Where Baby Steps Will Get You
I’m sure there’s a writing metaphor/moral in this story somewhere. I might wrap it up at the end, or I might let you take it away yourself. We’ll see when I get there.
I have never been an active person. I don’t like exercise. Those two sentences are pretty much the understatements of the millenium. The only way I like walking is with a friend, when we’re talking the whole time, or with a book on the treadmill. Honestly, I don’t even like that–I’ll do it if I have to. Sometimes.
I have fallen in love with yoga in the past couple of years, but my favorite classes & poses are still the ones you do ON the mat. As in sitting or lying on the mat. Not standing. Yoga clears my head and lets me meditate in a way I can’t yet get to when I’m just sitting still. So I guess there you have it–the one place I want to be more active than not. In meditation. Yeah, that’s SO right.
Anyway, last summer, I hurt myself a bit. In a yoga class. Because my brain went wonky, and I ignored when the teacher advised us to get props. I pretty much get out the props BEFORE a teacher tells me to, so I don’t know what was going on with me that day. It’s like I tell my son about books/movies: You know, when the hero gets cocky, the bad thing is about to happen.
Anyway, it wasn’t a big deal, but I didn’t really deal with it, and it didn’t go away. So finally, late fall, I went to my doctor and we started on PT. It took us all a while to figure out where exactly I’d hurt myself (apparently, I’m special in yet another way!), but we got there. Meanwhile, my physical therapist, who–luckily–I love, had me doing exercises.
Let’s back up a bit. “I have never been an active person. I don’t like exercise.”
Now I knew this about myself. But, boy, did I come face to face with it those first few weeks.
I couldn’t do the first exercises my PT assigned me. Not just because I was hurt, but because I had no stabilization muscles–if I’m saying that right. At the same time as my body is the least flexible on the planet (see above referenced yoga classes for proof), it seemed to want to flail itself all over the place without any stop points. To put it in mechanical terms, I apparently had no limit switches. For one exercise, I was supposed to rotate my knee out until I felt my hip start to rotate with it. Felt? I had no clue what my hip was doing, and I could pretty much only tell what my knee was doing by watching it. So no limit switches, and no wiring between my brain and my body to let me send and receive messages. Did we back up to before the beginning. We did. Did we figure out which baby steps would even work for me? We did. (Did I mention that I love my PT? I did.)
I am SO not the perfect client. Lucky for my PT, I like being there & having her work on me. I like the massage and I like the heat and whatever those little electrodes are. I think I’m pretty cheerful. But do I do the exercises every day? I do not. Do I do them as slowly and carefully as I’m supposed to? Okay, sometimes. Do I relax into the moment with them and concentrate on what I’m doing? Hell, no. I listen to whatever distracting program I can find on an NPR podcast. If you thought most exercises were boring, let’s get you started on PT exercises. Remember Joanne Worley? BOOOOOORRRRIIING!
But I keep doing them. I take a day off or do the ones that don’t take props or get a few in while I’m on the mat waiting for yoga class to start. Yes.
Now here’s the thing. When I first started PT, I stopped yoga. I know, I know, but it’s the scheduling thing and the coordination thing. I knew I needed to concentrate on the exercises for a bit, till I got them down. I knew i needed to do them regularly, and I knew I was (and am) capable of using a yoga class as an excuse NOT to do the exercises on any given day. Plus, some of the yoga poses were starting to hurt enough that I was a bit scared to do them. My yoga studio was wonderful and put my membership on hold for a couple of months, so I could get a grip on things.
And I’ve been doing the exercises. As well as I’m going to do anything like this.
My hip still hurts. Not as much. I’m still at PT. And I’m back at yoga. And here’s what these baby-stepping exercises have done.
- I have some stomach muscles. Okay, you can’t see them, but I can.
- I can touch my toes. I have never been able to touch my toes. Sure, my knees are slightly bent, but we’re talking slightly. And comfortable. I was lucky to get to my shins before, and that was not comfortable.
- I can sit with my back straight (okay, pretty straight) and my legs straight out in front of me, and my legs don’t have to roll out to the sides and the back of my knees do touch the ground. Seriously. This is huge, people.
- And…today, my PT upgraded me on one exercise. The one where I rotate my knees out and stop. I was doing that on my back, with my feet flat on the ground She moved me up to doing it with my feet in the air and my knees bent at a 90-degree angle. But here’s the thing–I’d been doing it visually. Remember? I couldn’t feel when my knees got to the right place, so I had to watch. This morning, I didn’t watch. I rotated my knees out to where I thought I felt my hip start to go with it, and I stopped. And I asked my PT if that was right. Well, yes, it was! You can retrain your brain, hotwire new signals, fire up synapses you thought didn’t exist…even at my age. Even when you haven’t been “an active person.” Even when you “don’t like exercise.”
And, yeah, so, the metaphor. If we can do this with our brain for our body, our health, our fitness…what can we do with it for our writing?
The power of baby steps. Along with a dash of stubbornness.
Get out there and change something, people. You can do whatever you want. And, sometimes, even the boring stuff will pay off.