I see articles all the time about how we should be exercising to stay healthy. But what is even more important is how we can use exercise for healing. Exercise is incredibly therapeutic.
The first person to hike the entire length of the Appalachian Trail (AT) was Earl Shaffer, a World War Two veteran who did it “to walk off the war.” Now Warrior Hike is helping veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder to realize the same therapeutic benefits of long distance hiking. They support groups of veterans that hike the AT, the Continental Divide, the Pacific Crest Trail, and Florida Trail. It is such a positive way to help veterans transition back into civilian life.
Exercise helped my friend, Buzz, recover from a double mastectomy after her third bout of breast cancer. During her radiation treatments, she was getting exhausted. But Buzz realized that to get…
“Unfortunately one foot released but my right foot stuck in the strap due to having neoprene booties on. My foot twisted in the strap and it was incredibly painful.”
A kiteboarder fractures a fifth metatarsal in action.
Last Saturday I met up with some friends to kiteboard on Lake Washington in Darwin, MN, home of the world’s largest Twine Ball. Wind was steady, sun was shining and we were having a fantastic day jumping and spinning and enjoying a perfect Minnesota kite session.
On one of my jumps, I went a bit higher than expected, swung under the kite and the lines were starting to slack, so I looped the kite in the air and came in for a pretty hot landing. Nothing out of the ordinary, but the nose of my board dug into the water and sent me toppling. Unfortunately one foot released but my right foot stuck in the strap due to having neoprene booties on. My foot twisted in the strap and it was incredibly painful. Surprisingly I stood up and was only in chest deep water even though I was in the…
A long convalescence followed, but when I caught up with him this week, Austin was keen to stress than, unlike many of the people featured so far on this blog, he wasn’t worried about missing out on his exercise regime – because he didn’t have one in the first place!
“The thing is, I wasn’t ‘side-lined’. When I had the accident I never did any exercise at all,” he told me, “It was not a part of my life in any way. Of all the things I missed, I didn’t miss exercise.”
He continued: “I was always going to be able to walk again, but I was not sure about running, so I had to push myself,” he said, “When you go through those experiences you have to have something to aim for. It’s months and months of physiotherapy.”
Fast-forward to the 2004 London Marathon and he completed it in four hours 15 minutes and 26 seconds.
But that’s the thing, isn’t it? There’s no “fast-forwarding” in real life – nobody can wish the time away to full recovery.
Austin’s convalescence from such serious injuries was considerably longer and far more arduous than my own, which, though annoying, is trivial in comparison.
So what advice does he have on handling the situation?
“It feels like a very long time, but in retrospect the good thing is you don’t feel that time. It’s very boring when you’re recovering but it quite quickly becomes a memory. It can be difficult and depressing for lots of reasons but it does go away.”
When I spoke to Austin just before the 2004 London Marathon he had no intention of running another one, but other marathons followed, with a three-hour-52-minute personal best in 2007 (“Every time I finished one I said ‘that’s my last one’ – but it becomes more attractive. Each you forget how it hurts!”).
He’s not sure whether the injuries sustained in 2001 still impact on his running now.
His left shin (where pins, now removed, were drilled in to secure an external fixator) swells up on long runs and he has to watch his knees.
Nevertheless, he says he’s “determined” to enjoy the 2015 London Marathon (“I’m not bothered about time, anything between four and four-and-a-half hours will be fine”).
Having looked at the various contributors and their stories I can honestly say I felt humbled.
So my first post focussed on my own experience of what efforts are made – charity-wise – to tackle cancer – notably in Walk The Walk and Race For Life. I intend to mention more about these fitness challenges in future blog posts on Em’s Way To Go.
It doesn’t too much imagination, then, to realise female cancer patients face a far greater challenge in this respect.
“Women don’t stop being women when they are diagnosed with cancer,” says Jennifer Young from BDC.
She explains that the treatment often damages more than just the disease it’s targeting – so patients can often suffer from dry, sore, sensitive and itchy skin – and that’s why she developed the Defiant Beauty skincare range.
Research carried out in 2007 revealed many female patients reached a low point in their cancer treatment when they no longer recognised themselves in the mirror.
