Tag Archives: injury

Yoga and football players! What about the desk jockeys?

In the wake of the Seahawks’ Super Bowl victory with the “aid of yoga and meditation,” I unphased by the chatter on blogs and online media about this being a turning point for the acceptance of yoga into mainstream America:

NY Times Title for the Seahawks Is a Triumph for the Profile of Yoga
Men and athletes doing yoga is not new. Basketball’s Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was an early proponent, as was the tennis star John McEnroe. Most recently, Andy Murray credited part of his recent tennis success to Bikram yoga. Stanford’s football team has incorporated yoga into its training program.

Every training season for every major sport has a surge of news articles about coaches, trainers, physical therapists and the players themselves taking to yoga to gain an edge or prevent injury. Even if asanas may not be explicitly part of a training routine, you just have to look at the warm-up  exercises (stretching)  to see that yoga has been assimilated by the modern physical conditioning disciplines.

Photo: yoga class in Warrior 2 pose
Jenny St. Clair leads her sequence of poses, including Warrior 2, a pose that is a lot harder than it looks.

I am far more deeply concerned about grandmas, plumbers and desk jockeys who would have to catch on to the glaring truth that physical exercise—preferably yoga, but even a 30-minute walk—would instigate a dramatic shift in their quality of life. One of the most eye-opening experiences during my yoga teacher training this past summer was the demo class that we put on for “friends and family.”  Bless their souls for venturing into a yoga studio in support of my classmates. Many of those novices had serious difficulty getting down to and up from the floor, much less doing a downward-facing dog or triangle pose. Several of them had to leave the room after 20 minutes.

I am not looking down my nose at them because I’ve been practicing yoga for 10 years or am a few hours away from being certified as a teacher. The past six months have been a humbling experience for me because I have seen how easily my “command of yoga”  slipped into a tenuous toe-hold on the mat. For any one, an injury or illness provoke a sharp drop-off in well-being and resilience.  Fortunately for me, I could fall back on meditation, pranayama, self-massage, restorative yoga and other approaches to keep a handle on my mind-body connection. I had an acupuncturist, body worker, chiropractic, ayurvedic healer and physicians to help me.

Who should yoga evangelists be preaching to?

Yoga advocates don’t need to get giddy about which sports team or star athlete is sweating in a Bikram class. They need to convince senior citizens and keyboard (white-collar) workers  that even simple routines can improve their flexibility, balance and body awareness, as well as assist the body in fighting off disease and the brain in holding off cognitive decline.

By the way, yoga may have given some kind of competitive edge to the Seahawks over the Broncos, but it won’t compensate for the fact that the players are bashing each others’ brains out and twisting their limbs in configurations that exceed any asana’s potential to mortify the flesh. Any for my own defense, I did yoga while watching the Super Bowl came until I became so bored with the game that I decided to sort my socks (I was far more focused matching pairs).

Yoga DorkSeattle Seahawks Changing Future of Football with Yoga and Meditation and Official Super Bowl XLVIII Yoga Game! and Super Yoga Bowl XLVIII: Seahawks vs Broncos

Yoga Confluence: Yes, the yoga team won the Super Bowl

Looking aging in the face and on the mat

Photo: Michael moves into full wheel pose, with aid from friend and Desirée
Urdhva Dhanurasana or wheel pose. My friend Glenn Buco helps move deeper into the pose. One of my better days from three years ago

I’ve been a bit swamped by my new job, to the point that I haven’t made it to many yoga classes, visited the fitness center or stepped up my home practice to make up for these shortcomings. I’ve been swept up in the new work demands, the fresh challenges, my enjoyment of accomplishing my tasks and exceeding my goals. Just because I am happy at work does not mean that there’s no stress jazzing my metabolism.

Last weekend, I went to a couple of yoga classes and it came crashing down on me at the end of class. It was hard! My jammed wrist kept me from doing any but the minimal weight-bearing on my arms.  My months-long battle with bronchitis and sinus infection has sapped by stamina and strength. The holidays had provided further distractions, with my son visiting from California and family celebrations around the dinner table. I added another five pounds, weight that was resistant to remove in a quick and painless way.

