A Little Goes a Long Way

Last week I received an e-mail from a dear friend thanking me for continuing to remind everyone that there is always value in making an effort no matter how small it might seem.  If you participate in available activities at whatever level you can, you will almost always be glad you did, even when that effort is sporadic. This has been a recurring theme throughout these blog posts.  But consistency of effort has also been a theme.  And here we are in the middle of summer when consistency in any aspect of our lives seems elusive. If we’re not busy travelling, we’re hosting visitors. When I first moved to this tourist town I remember being told, “if you live in the Black Hills, everyone wants to come and visit you”.  Many of my friends make their living during the summer months which doesn’t allow much time for anything else. As the saying goes, we all need to make hay while the sun shines. Sprinkle into this mix that kids (including children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews and friends) are out of school and you have a recipe that’s guaranteed to throw your usual routines off-kilter.  So how do we reconcile the need for consistency in our practices in the face of so much disruption?

My first suggestion is to do what you can.  If you find some space in between commitments take advantage of it. Bring your visitors to a class or if you are the visitor, ask where you can find a class.  It can fun to try something different.  And if you don’t like it, you never have to do it again!  Takes all the pressure off so you can just have fun.  Still all the traveling and hosting can be exhausting.  But according to an article in the Harvard Health blog, exercise beats caffeine when you’re feeling tired. One more reason to squeeze it in whenever you can.

Maybe you can’t fit in a class, but you can probably manage a walk. Even 15 or 20 minutes is enough to revive your energy levels and bring some color to your cheeks. If you’re out of town and don’t know where to go, head for some trees. There has been a huge amount of research lately touting the benefits of connecting with nature.  A recent book called “The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier and More Creative” by Florence Williams cites numerous examples from this research.  Summer is the perfect time to take advantage of these benefits.  Greenery abounds.  Even in inner cities.  Ms. Williams says that even if you can walk down a city street where trees are growing you will feel the difference in your mood.  Another article in the Harvard Health blog echoes this sentiment and takes it a step further. The article refers to an analysis published by the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences which shows that time spent in “green” places is linked to longer life in women.  “Specifically, there was a 13% lower rate for cancer mortality, 35% lower respiratory disease-related mortality, and 41% lower rate for kidney disease mortality in the women living in the areas with the highest levels of green vegetation.” Green things are growing all around us no matter where you live.  Smile as you walk by them.  It just might extend your life!

Another suggestion: remember that anything you do is better than nothing. One thing we know is that summer will end.  Even if the weather doesn’t change much, the kids will go back to school, travelers become less frequent for a while and routines can resume.  Anything you’ve done during the hiatus will be helpful when you get back to your regular activities.  Coming back and regaining your former strength, stamina and flexibility will be that much easier if you’ve been able to practice at all, even intermittently.

Which brings me to my third suggestion:  be patient and gentle with yourself.  Doing a little here and there can be frustrating. You might recognize that you’ve lost some of the gains you made during regular practice.  Getting them back might seem daunting and be a bit slower and more difficult than you hoped.  Take heart.  You got where you were once, you can get there again.  Of course, if you’re recovering from a physical setback modification may also be in order.  But no matter where you are, set your expectations aside and focus on the process.  Try setting goals related to process rather than specific achievements.  In other words, rather than saying, “I will be able to touch my toes in six weeks” try making your goal something like “I will practice regularly for the next six weeks”. The term “regular” can have any definition you like (e.g. daily, every other day, bi-weekly, weekly, whatever).  Just make it something you can maintain on a consistent basis.  Try to be consistent for as long as you can. Another thing you can be sure of is that life will throw curves into your best intentions. When that happens, go back to the suggestions above and return to consistency when you can.

Finally, relax and enjoy the novelty of change.  Accept what is and go with the flow. Life is finite.  Time is precious. If you can’t do everything you want to do, don’t beat yourself up. Just do what you can.  Focus on the positive.  Do what you can with what you have now and you will always be right.