So, basically, Beauty Despite Cancer offers an online magazine full of practical advice for women who face a changed beauty regime because of cancer.
Giving them back a sense of control can only be a good thing.
What I want to do here, briefly (not least because it’s Sunday and outside the sun might even be shining even here in England LOL), is to show how determined people have compromised their practice despite injury.
Despite the benefits of a class, I’ve always enjoyed my YouTube Yoga sessions too – the laptop balanced precariously on the sofa, the living room becomes my Ashram.
And so, once again, I’m looking to YouTube for coping strategies!
Here’s Jordan, who broke her fifth metatarsal (and from the X-ray it looks quite close to her joint), showing her adapted Sun Salutation.
The YouTube description mentions that the injury – sustained four weeks prior to the video – is “notoriously difficult to heal” (tell me about it!).
Needless to say it makes feel just great to see someone practicing despite being in plaster.
Here’s US instructor Lara Falberg showing a seated sequence intended for those who already have a yoga practice and don’t intend to give up because of a fracture.
Judging by a guy calling to her in the background, she’s in her living room too!
She started the routine 10 days after undergoing surgery.
From a personal point of view, the question that begs the asking is: Are both sides of the body getting an equal workout?
After all, if say, it’s your left foot that’s hurt, there’ll be no weight put on that, as opposed to when you do the same on the opposite side. And if you’re in plaster, then there’ll be the extra weight involved in lifting it – again on one side.
In my own restorative sessions just after the injury, I noticed I was a lot stiffer on my left side (all that hobbling LOL).
Not that any of these factors should put anyone off practicing in a modified, sensible and professionally-guided session!
The most determined will always find a way, but yes, it’s all about compromise too.
Can I still do yoga? Here’s a Q & A session with my instructor Espi Smith.
Me: What adaptations should I make to my practice?
Espi: I guess that depends on how you define the word “yoga”. If you are looking at only the asana (postures), they you will need to modify your physical practice to account for your injury. In your case, you should avoid standing and kneeling postures as well as some seated asanas that involve the outside of your foot putting pressure on the floor. If it hurts, it’s a definite no-go!
However yoga is much more than a physical practice, its a way of looking at life. Pranayama (breathing exercises), meditation, proper diet and positive thought will all help keep you happy and healthy throughout your recovery.
Me: Anything I should definitely avoid?
Espi: Anything that puts unnecessary pressure on the foot. Remember to listen to your body and not your ego, if there is pain it’s a sure fire way of knowing that you’re upsetting a part that should be healing.
Me: Do you know anyone who’s survived injury to continue their practice?
Espi: Yes, me! A few years ago, before I’d let go of my ego and gotten over my competitive side I decided that I couldtry and jump from Down-dog to Crow (an arm balance that requires a lot of strength).
Turns out I had a lot more momentum than strength. I face-planted on the floor with all my might and wound up in hospital with a neck-brace on and some very worried-looking doctors. Luckily I hadn’t broken anything I just had soft tissue damage.
The injury left me with a huge fear of inversions and arm balances. It took a couple of years of very grounding practice to give me the confidence to practice my arm balances and inversions again. Under the careful instruction of my teacher during my teacher-training, I got back into it.
Me: Can injury make people who enjoy exercise feel cut-off and even make them drop out altogether?
Espi: I think this is very much to do with each individual’s attitude towards being injured. If you see it as being betrayed by your body and allow yourself to feel that you have been kicked to the side-lines then yes, your are likely to become isolated.
However, if you adopt a positive attitude, respect the road to recovery and speak to your teacher/instructor about the things that you can still do, then you’ll still be able to enjoy the fitness lifestyle.
Me: How can meditation help?
Espi: Meditation allows you the time to get out of your conditioned mind. The one that tells you that injury means “being out of the game”.
When you do it, not only will you get the chance to clear all the negative emotions that surround being injured, you also bring a deep sense of relaxation to the physical body.
The muscles and the nervous system will get a well-earned break and this will help to relieve any built-up tension and waste products that come up as a result of injury.
Finally, thanks for giving me the opportunity to speak about this on your blog, Emma. Rest, relax and remember to breathe. You’ll be healed in no time.
For more information on Espi, check out her website here.