Continue reading Looking aging in the face and on the mat

Limping towards the end of the year

I’ve been dragging around a lot of aches and pains for too long. I’ve had a sinus infection that has lingered for months as as a legacy of my extended bout with bronchitis. This past weekend I finally saw a doctor (walk-in clinic) who ordered another round of antibiotics, this time a bit stronger than the first (in September). I haven’t lost a day of work, but I arrived home feeling exhausted (for multiple reasons, read below). Continue reading Limping towards the end of the year

Taking stock of muscles and rot

“What I’ve found, no mat­ter what age we are, we can build healthy mus­cle tis­sue [and neurons / MLS] or we can rot. And the choice is always ours. And I’m not into rot.”

Photo: Ana Forest in yoga pose called scorpion forearms
Ana Forest in Scorpion forearms

This quote (and personal annotation) comes from Ana Forest, the inspiring yoga teacher and practitioner, and used to be the tag line on my e-mail signature and I highlighted it on this blog’s sidebar. Forest’s comment caught my attention more than five years ago, but its intrinsic truth has really been driven into me the past few months as I sweated and grunted to get my yoga groove back, at least the more physically demanding vinyasa practice. Yoga requires you use your whole body in the dynamic sequences of asanas. It’s not something that you can turn on or off. The practice has to be sustained steadily and persistently over an extended period of time.

Thrive Yoga’s 40-day renewal program is not enough to whip me back into shape. It’s not meant for that. It did allow me to sense how much work I have ahead of me. Maybe I should just add another zero to the time frame.

How did I get so out of sync in my practice?

My parents’ death two years ago probably was a turning point because it completely disrupted my normal routines of work, yoga practice, family duties and other commitments. Then, my body started to tell me that it was breaking down under the stress. I found myself in a down­ward spi­ral: my peripheral neuropathy interfered with my sleep, leading to insomnia and sleep deprivation. While I was trying to deal with the neuropathy, I fell into a pattern of start-and-stop practice. When I tried to rekindle my yoga practice, I developed problems with my core (iliop­soas and SI joint), which added another layer of complexity to my physical conditioning. Then, I bruised my thigh bone, which felt like a knee issue. I sought out treatment from my body worker,  chiropractor, personal physician, acupuncturist, neurologist, and lots of research into what might lie behind my symptoms.

During this whole period, I never stopped doing yoga: I have my evening practice of restorative yoga, hip openers and hamstring stretches, which allows me to manage the sleep-impeding symptoms of neuropathy (pin pricks on my feet and restless legs). I still do pranayama and meditation. This tool kit has allowed me to get through these two years, but it can’t replace a hatha practice.

I am 63 years old so Forest’s options (build health muscles or rot) are almost black and white. There’s no “holding pattern” or “maintenance mode” that allow a minimum practice to balance the effects of aging, disease, injury, wear, health and well being. On the other hand, I can’t overexert myself because that can be just as damaging, as I speak from experience. I have to let my body lead the way and become my teacher.

Coda

I’ve been meaning to get Forest’s book, Fierce Medicine: Breakthrough Practices to Heal the Body and Ignite the Spirit because yoga has helped her come back from a dark place, physically and mentally. 

10 things I got out of 40-day renewal

I participated in the 40-day renewal program at Thrive Yoga, which ended on February 11. I did not have a chance to comment on my participation but I did want to record some take aways. It was my second time and I was determined to take it mindfully. Indeed, I had to take it slower because it took me the first four weeks to get back into shape.

