Tag Archives: Injury

How Meditation Helped Me Soothe a Pulled Muscle

I woke up feeling stiff and sore one day last week. While I’m not still sure what caused it, it hurt to move my head in certain ways when I got up that morning.

A few years ago I experienced a more painful version of this injury after sleeping in an odd position, so this time I didn’t delay in following the home treatments that had worked so well back then.

It was better to treat it immediately than to do nothing wait for it to slowly get worse like it did last time.

The Cycle of Pain and Muscle Spasms

Here’s the problem with this kind of muscle strain: the pain, stiffness, and limited range of motion feed into each other in a cycle that can be tricky to break.

The pain made my muscles in my neck and shoulder tense up and spasm. This was even more true in the evening when I was tired and feeling more sore than I had when the day began.

My muscles contracting made the strain hurt even more because I didn’t have the full range of motion in that part of my body.  Positions that felt good for my muscles could be uncomfortable for my spine, and vice versa.

Not having the full range of motion in my neck and shoulder also made it difficult to truly relax. It was hard to turn my head in certain ways, for example, and sleeping in some positions was simply impossible.

Consciously trying to relax is also hard to do in this situation because I was so focused on how uncomfortable I was feeling.

The Treatment

One of the first things I did for myself after taking some over-the-counter pain relief medication was to find my microwave-actived heating pad. It’s a piece of cloth that’s filled with magical little beads. I don’t know what the beads are made of, but they warm up beautifully  and can be wrapped around any sore part of a body. I especially enjoy the gentle pressure that this heating pad provides since sitting or lying in certain positions were simply not happening for me at that point.

The medicine and heating pad were temporary fixes, though. What I really needed to do was to break the cycle of tension and pain.

That’s where meditating came in very handy. While the heating pad and medicine were doing their work of temporarily making me feel better, I opened up my meditation app and started using a session in it called “Body Scan.”

“Body Scan” is a guided meditation program that begins with asking you to focus on your breathing. After you’ve done that for a minute or two, it has you methodically relax every single part of your body beginning with your scalp and working your way down your body until even your toes have gotten some attention. If you feel any sensation in a part of your body, you’re supposed to take note of it without labelling it as good or bad.

This is a lot harder to do than you might imagine when the sensation in that area is objectively painful! It is an important part of the process, though.

I’d never thought I’d spend so much time thinking about everything from my ears to my fingers to the small of my back, but it really does work if you focus on the speaker’s voice and follow her instructions.

This wasn’t a quick fix. With that being said, it did help me to relax some tense muscles that really needed to be soothed.

Finding Relief

Time is by far the biggest healer of injuries like this, of course, but I also noticed another feedback loop developing that was much more positive than the first one.

Every time I meditated, my muscled relaxed a little more than they had in the previous session.

As they relaxed, my pain levels dropped even after I cut back or  fully stopped using medication and only relied on heating pads for relief.

As my pain levels dropped, I was able to move my head in ways that had been difficult the day before.

As my range of motion slowly improved again, my muscles spasmed less.

I have no idea how – or even if – this would work for more severe or longterm types of pain. It was a nice bit of relief for a temporary injury, though, and I was very grateful for it once I got into the habit of meditating more than once a day during he duration of this injury.

How has meditating improved your life lately?

What I Hate About Weightlifting

Today I’m going to be talking about the parts of weightlifting that I hate.

Every type of exercise has its downsides no matter how much you enjoy it overall. In no way is this essay meant to be a put-down or a rant. I’m writing it from the perspective who loves bodybuilding even when certain parts of it annoy or frustrate me for reasons that I’ll discuss below.

The purpose of today’s post is simply to honestly discuss the things I wish I could change about this form of exercise.

On Monday, October 2 I’ll be publishing a longer follow-up to this post that talks about all of the things I love about lifting weights. I hope you’ll read both posts once they’re available and think carefully about your favorite sport or workout routine.

If you  share your own lists of the things you love and hate about whatever kind of exercise you do on a regular basis and let me know about them, I will happily share links to those essays on a future Suggestion Saturday post.

