damage occurred when I heaved myself like a hay sack out of the kayak onto the dock.

I’m using cannabis carefully in all of this. I’m trying to only smoke when I need it, and today I needed medicine. Here’s what getting stoned does for me: when I’ve separated myself from my body and consciousness to the point that I’m sleepwalking through war zones, it throws me back in the stream—that mind body one I talked about. I get in my head, and I hear my body. It’s not always pretty, but I come out of it with realigned flow.

Today it manifested in some stretches, half a minute with the foam neck-prop the chiropractor I quit going to gave me, and some half-assed yoga. I also set down my coffee and drank water.

I have a prescribed set of stretches I do sometimes, a head-to-toe warmup comprised of ballet stretches and a little Pilates core stuff at the end, so I started with that. But when I tried to run rib isolations, I could hardly make the movement. The smallest gesture of form on it sent pain through my back. So I tried my hips. Nada. I could move them side to side, but popping them back without angling the rest of my torso yielded just about nothing except hurt.

Stick figure sitting on their knees on the floor with their face down and arms stretched out. Text above reads: Crying Position

So that’s how I ended up crying face-down on a yoga mat in my living room this morning. I had to listen to my body and hear it tell me the things I would normally do—my diluted Pilates ballet stretches—aren’t what I need or can even handle today. I need something else, and I don’t know what because today is all new and we haven’t been here before. And then I cried. Not for too long, but enough. It was one of those physical cries, where tears just needed to come out.

Then I got on my hands and knees and curled my back, tucked my chin to my chest and felt the pull and stretch I needed. I let it go for a moment, then I arched my back and opened my eyes and let my jaw open as wide as it could go, doing my best impression of other women doing yoga. It felt good. Then I laid on my back and tucked my knees to my chest, just hugged them there and rocked a little bit. I could feel that position pulling on the muscles in my back that I’ve pinched or strained or whatever I’ve done to them this time.

Stick figure drawing of a person on their hands and knees with their back arched, emulating a yoga stretch. The person has a little tail and text above it says: how I imagine my tail if I had one.
I’m pretty sure this one is actual yoga. My understanding of it is that you arch your back like you’re a lion and then you open your eyes as wide as you can and look up as high as they go, and you’re supposed to open your mouth like you’re roaring, and I forgot to stick out my tongue.

My back still hurts but not as badly. Some of the edge is off. This one is going to take some days to heal, though, and I’m going to have to roll on my floor some more and listen to what my body tells me before it’s better.

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