  1. My blood pressure went down by 15-20 points by the end. In early January, I had been caught by surprise when the nurse at work measured my blood pressure and found it over 135/85. I had never had blood pressure issues before, but stress had started to take a toll.
  2. My weight dropped, ending up closer to 200 pounds, than 210 pounds at the start. I can’t give precise numbers because, as with most people, my weight tends to swing by 2-4 pounds, depending on the time of day, birthday cakes, and health. Since my parents’ deaths two years, I’ve noticed how my weight had gradually increased, until it plateaued just below the 210-pound mark so all I needed was an illness or life style change to push my weight up even more.
  3. By the end, in savasana (corpse pose), I noticed that my thighs and calves rested on the ground. Previously, my hip joints were well off the mat and made it impossible to rest all my legs on the ground. In fact, I can remember having problems with my heels because they were bearing much of the weight of my legs. That change signaled that there had been a shift in the tilt of my hips, along with a major realignment of the muscles descending from my core to my legs.
  4. Since I started in bad physical shape, I was trapped in a dead-end: I couldn’t boost my yoga practice because I did not have the strength or stamina to go full bore in a normal vinyasa class; I frequently sought relief in child’s pose. I didn’t want to force myself because I had injured myself before from over-efforting. I couldn’t fit some aerobic exercise at my fitness club because I did not have the spare time—and the time required for meditation went up each week. I ended up developing a routine in my workplace: every time, I needed to go to the restroom or take a break, I went to the basement and then climbed the nine flights of stairs up to my office cubicle. It only takes five minutes, but done 3-5 times a day, it allowed me to improve my strength. I also tried to do some of my desk work standing up, instead of sitting. These changes probably had a lot to do with my improved blood pressure and weight. But it was the 40-day renewal that made me focus on how fit I was. I couldn’t brush it off as something insignificant or passing.
  5. Because of the conditioning and injury issues, I had to think of myself as a beginner, but with the advantage that I had already learned the poses. I did not have to obsess about getting perfect alignment. I could just focus on being in the asana. I had less preference for which instructor was giving the class or at what level. I was adapting the rigors of the class to my own body’s needs.
  6. I avoided any pose that might injure me because I felt as if I was learning to handle my body all over again. My hips seemed especially problematic, which affect the stability of my spine and my balance. I did not go into binds, which are kind of icing on top of an asana or escalate a pose from its basic form to a more advanced variation.
  7. Coming back from injury or a long layoff gives a fresh perspective on the body and practice. I paid as much attention to where my body felt numb as I did to where I was fully aware. My proprioception has taken a major hit from my peripheral neuropathy. I found that some poses provoked numbness in my feet. It’s hard to single out which ones because I am usually moving through the sequence of a vinyasa when the numbness happens, and it usually dissipates with a little time. Indeed, restorative poses and hip stretches are the best medicine in the evening to relieve symptoms to let me sleep.
  8. I discovered far more flexibility than I had had: deeper forward folds, more space and movement between my shoulder girdle.
  9. The hardest part of the 40-day renewal was maintaining discipline in the meditation practice. It is so hard to be still in my own skin and life. And when I settle down in the evening for my transition routine, it’s so easy to slip into sleep so I doubt the quality of my meditation at that time.
  10. By the end of the renewal program, I was back to where I felt I could participate in a vinyasa class without undue distress. But it will take time and persistence to generate additional shifts in my well being because you can’t flip a switch to change the body or the mind.

Clarification: I did not want to let this post slip beyond the end of February. I’ve found it so hard to find time to write here, and I hate the thought of letting an entire month go by without an entry. Guilt is not the best motivator, but sometimes I just need a kick in the pants.

Another 40-day challenge and flu-like symptoms

I decided that I wanted to pick up a challenge from a year ago, and use it to revitalize my yoga practice. But I did not count on the flu epidemic giving me a glancing blow.

Last year, I signed up for the 40-day Renew program at Thrive Yoga, and about 30 days into the effort I injured by my iliopsoas/hip flexors and I had to stop short of completing the whole program. The injury set off a long period of investigation, healing, recovery, restrengthening, re-injury and starting all over again. It seemed to stretch out over the whole year. I learned some lessons, and I had to recruit of whole team of specialists to deal with the specific condition, but other complications.

Another opportunity

This time, I hope to tackle the 40-day renew challenge more mindfully, more aware of my body,  less aggressively, less mechanically. I certainly need to improve my physical conditioning and stamina to embrace my yoga practice more wholeheartedly. This year, David and Susan Bowen signed up 18 people to go through the program, several of them for a second time, like me. We make a commitment to practice yoga six days a week (three times in class, at a minimum), meditate twice a day (starting at five minutes each teaching, increasing by five minutes each week), studying course materials, sharing our experience among ourselves and seeing how a focused practice can make a shift in our minds and bodies.

