Saturday, October 7, 2017

Back Post-Mortem

My back used to go out regularly. As many of you have probably also experienced, back events make verticality difficult, and activities such as rolling over in bed and sneezing become major hurdles. I was probably about 13 or 14 years old when I first experienced back pain, and ever since I've episodically been reminded of samsara's suffering.

The last time that my back went out was in November of 2014. I remember that event clearly, as I was scheduled to teach an out-of-town yoga workshop the following weekend. I could barely stand up without assistance, though rescheduling the workshop wasn't really feasible. With some Aleve and adrenaline coursing through my bloodstream, I traveled, taught, and wasn't that much worse for the wear.

While my back started hurting shortly after the
eclipse, I'm disinclined to think they're related.
Since then, I redoubled my focus on Pilates, and I've enjoyed one of the longest stretches of a strong back since I was a kid. After 2+ years without an episode, I was starting to think that I'd finally licked my sacral-iliac (SI) joint instability.

Alas, samsara is still wrought with suffering! At the very beginning of this school year, my back went out. It was not the worst episode I've experienced - far from it. I couldn't stand up very straight for a few days, and I moved around the house like I had suddenly aged a few decades, though I was still able to execute life's tasks without too much assistance. Thankfully I've learned a few things about managing my back; avoid stretching the tight muscles, take anti-inflammatory meds and resist the temptation to realign my SI joint or lumbar spine by cracking anything.

While it's always tempting to find the cause of a life event, in my experience causality is often more nuanced and multi-faceted than the one thing. After reflecting on the lead-up to this incident, I've identified three factors that I think contributed to the most recent episode.
  • Last Summer I felt so good that I ran outdoors at every opportunity. Staying inside and working on the Pilates equipment or doing a mat workout didn't seem as compelling as running in the Arb or Blue Mound State Park. As a result, I neglected to keep up on the core work that was allowing me to feel so good!
  • My gait mechanics were disturbed after a minor foot injury. As I often teach in therapeutic Yoga and Pilates sessions, a minor shift in gait can transfer stress into the lower-back. Eight miles into a late-Summer twelve mile trail run, I tripped over a root. Ever since, I have been slightly favoring my right foot. I don't think this compensation was sufficient to cause my back to go out, though I think the slight stress on my back compounded the other contributors.
  • Stress. When I teach Yoga and Pilates, I almost always find that people experience lower-back episodes during stressful times. Alas, I was feeling stressed about the upcoming school year and my heavier-than-usual course load.
By themselves, none of these stressors were all that significant; taken together, I think they were sufficient to remind me to practice the things that I teach.

I'm now back into the rhythm of the school year, and happily vertical, again!


Marjorie's Daughter said...

Grateful for your precise and articulate reflections, combining mind and body. How is your "heart" in all this --- and I mean that part of the body-mind that I experience as my heart -- upper chest, into my lower neck. Deep breath. How is that in all this, for you, Scott?

Scott Anderson said...

A work in progress - appreciating the Loving-Kindness & Compassion, and Tonglen practices!