The Gender Stereotypes

When I was a kid, I remember watching an interview on TV with a woman who was a bodybuilder. One of the first questions the host of this show asked her was about the fear that women have of becoming too muscular if they begin to lift weights regularly.

She laughed and talked about how difficult it was for women to create the kind of bodies you see in female bodybuilding competitions.

It wasn’t until I began lifting weights myself years later that I realize exactly how right she’d been about that. Regardless of whether or not you want to look like them, it’s not a body type that accidentally happens a few minutes after you lift a 5-pound weight.  The large, defined muscles you see on the women in those competitions require years of dedication that include a strict diet and strenuous exercise routine.

I still meet people who believe that “real” women aren’t supposed to be muscular and that lifting even light weights without changing your diet will result in these kinds of figures.

The sexism in the first part of that statement saddens me. There is no such thing as being a “real” woman, and even if there was this would have nothing to do with it. I’m also dismayed by the idea of pitting people against each other based on the size of their muscles.

The unrealistic expectations in the second part make me roll my eyes. If only it were that easy to build muscle!

The Callouses

Callouses were the last thing on my mind when I first began lifting, but now I have them on both hands. The weights I use have ridges etched into them to make it easier to hold onto them if your hands are sweaty.

Given that I’ve moved up to lifting 30 pounds at a time now, this is an important safety feature. I’d hate to think what would happen if a non-ridged set of weights were to slip out of someone’s sweaty hands. They could very easily break a bone or do other serious damage to anyone who got in their way!

With that being said, I still miss the smooth skin I used to have. Don’t laugh. This is definitely a minor issue in the scheme of things, but it bothers me to have callouses that I can’t get rid of no matter what I try.

The Lag Between Working Out and Seeing Results

Weightlifting doesn’t give me that same mood boost that going on a long walk does. When I first began bodybuilding, I felt nothing other than some muscle soreness after those workouts. These days it’s pretty rare for me to be sore, so I usually don’t have any particular feeling at all when I finish a set.

Building muscle and lowering your body fat percentage takes time. It’s such a gradual process that I don’t notice any differences from one day or week to the next. It’s only when I check my statistics, or need to buy new clothing, or get a comment from someone who hasn’t seen me in a while that I realize my body is slowly growing stronger and leaner.

The changes are still exciting over the long term, but I do still sometimes wish that it was as easy to see your muscle growth as it is to notice positive improvements in other types of exercise like jogging or dancing where people can do stuff like count how many miles they ran or which new dance moves they’ve mastered.

You Can Injure Yourself If You Don’t Do It Correctly

 This isn’t something I’d recommend to anyone who isn’t willing to put in the time to learn how to do it safely. One of the benefits of walking is that it’s pretty difficult to hurt yourself when you’re on a walk. There might be an occasional slip and fall in slippery conditions, but other than that a walk can be taken safely regardless of your posture, how you move your body, or how much attention you’re paying to your surroundings.

Weightlifting isn’t like that. By no means am I trying to scare people out of trying it, but it is a sport that needs to be taken seriously. The last thing you want to do is hurt yourself by lifting something that’s too heavy for your or by not using the right form.

On that note, I’ll sign off. Come back on Monday to find out what I love about this form of exercise.

5 Unexpected Things that Can Make You More Mindful

I’ve been thinking about mindfulness a lot lately. It’s a habit that needs to be built up and reinforced over a long period of time. Mindfulness is not the sort of thing that you can achieve in an hour, a day, or a week.

With that being said, there are certain experiences in life that can give you valuable opportunities to become more mindful.

Waiting in Line

One of the easiest but also most surprising changes that came into my life when I started trying to be more mindful happened the next time I stood in a line.

Rather than impatiently wondering how much longer I’d be waiting or why some shoppers wait to begin to search for their wallet until every single item has been bagged and scanned, I started framing this as an opportunity to observe how people behave when they have nothing to do.

