I gotta say, confronting my own mortality and the aging process sucks. A lot.
My mother will be thrilled to hear me admit that she was right; that there would come a day when I would hurt just getting out of bed if I wasn’t exercising regularly. And sometimes even if I am. UGH.
So this might have happened back during one of my blogging droughts, but in October I was biking home from a friend’s house and got sideswiped by a livery cab. Luckily neither I nor he were going very fast at all, but his passenger’s side mirror scraped most uncomfortably across my left arm. This resulted in a rather large contusion, more typically called a “goose egg,” and the sneaking suspicion (since the area STILL HURTS two months after the fact) that the egg might have been hiding a hairline fracture. Also there looks like there’s a divot missing from my arm now. Fun.
The point of my bringing up this instance is to explain how a forearm ouchie put the kibosh on biking for a good month or so. And since weight-bearing on the arm was not a great idea either, no yoga. At the end of October, you might remember, there was a hurricane. So I did get some good walking in getting back and forth to work while the buses were down. And then when the buses came back, I was so excited to see them that I took them every day (this, I freely admit, was my own darn fault). Then came Thanksgiving, and I got sick. Again, not so much walking and biking being done when my lung capacity is at about 50% of normal. And then there was deadline Christmas gift knitting, which necessitated bus-taking to allow for the extra knitting time.
All of this only serves to rationalize why have not been doing my normal amount of physical activity of late. With the arm issue aside, none of it really excuses the lack of yoga-ing, but hey. It is what it is. And the sucky part is that it is really starting to take its toll.
I’ve always had bad knees. Sitting for long periods in movie theaters or airplanes causes me to get so stiff that I literally hobble upon rising. Long periods spent standing or walking in bad shoes are also ouchie-making. Every once in awhile some mysterious activity will cause my knees to feel like they are on fire, and copious amounts of ice and Advil will be applied in service of making them feel better.
Then recently, I’ve noticed that my feet are hurting more than usual, and that it seems my arches are falling. ?!?!!? To the INTERNET!
After some studied research, I’ve figured it out. It’s not that my knees are bad, it’s that my IT bands (a band of tendon and fascia that runs from the back and outside of your hip to the outside of your knee and just under the kneecap) are insanely tight. One site said you can check on this tightness by feeling the band next to your knee… “it may feel taut, almost as if you could pluck it.”
Taut? It feels like a bone. In fact, I thought it was a bone until I realized I could move it back and forth a little with my fingers. Oh boy.
Tight IT bands are not uncommon. In fact, they plague most runners and cyclists (great) at some point in their lives. But they’re a tricky area to stretch, and since the bands themselves don’t get inflamed, people are more likely to attribute the problems they cause to other things… bad knees, bad hips, bad feet. In addition to knee and hip pain (check), tight IT bands also cause excessive pronation in the feet, which can lead to—you guessed it—fallen arches.
So why have I only been noticing this host of problems for the past month or so? Here are my theories (some less ridiculous and more constructive than others):
- I’m old.
- Lack of walking/cycling exercise = more weight, which exacerbates arch issues
- Lack of yoga exercise = less stretching = tighter IT bands = mo’ problems
Okay, so here’s the part where I become one of those hippie fools who tell you how great yoga is and how everyone should be doing it, because I honestly believe it’s true. It’s also true that, just like any physical activity, doing yoga incorrectly or too forcefully can cause injury. But here’s the thing: if you pay attention to the signals your body is sending you, and you practice yoga thoughtfully like a true yogi instead of competitively like a dumb jerk, you will reap lots of benefit.
Why all the pain recently, I asked myself. And the simple answer is that I have not been stretching or building those muscles that ordinarily help me fight my body’s inherent desire to tighten up, because I haven’t been doing yoga. I was taught to practice using the principles of alignment, meaning I do all those goofy poses with my mind focused on every little minute detail of the position my body is in, from the turn of my legs to the spread of my fingers and toes to the location of my shoulder blades. It sounds crazy, I know. But it’s magic. All those little adjustments make your muscles work to realign, to put themselves in the perfect working order they were designed for before desks and high heels and Sherlock marathons on the couch. Every yoga practice becomes a chance to hit the “reset” button on your body.
So that’s the root of my problem. Part of it is that I’m getting older, and that my body doesn’t have the same resilience that it had when I was younger. But the larger part of it is that I have abandoned the thing that tricks my body into acting younger. In computer terms, it’s been too long since I rebooted. So what to do?
First off, I’m buying some shoe inserts. There are specific things you can do to strengthen the plantar fascia and raise your arches, but nothing helps like good old-fashioned support that forces you to distribute your weight more evenly when you walk. And in truth, a new pair of sneakers wouldn’t hurt. Thanks, Christmas money!
Secondly, yoga. That reset button needs hitting with a vengeance.
Thirdly, seriously curtail the bus-riding. I know that for me a little extra weight just makes everything worse, from feeling sluggish to not sleeping well to cravings for bad food and just general low self-esteem. It’s time to get walking and get biking and just moving in general.
So hopefully by the next time you see me around here, I won’t be bent over like an old lady. I’ll just be knitting like one.