healing


I’ve been working seriously on changing my posture for the last six months. I’ve been seeing a chiropractor, a massage therapist, and a physical therapist. On normal days I do about two hours of stretching and strengthening exercises–postural reprogramming stuff that they have assigned. On super busy days I do about an hour’s worth.

I’m strengthening the muscles that hold my shoulders and head back and up. I’m lengthening the muscles that pull them down and forward. I’m decreasing the exaggerated curvature in my thoracic spine (called kyphosis), especially focusing on the top few thoracic vertebrae. I’m increasing the twisting range of motion in my thoracic spine and ribs. I’m learning to relax muscles in my legs and butt, back and shoulder blades. I’m learning how to sit differently, stand differently, sleep differently, and especially walk differently. I have an alarm set to remind me about posture every 20 minutes that I’m awake.

The thing is, I’m almost 40 and I don’t have kids yet. I need my body to stay fit for at least another 20 years, and preferably more like 50 more. But nearly three years ago I started having some serious pain in my body–after 37 years of being as athletic as I pleased, I was suddenly limited in how much I could run, lift, swim, and sometimes even walk. One year I could go to a Lindy Hop event and dance all day and all night, and the next I had maybe two hours, maybe 15 minutes in me. Unacceptable.

And it turns out it’s because of my posture. Joints, muscles, and their connections do not work properly if not in the optimal relative position to each other. The habitual position of my joints had put enough strain on my body that I started having intense pain.

My chiropractor once told me, “You are the most compliant patient I’ve ever had.” My PT and massage therapist have said similar things. That is exactly what I’m aiming at–the most compliant patient. I do not just show up. I do not intend to waste my money or my life getting care and then not following through with the recommendations of my providers. If you tell me not to ride my bike for 3 months, I start walking or taking the bus. If you show me how to walk differently, I will walk differently. If you tell me to do 45 reps of some new, super-awkward exercise every day for the foreseeable future, I will do it. I am your perfect patient. I do it because I’m hoping you know what will help. I want to make you look brilliant. And I do it because if, after a couple of months, what you do and have me do has not helped noticeably, I will find someone else to work with, because I have tried you and your ideas out to the letter.

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I am on staff at Not Back to School Camp for my 13th year, this year, from mid-August to early October. These are the roles I’m filling:

Advisor: Each session I meet daily with a group of about 10 campers each morning for an emotional and physical well-being check-in. We practice listening to each other and get to know each other quite well during the session, so that by the end we feel close, like a little family unit at camp.

Project leader: At the second Oregon session this year I led two projects. In the Music Project, we had camper musicians of all skill levels, playing violin, banjo, melodica, harp, ukulele, electric and several acoustic guitars. In six hours over the course of three days, we learned to play together as a band, wrote a song, and then performed it for the camp. In a project called On Becoming a Man, I led a group of six young men in a two-day discussion of the difference between being a boy and being a man, how each of us related to those roles, and what we thought would be the ideal elements of a ritual induction into manhood for each of us.

Workshop leader: I am leading five workshops at each session of camp. They are hour-long presentations open to anyone who is interested. In “On Trauma and Healing” I present the modern understanding of psychological trauma and what it takes to heal. In “A Theory of Everything,” I present an overview of Ken Wilber’s integral philosophy. In “Family Maps” I teach campers how to make what family therapists call a genogram, showing their entire family and the relationships between each member. In “Partner Dancing,” I teach the basics of how to dance with another person, regardless of the music being played. In “The Human Bowel Movement,” I teach the physiology of bowel movements, complete with a tour of the digestive tract, using a full-length, stretched-out drawing of one, and diagrams of each stage of the bowel movement.

Staff therapist: I am available as a therapist to any of the campers who are looking for that kind of support. I use a humanistic, strengths-based, systemic approach, emphasizing relationships, self-care, and the power of honest communication.

I am in a long, slow recovery from a sacroiliac joint sprain. I’ve just started being able to do more exercise than mild physiotherapy exercises, after almost nine months. I have to be careful, but I can do it. I am in the worst shape of my life, and generally I dislike it. The one nice thing, though, is how little I have to work to reach an aerobic heart rate.

In my normal shape, for example, bicycling is not a good choice for an aerobic workout. I have to push uncomfortably hard just to get to my minimum, low-level aerobic heart rate. [Which is somewhere around 108 beats per minute–60% of an estimated maximum of 180, since I can’t yet push hard enough to discover what my actual max is.] Now I can hop on my bike and hit an aerobic zone within a minute of riding gently. Pretty nice!

I’ve often wished I had a biofeedback device that could tell me whether something I was doing was good, bad, or neutral for my body. I have found pain and other sensations ambiguous directors. What are they asking for? This has been especially important in the last few years, dealing with injuries and slower healing. I recently asked my physiotherapist, Shannon, for her general recommendations for reading pain related to an activity. This is what she said:

1) Joint pain is never okay. If you experience joint pain during or after activity something is wrong; consider getting help to figure out what.

2) You should have no muscle pain during an activity (if you do, it means you are doing way too much).

3) Muscle pain after an activity means you are close to the right intensity – try lowering intensity and/or duration for a while and see how you respond.

4) Mild to moderate muscle pain in the next couple days is fine as long as it doesn’t escalate.

5) Each time you add an activity, do it at a constant level for 1-2 weeks before increasing duration or intensity