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Lessons Learned

If you read my last blog post, you will have learned that I was headed for spine surgery.  As it turned out, my surgery happened a week earlier than originally planned.  This was fine with me since by then I had reconciled myself to the need for the surgery and had also come to my wit’s end with the pain I was enduring.  It was not an easy decision to have the surgery.  Any time one is subjected to the vagaries of anesthesia and the dangers inherent in opening parts of the body that are otherwise not meant to open anything can happen.  These cautions become even more pronounced when working with the spine and the nervous system it is designed to protect.  Arriving at the decision to undergo surgery meant I had to surrender to the unknown and be willing to accept whatever consequences might ensue.  I have since spoken with many people who are daily enduring problems that surgery might fix but the fear of those consequences outweighs the problem.  For me it was the other way around: the prospect of a solution won me over.  As I said in my most recent post, I felt that the fact that a solution exists at all – and that I had access to it – put me in a far better category than those for whom a solution is not available.

At this point I am delighted to report that my surgery went exactly as planned and did, in fact, solve the problem for which it was intended.  I am beyond amazed at the miracle of it.  Despite our resilience, human beings are subject to a myriad of health problems.  Even as medical advances are made, new problems seem to crop up daily.  Yet there are also marvelous techniques now available that even a few years ago would have seemed impossible.  Here I am, not quite 5 weeks from my surgery and already I can walk a couple of miles pain-free and even do some yoga.  Nothing short of miraculous in my mind.

So what have I learned in this latest journey?  First of all, it really helps to be in good shape to begin with.  All my years spent touting the benefits of movement and working to motivate others has not been for naught.  The strength, flexibility and balance I have worked to maintain has definitely helped pull me through this.  The first week after the surgery was very difficult.  It is easy to understand how some people might succumb to that difficulty, stretching out or even hindering the recovery process.  Pain can create a vicious cycle – the more you hurt, the less you want to move, but the less you move the harder it is to get moving. Yet even while I was still in the hospital I was encouraged to move.  This is another change in the thinking of the medical community.  It used to be that after surgery people were told not to move.  Today, just the opposite is promoted.  Our bodies are meaning to move and the sooner one gets moving, the better for the body. It’s tough, though, to move when everything hurts.  So it became another opportunity for practice.  All of the lessons I’ve been writing about in this blog had to be re-activated.  Examples:  keep trying!  If you have to stop, then stop.  But try again later.  My doc gave me a simple rule of thumb, “If it hurts, stop.  If you think it’s going to hurt, don’t do it.”  That last part could be interpreted as license to stop trying, but that marker moves as the healing process progresses.  So what hurts today might hurt less tomorrow or the next day.  Each day brings another opportunity to try again.

Which brings me to Lesson #2 – the danger zone.  That first week was miserable, but by the second week I could already tell the difference. There was a spark of light at the end of the tunnel.  Healing was hardly complete but I could tell that I was getting better.  By the third week, I was actually feeling good much of the time.  That’s when the danger zone arrives.  I started to feel good enough to believe that I could do more than I should.  After a couple of episodes of over-doing (thankfully minor) I realized that I had to pull back.  This is when the full realization of aging starts to set in.  Although it is truly amazing that a person my age can go through a trauma like this and not only survive but thrive afterwards, I still had to respect the fact that healing is slower as we age.   It is so important to me to keep moving as much as I can for as long as I can.  Rather than invite set-backs that could be avoidable, I had to remind myself that I am in this for the long haul.  Feeling good will only get better if I have some patience and let it happen in its own time.  A fellow Pilates teacher said, “You’ll be that much stronger if you just wait until the time is right.”  Good advice.

And that’s Lesson #3 – I am continuing to get better on a daily basis and it was worth the wait.  Every day I feel stronger and more like my old self again.  It may take a little longer to get my fitness levels back, but come back they will if I just take it slow but keep moving forward.  Still I am changed by this as I am by every new experience.  I heard a great quote the other day:  an elderly woman was asked what it is like to be 89 or whatever age she was at that time.  Her answer, “I don’t know.  I’ve never been 89 before!”  A great reminder that as long as we’re on the planet, moving and breathing, life continues to be an adventure.  Each day is one you have never before experienced.  Stepping into the unknown can be as simple as getting out of bed in the morning.  It can be scary, but we all have the capacity to be brave and do the best we can with whatever we have to work with on an given day.  Everything is changing all the time. So whatever you felt yesterday might be different today.  Treat every moment like the remarkable gift it is.