Some folks become so engrossed in their smart phones that they don’t notice anything going on around them. Others try to strike up a conversation with the first person to catch their eye. (The jokester in me wonders if the first group is always desperately trying to avoid the second one!)

You will overhear interesting snatches of conversation as well. People will talk about all sorts of things if they get bored and restless enough. The conversation I found most thought-provoking, believe it or not, had to do with whether or not a child truly needed more socks. One of the adults who was buying clothing for her thought she did. I can’t remember what the other one said, but it was fascinating to listen to them quietly discuss how many socks a child truly requires.

These days I enjoy watching the crowd move so much that I’m actually a little sorry when I reach the front of the queue and can no longer quietly pay attention to people who are standing so close to me.

Not Getting What You Want

Many years ago I interviewed for a job that I desperately wanted. It was with an organization that shared some of my biggest ideals, and so I began dreaming about what it would be like to be paid to pursue them. The hours, location, responsibilities, and salary were also exactly what I was looking for.

I thought I had a good shot at being offered it, so I was crushed when that didn’t happen.

It took me a long time to get over that dream I’d imagined. One of the things that helped the most was focusing on what I could do in that exact moment to feel better.

I couldn’t have the experiences I’d fantasized about, but there were a lot of other things I could do to cheer myself up as well as to prepare for future opportunities that were sure to come my way.

Government Bureaucracy 

Is there anything more annoying than waiting for a government agency to process your paperwork or make a decision?

I’ve had a lot of experience with this one. Becoming a Canadian citizen is a opportunity to live in the moment that literally lasts for years. There are so many steps along the way that you have no control over whatsoever.

Once you file all of the appropriate paperwork, it’s up to government employees that you’ll never meet to decide whether to approve, delay, or reject your application. They are impervious to how long it might take to process your application or how anxious you are to know the results.

If I could go through the process again, I’d be much more relaxed this time around. Waiting for the government make a decision would give anyone the patience of a saint.

There are so many other examples I could give of how dealing with bureaucracy can actually be a good mindfulness tool, but I think I’ll save them for a future blog post.

Injuries, Pain, and Illnesses

Whether you’re waiting for possibly scary test results from your family doctor or figuring out how to go grocery shopping when you’re having trouble walking, injuries and illnesses provide a wonderful opportunity to live in the moment.

There is nothing anyone can do to speed up the amount of time it takes to find out if you have a life-threatening disease or for a broken limb to fully heal. In the meantime, you are left with a body that isn’t behaving the way you’d like it to.

My experiences with this have been mild and transitory so far, but there still have been a few times when I lived in limbo for a while. I’d be lying to you if I said that I was always peaceful during those long waits. It’s frightening not to know what the future holds, and I am definitely not a mindfulness guru.

With that being said, keeping my attention on what was happening in the present moment did help me to worry less about what might or might not happen to me in the future.

Grief

Someone I knew died years ago before they had a chance to tie up all of the loose ends in their life. Our relationship had been  complex and sometimes difficult for many different reasons, so I was surprised by the grief I felt after they were buried.

There had always been a small part of me that held onto a faint hope that our relationship would eventually improve. Having that sliver of hope snatched away for good was sad.

You can’t change the past, though. It is what it is, and remaining mindful as I adjusted to this change in life helped me to accept the finality of this person’s death. Not everyone gets the chance to fix the things they could or should have tried to fix much earlier on in their story.

 

Rest Days Aren’t Optional

It’s been a few weeks since I blogged about fitness. I stuck to my exercise routine pretty well during the holidays. (My diet, though, definitely had more treats included it than normal).

On a recent rest day, I thought about an experiment I did last summer that turned out to be a bad idea.

The Experiment 

You see, I wasn’t satisfied with my progress last summer. I wanted to grow stronger more quickly.

The idea I came up with was to work a different part of my body every day of the week without taking any days off. I thought I might be able to rest my arms while doing bodyweight and free weight exercises to strengthen my legs. If it was successful, it could have been a way for me to build muscle faster than I was currently doing.

