A great mentor of mine recently said that “passion is merely currency generated by emotion resulting from effort and hardship”.
I am often told I must be passionate about exercise because I do it for a living. Or that I am passionate about soccer because I have played all my life and I love watching the game.
While I appreciate both things, the truth is that I am not passionate about either because I never really struggled at them.
At the same time, I never asked to be passionate about getting out of pain and I never ever thought I would end up where I am right now. A 38 year old trainer who is neither a physical therapist nor really a trainer.
But I have sure struggled like hell to get here. From literally struggling to walk for the first two months after tearing my ACL to waking up early for decades before work to mobilize my knee as well as read and study. I have put in thousands of hours and failed hundreds of times working with clients, only to learn what success really is (and is not).
What I have learned throughout this time is that, if we really pay attention to it, the struggle itself is the gift that finally causes us to act and to continue to appreciate the success we do achieve.
There are a few things I do know for sure:
You are going to struggle with your body, with not understanding where to turn to get better and with being consistent when it is easier to just take a pill or massage away whatever hurts.But what you will find is that any relief you experience is temporary and rather than turning away from the pain, embracing it, questioning it and better understanding it is the only way you will ever really get better.
This requires you to know your own body, just as I have learned to know mine, through careful, safe to fail, experimentation and observation.
Understanding Safe to Fail:
A safe to fail experiment is one that takes place within a controlled environment that allows for mistakes to be made with minimal consequences. A good example of this is my homie Blake, a surfer who suffered temporary paralysis due to hyper extending his back while taking a wave awkwardly.
He suffered an injury diagnosed as Surfer's myelopathy, a condition in which the back is hyperextended and a blood vessel leading to the spine can become kinked, depriving the spinal cord of oxygen. Almost immediately after his injury, he lost sensation in his lower limbs and had trouble walking for weeks after his injury.
Advised by his doctor that the partial paralysis he was experiencing could be permanent, Blake began to take matters in to his own hands noting that he ALMOST touch his toes on his right but not his left. After talking with me and a few other therapists, Blake began spending 15-20 minutes per day attempting to touch his left toes, balancing on his board and performing assisted versions of basic exercises like squats and step ups.
Every time he would experience a nerve or pain flare up, he would elevate his feet and breath and wait until things cooled off before resuming. Using his toe touch as a guide for progress, he eventually got to the point where he could touch both toes again and balance on his board for 90 seconds without much wobble.
From here, he returned to the water to begin practicing surfing, but this time he incorporated a warm up and the toe touch stretches he had been working on. It took him 8 months, but he returned to surfing pain free and basically rehabbed his body to the point where he has never experienced pain again.
When I asked Blake how and why he kept going despite no real indication of how long it would take, he turned and asked me “what is the alternative? Doing nothing? Because that is 100% guaranteed to get me nowhere”.
Where do we begin?
So where did Blake and where do you even begin? Before throwing a bunch of stuff at a wall and seeing what sticks, I want to provide you some simple principles that have served me well.
Despite your condition or diagnosis, these principles are universal and lead us to the habits necessary to get better.
1.) Devote 15 minutes per day to self care 2.) Identify and frequently revaluate the cause of your pain 3.) Do 3 mobility sessions per week 4.) Make Sleep a priority 5.) Understand how to sit/stand/walk with proper alignment
While I will get in to far more detail with these in future articles, two really key takeaways include researching the cause or injury mechanism of your issue (I can help you here) and devoting quite a bit of time both daily and weekly to experiment and learn about your body.
The way I often explain this to clients I work with is that doctors and therapists can give you a diagnosis and perhaps guidelines based upon a set of symptoms but this is merely a jumping off point. It is then your responsibility to identify things that make you feel better and activities that may provoke pain.
A really good place to start with this exploration is reading about Feldenkreis principles which a lot of the work I do with clients are based upon. These are a great guideline for self experimentation and where to get started.
Ultimately, the secret sauce for getting out of pain and/or achieving any type of physical or other result is not a series of exercises, but rather a willingness to explore, challenge, experiment and fail a lot. For me, passionate is the thing that results from this mindset because it is an unwilling to be defeated.
If you can adopt this attitude and view your situation as a challenge versus a limitation, we can blaze a trail to anywhere you want to go. If I can answer any questions or help in any way, please feel free to reach out.