Last weekend, I started out taking a vinyasa class on Thursday, and then sat crosslegged for the 40-day renew orientation session.  On the weekend, I took Susan Bowen’s 2/3 vinyasa class, which always challenges, and this time around she focused on the hips. I took a hatha class on Sunday. I felt sore and exhausted by the end of day.

Other forces intervene

On Wednesday evening, I reached home with the intention of going to class at Thrive, but I seemed to turn into a zombie, walking around the house pointlessly, trying to pull together my kit and get changed. I sat down and my wife put dinner in front of me and I ate, thus ruling out a yoga class immediately afterwards.

The next morning, I heard the alarm go off, turned it off a couple of times but could not get out of bed. I stayed there for the rest of the day, with clear symptoms of exhaustion, muscle and joint pain and loss of appetite. I got out of bed the next day, but called off work again. Yesterday, I was feeling better. I had my flu vaccination in November so I guess I got an indirect hit from one of the flu strains, dodging the bullet of the worst flu symptoms, like a cough, a runny nose. It may have something completely different, a cold or virus. I may have been fighting it off for some time, and my defenses collapsed.

So today I went back to Thrive for a restorative yoga class, restarting my 40-day renew initiative even more modestly than I had planned. Carla Kasun starts off her class with a light hatha sequence to get the muscles warm. Within 20 minutes, I was gasping for air and had to seek relieve in child’s pose. I was flabbergast at how low the flu had laid me. Luckily, the second half of the session, I was flat on my back. I am going to have to be careful about how I stress my body during this 40 day renewal because I am starting from a low baseline.

I have kept up with my home practice, but scaled back and more inclined towards restorative poses and hip-openers. I also keep up with my pranayama and meditation, which I think may have mitigated my symptoms.

Reminder about the myo-fascial sytem in the human body

I chanced across this reference, Fascia and Structural Integration with Robert Schleip, who is one of the leader in the expanding understanding of the myo-fascial system in the body, and the video:

Finally, an Australian blog and store that has lots of references to other resources. It all just reminds me that I have some much more to investigate about the mind-body connection.

I also found two resources to deal with yoga injuries: Yoga Injuries and Prevent Yoga Injury, all via the it’s all about yoga, baby blog of Roseanne Harvey. There is a book called The Contraindication Index for Yoga Asanas (TCIYA), which would be helpful to anyone trying to make the most of a yoga practice, avoiding the pitfalls and sharing its gifts with others.

Taking an alternative route to lower back pain treatment

In the past, I’ve been reticent to use a chiropractor to treat injuries or other problems because I’ve heard stories about how the profession was allied with ambulance-chasing lawyers ready to sue people involved in accidents and their insurance companies, as well as the charges that chiropractic is not based the scientific method, especially when compared to the conventional Western medicine.

Over the past few months, I’ve been forced to change my mind. I noticed that several friends visited chiropractors regularly. I’ve also confirmed that Western medicine does not adequately address all health concerns. Finally, my iliopsoas spasms made me re-examine whether it was worthwhile to call in different opinions.

A new healthcare provider

Photo: Donald McGriff in his chiropractic office
Cheerful and caring, even at 6:30 in the morning

During the 40-day yoga challenge at Thrive Yoga, Susan and David Bowen brought in Dr. Donald McGriff to give a talk to the group about chiropractic and general well-being. I missed the talk because I wanted to take a yoga class at the same time. But Susan and David said that they used his services so that was high praise.

On April 15, I got an appointment at McGriff Chirpractic to see if Dr. McGriff could do anything for my iliopsoas spasms. He looks more like a professional wrestler than a doctor, a burly build topped off with a shaved head. After an initial examination and a check of my medical history, he sent me off to get an MRI of my lower back. That took a little longer than expected because of scheduling conflicts, but I was back in his office on April 27 with the CD in hand. After taking a look at the MRI, Dr. McGriff came back with the news that I might have a spinal disk herniation (4-5 L vertebrae), but the MRI was not really that clear. I also seemed to have a displaced sacroiliac (SI) joint on the right side. Since I did not take notes, I can’t be sure three weeks later whether I’ve misunderstood anything. In any case, he prescribed 2-3 visits a week to his office to work his magic.