It lasted about a week before I ended up pulling a muscle in my back and needing to take time off to recuperate. Luckily, it was a minor injury that only needed time to heal.

Spoiler alert: pulled muscles aren’t fun! Boy, was that a silly thing to do. Instead of growing stronger, I had to stop lifting weights altogether for a week or two while I healed.

Bodies Need to Rest

What I didn’t think about was the fact that weightlifting doesn’t only exercise the one set of muscles that you’re focusing on for a particular workout.

Your legs still need to keep you upright, and your core muscles still need to help you maintain the right form in order to prevent injury and to help you get the most out of your workout. Often your arms also still need to hold the weights or prop up a certain part of your body as well depending on what kind of routine you’re doing.

It is so important to give all of these muscle groups enough time to rest and recover. If one of them is injured or overworked, your entire body will feel the effects of that.

Minds Also Need to Rest

The other thing I noticed during my experience was how mentally tiring it was to lift weights every single day. It was a more subtle effect, but it is something that bothered me a little as I woke up every morning and realized that I needed to strengthen another part of my body.

One of the most interesting things about this effect was that it wasn’t something I’d expected to happen. I was prepared for the possibly that my body wouldn’t like this change for any number of reasons, but I never would have guessed that my mind would also find it difficult.

It turns out that rest days aren’t optional after all. Everyone needs them!

When Exercise Is a Bad Idea

injured-toy-bear

One of the hardest things for me to deal with when it comes to my exercise routine is to step away from it when I’m sick or injured.

Why is that, you ask?

Well, I don’t want to lose the gains in muscle mass or endurance that I’ve worked so hard for. Logically speaking, I know that a few days or even a week or two off isn’t going to make that much of a difference for anyone’s fitness.

It still isn’t fun to be stuck on the sidelines, though.

What Workouts Do

Sitting still all day makes me feel jumpy. I’m not used to all of those hours of sticking to the same few positions. Normally I use stuff like weightlifting or dance videos on Youtube to burn off that extra energy, but there are times when that simply isn’t possible.

All of this quiet gives my thoughts too many chances to get jumbled up as well, and that’s a problem.

My favourite thing about exercise is how effective it is at clearing my head. Not only does it brush away worries, it gives both your mind and your body a chance to set a goal and achieve it in a short amount of time.

Whether the goal was to lift a specific amount of weight or take a brisk walk for half an hour, that sense of accomplishment is delicious. There aren’t many other areas in life where this can happen so quickly.

Rest Is Needed

With that being said, rest is an extremely important part of the healing process. How much rest time is needed depends on what kind of problem you’re having, of course.

When I had a lung infection a few years ago, I slept a full eight hours each night and still needed long naps in the afternoon in order to have enough energy to stay awake in the morning and evening.

(Note to self: don’t get that sick again anytime soon!)

Even the most gentle exercise was out of the question for me then until the antibiotics started working and I stopped coughing so much. Not every injury or illness is like this, of course, which brings me to the meat of this post.

The Walking Solution

Walking is by far my favourite way to stay at least minimally active when I’m healing as long as it’s not anything as draining as that lung infection. What I like most about walking is that it’s low-impact, doesn’t require any special equipment, and can be customized to what your body can actually handle as its healing.

A quiet stroll counts even if it doesn’t make you break a sweat or raise your heart rate much at all. Staying or getting back into the swing of things is a completely acceptable and worthwhile goal. There will be plenty of time later on to actually try something challenging again.

Even a leisurely walk helps me to clear my mind. Toronto is a such a large city that there’s almost always someone or something interesting to see as you stroll. Figuring out funny or interesting backstories for them is a wonderful distraction along with the gentle exercise.

I’ve also found that symptoms ranging from mild pain to nasal congestion become a little less bothersome after a walk. While I don’t know if this is psychosomatic or if there’s something about getting up and moving around that actually helps people feel better, it’s nice to have the edge taken off of certain symptoms for a while.

I hope that this idea works for you, too, the next time you’re too unwell to finish your normal workout.