The nice thing about Dr. McGriff’s practice is that he opens at 6:00 am on three mornings a week so I schedule my visits so that I hop out of bed, get into fitness clothing and drive over for a 6:30 appointment, usually on Monday and Friday. I am out of his office in time to go back home, shower, dress, grab breakfast, and head to the Metro by my usual time. There are also office hours on Saturday.The location of his office, which is only 10 minutes from my home in Rockville, sealed the deal.

Treatment starts with 15 minutes of electro-stimulation with hot pads on my lower back. There are four electrodes sprayed with some kind of liquid to increase conductivity (The spray must come right out of the refrigerator because it is cold). Hot pads are placed over the lower back (to compensate for the cold electrodes, I guess). The electrical current goes through varying patterns of pulsing, but can be adjusted to the point where it does not cause discomfort or pain.

After chilling for 15 minutes, Dr. McGriff leads me to his examination room where he checks my alignment and then usually has me lie down on my left side and gives me a firm twist of my torso to the right. My SI joint usually pops with the adjustment. That’s usually followed by adjustments to my hips, rib cage and upper spine, and upper neck.  He has a firm touch in his adjustments that gives confidence in his skills.

Once he’s done with me, I may get an additional ride on fancy equipment: a table that stretches my spine, a vibrating platform that loosens my hamstrings.

Dr. McGriff applies more than an exclusively chiropractic focus, emphasizing the value of   holistic approach that includes nutrition, corrective exercises, physical therapy, fitness and life style coaching. His web site has lots of information to understand his approach, the general practice of chiropractic, and other services.

Passing the grade

Has the treatment improved my injury? That’s hard to say. My iliopsoas have not been a source of pain or discomfort recently. With a more than a month of rest and avoidance of aggravation (no yoga classes), my hips and lower back may have healed itself. I simply have not been testing their limits. On the other hand, I do feel the effects of the treatment: after a session, I feel general muscular fatigue by the end of the day, which is usually a sign that my muscles are adjusting to a realignment of my frame. I have noticed that my thighs seem to set further apart. I can sit in easy pose more comfortably and my knees fall  closer to the ground naturally.

My daughter warned me that I should avoid active yoga classes or gym work on that days that I have chiropractic treatment. Dr. McGriff told Howard Rontal, my bodyworker, that it’s best if the bodywork happen the day before a chiropractic session to be the best results out of his sessions. Finally, Howard told me that I should not have acupuncture and bodywork done on the same day (within 24 hours of each) since the Oriental meridians run through the myo-fascial tissues. So there are now a whole new slew of scheduling factors that I have to take into account when planning my healthcare.

With less than a month of treatment, it’s far to soon to say that my chiropractic has worked miracles or otherwise. In the real world, it’s almost impossible to isolate the factors  (chiropractic, acupuncture, rest, restorative yoga, relaxation exercises, body work, positive thing, placebo effect) so I have to go with just my gut feeling. It has not hurt me.

Thinking about bodywork in self-awareness and healing

This week, I am going to have my first session with Howard Rontal, my body worker, in more than a month.

Photo: Howard Rontal in his office
Strong hands and a sharp mind

I stopped massage therapy when it became clear to me that I needed to take a step back in dealing with my iliopsoas meltdown because the “injury” was not going away and, in deed, seemed to be worsening. I needed to take a different perspective, and also back off my own efforts to get a handle on my body. I also stopped going to yoga classes because I felt that my approach to yoga (taking it deeper, finding my edge) might be complicating the condition even though I was trying to be mindful when doing my vinyasa practice. My neuro-myofascial system operates at a subconscious level: I don’t explicitly decide to use specific sets of muscles to twist or turn; it’s handled by another part of the neural system.

In any case, I felt that I needed to reduce my treatments in order to see if and how I was improving and what was having an impact. I only had so much time and money to throw at the problem.

How bodywork changed me

The break from Howard‘s hands allowed me to reflect on how six months of treatment (since September last year) has affected me.

Working with a massage therapist requires a suspension of personal boundaries: each session, I strip down to my boxers, lay down on the sheet-covered table, and allow Howard to rub and probe with his hands, forearms, elbows and assorted instruments over the surface of my body and dig in deep to reach other layers of fascia and muscle. I submit myself to his experience, skills and aptitude to somehow transform my flesh into something that’s more sustainable, healthy, functional. My originally intention — that this treatment will relieve me of the bizarre combination of numbness and pain (peripheral neuropathy) — may not be completely attainable, but it will alleviate the stiffness and lack of range in my neuro-myofascial matrix. I know that the experience was transforming my yoga practice: every time I get on the mat, there are sparks of discovery, as I am able to access muscles more deeply, overcome resistance caused by the years of stress that I’ve stored in my sinews.

Because Howard comes from the Hellerwork tradition, there is a strong psychological component in his technique so we can talk about a lot of emotional issues that are being expressed in my muscles and tissues. So as I am taking off my clothes, I am telling him about the aches, pains and numbness of my body, the stressors of my job and my intentions for the session. I am exposing myself to him, but also becoming more self-aware of my own mind-body connection.

As the focus of the treatment moved away from the neuropathy issue to the muscle spasms, Howard and I engaged in a kind of detective work to find out which were the protesting muscles, and which muscles were merely squealing in sympathy. We narrowed it down to the illiacus and psoas on the left side, and maybe the ligaments connecting my hips to my sacrum or the SI joint. But these muscles may have been over-compensating for the right side being over rigid. But these tissues are so deep in the body that it’s really hard to access them, but it was amazing to experience how Howard could influence that inner core.

What I learned about body care

There are things that I can do for my body that Howard can’t: in a yoga vinyasa I can employ the whole span of my body and balance it in gravity. Howard has to be more focused on single muscles, fascia, torso or limbs. In crescent lunge, I can engage the full anatomical chain from my fingers down to my toes as I swing through full extension. I can also treat myself to self-message, either by using a roller or Yoga Tune-Up balls (or other balls of varied form and density), with the advantage that I can focus on tight areas, deepen or soften the touch at the point of contact, or explore at will. Each evening, as a minimum, I roll my rhomboid muscles and it is one of the most delicious sensation — tension spills out of the tissues. I had not realized that stress had been building up there, a kind of secret repository. I’ve also start massaging my feet, especially my arches, during the day to prevent tension from building up in my legs. In other words, I’ve been learning to self-heal and self-soothe.

I now realize that I have to take charge of my own process of healing and well-being, but also recruit the intervention of other specialists to help me take the best path forward, which means that I will have to explain what I have learned from undergoing treatment with a chiropractor and an acupuncturist.

No yoga class in a month — bummer

I have not taken a class since April 7. That day, I was in Susan Bowen’s 2/3 hot vinyasa class. She led an upbeat session that had us moving through sun salutations and modifications. I noticed something was wrong: I began feeling pain and discomfort in practically every pose and transition of the vinyasa, deep in my core and focused on my left psoas and radiating down by leg, up towards my hip and kidneys and across my hips. In the earlier stages of the injury, it was happened only in certain poses, and I would avoid them or get into them very mindfully. Now there was no avoiding the pain and muscle spasms.

In the middle of the class, I shut myself down. I did poses to soothe my core muscles, hip abductors/flexors and lower spin, laying or seated on the mat. I rested on my back with my knees propped on blankets. All the while my friends were sweating away in an active class.

For two month, since the first instance of the injury, I had rested the injury, making regular visits to my body worker, Howard Rontal, and then started taking yoga class after two weeks being very mindful in my poses and flows. During my daily routine, I was not conscious of any difficulties. At the gym, I did not feel any problem doing aerobic exercises.

Obviously, that approach did not work, because the injury (?) has flared up in a more generalized pattern. I decided to stop yoga classes again, see a chiropractor and check in with my acupuncturist, Kelly Welch, who had helped me in the past. More in future entries.