This blog is OLD. NEWS. Honestly – this baby has been sitting in a metaphorical corner gathering dust for several years. And while I am definitely one to exaggerate, that is no hyperbole. I have been writing as long as I can remember, and I’ve been clacking on this keyboard into this window specifically since it was originally a Tumblr page (and people actually followed it hah!). But the Tumblr app hasn’t graced my phone in many moons, and followers are much harder to come by these days…so somewhere along the road, I stopped. Why? I don’t really know, to be honest. Maybe because I never really had anything exciting to write about after college, maybe because after my stint as a teacher I went through a little cloud of depression struggling to figure out my place in this world, maybe because I still am not sure what that place is supposed to be?
For whatever reason, I lost my will and drive to do the one thing that has otherwise always kept me motivated, energized, excited, and truly has given me LIFE: writing. I LOVE WRITING. I might not be able to fully explain why, but I figure my close friends and family would probably say it’s because I love talking, too. I just love an idea and a thought and a word as much as I love breathing, and donuts, and a good summer rain. They’re natural, everyone knows about them, but they deserve more attention than is typically afforded to them, in my opinion.
So where do I start? Well, I guess I mean, where do I go from here? This cute lil’ site is full of my personal “ramblings,” as I mentioned, but I decided it’s high time we drive this baby in one specific direction. If I’m gonna talktalktalk, I want it to be about something I love as much as writing. For now (and the undefined future), I’ve decided that is going to be health, wellness, fitness, and just being. And as an ode to my re-return, what better topic to kick off such a thrill than that of the BACK.
Yes, the back.
Super weird, I know. Why would I want to talk about backs? What even am I actually referring to when I say ‘back’? I’m talking about the rear surface of the human body, running from your shoulders to your hip-line: your freakin’ back. Does your back hurt? I actually would be more surprised if you answered ‘no,’ because believe it or not, we use our backs as much as we do our arms, legs, and hands. It’s involved in almost every movement we make (and don’t make), in any given day. Your back is under pressure when you’re sitting, when you’re standing, when you’re running, and even when you’re lying down. Because of this, it’s also probably one of the strongest parts of your body. Hell yeah, go back!
So why do I want to say a few words on the back here and now? Well, other than just receiving my new foam roller in the mail that I legit can’t wait to get home and use on my back, when I first started really reflecting on my personal fitness journey, I came to the conclusion that it all started with my back. To fully do the tale justice, let me take you BACK a few years…ok, I’ll stop…
During the beginning of my second year of teaching, times were seriously rough. It took getting through the first year of my inner-city program to realize I had no life, whatsoever. I worked a minimum of 60 hour weeks, slept on average 3-4 hours a night, and when I did have free time, I was using it to research how to make my work-life easier (i.e. lesson planning!). Right out of college, I also had very little insight yet as to how completely bad this was for my overall personal health. I once had a phone meeting with my mentor and she asked what was one thing I planned to do for myself the approaching weekend, and I said I was excited to go to the local supply store to get new monthly supplies for my classroom. And I remember that I was truly, really excited! Her response? “Um, Tenika, you realize that is not for yourself, right?” I didn’t. I loved being a teacher, and I loved my students, but my body was taking a beating, and so was my mental and physical health.
So before I let the thick of that second fall semester get the best of me as it had the year before, I decided to commit to something – anything, to try to beat the busy-blues. A coworker was super into yoga and said she looked forward to the practice as a means of release at the end of the school week. She went religiously every Thursday evening, so I decided to join her onc week for my first ever class. Holy buckets was my world changed in a quick 45 minutes. I became obsessed with the idea of letting go of my stress, and clearing my mind for an hour – so much so that I yearned for it more and more. I joined a studio near my house and started going on my own accord. My commitment? I left my classroom everyday within one hour of the dismissal bell either to attend a yoga class, or at least to work from home where I could feel a little less stressed. Obviously yoga was my primary choice on most days, and by spring, I was attending classes five times a week! To my friends, I became the go-to yogi, and often would drag them along to experience some of me favorite instructors, or break-out practice opportunities around the city. The best part was that it was actually working – I was not only developing a better, more healthy work-life balance, but I was happy, energized, and felt like I had a personal life again.
Everything was going smoothly until one April evening, out to drinks with a few friends, as I was walking from one end of the bar to the other, I collapsed unexpectedly due to an indescribable pain in my back. Within 20-30 minutes it escalated from something sharp and quick, to something dense and throbbing. My friends had to help me to my own car, where I laid flat in the backseat demanding they drive me straight home rather than to a hospital. My beloved roommates helped me to put some biofreeze on the area, and I was able to move around and stretch a bit before bed, leaving me to think everything would be fine by morning – boy was I wrong. I woke up the next day with thankfully just enough mobility in my left arm to text my roommate in the next room and tell her I couldn’t move from my bed. I legitimately thought I was paralyzed, and it was terrifying. She brought me a painkiller, and called my school for me to let them know I wouldn’t be able to make it in.
Fast forward a few hours and it turns out I had severely disrupted a joint in my back called the Latissimus Dorsi: one of our largest muscles, which explains why it was affecting nearly my whole body. I had to undergo a couple months of physical therapy, remained seated constantly at work over the next several weeks (which as a teacher is torturous), and ultimately, realized I had been overdoing it with my yoga classes. It wasn’t that I was doing yoga too often (#yogaeverydamnday, amiright?), but I wasn’t doing it as properly as I should have been. I wasn’t warming up appropriately every time, and outside of class, I was known to #stopdropyoga into random poses without warning! I guess I grew to love my new hobby so much that I was overly excited to partake whenever I could, as often as possible, and in turn, I learned the hard way that there is a right and a wrong way to do fitness.
But I didn’t learn my lesson right away…no, that’d be too easy.
Fast forward a few months later and I found myself back home, sleeping on my sister’s couch. This wasn’t a big deal because I intentionally signed myself up for some detoxifying time off post the second school year, and truthfully, it was a great opportunity to really grow in my love of fitness and exercise. It was during these short months that I first discovered #TeamKayla, the #BBG workouts, and quickly became known among my circle as the friend who was always up for a trip to the gym. Since I had a flexible bar-tending schedule, it was typical for me to hit the gym in the morning for a weight-lifting circuit, and then again in the evening, or during my lunch break to get a run in. (Side note: I HATED running long distances – growing up I was a sprinter. Since I had been running every other day a few miles here and there, I thought I’d try my luck at a 10k in October 2016…it was awful and I could barely finish. I kept training anyway, and last month I finished my first half marathon (April 2017) with an 8:27 split).
It could have been that during this time at home, I was bored, and didn’t have a lot going on career-wise or socially. Whatever the cause though, I found I thrived in the gym. My friends from college used to joke that I was “most comfortable” listening to chill music in bars, probably completely by myself. I now realize that comfortability has evolved, and my place of choice involves sweating, grunting, and a good up-beat Beyoncé song.
When I moved to New York, I lost a lot of time on my fitness journey because it took me several months to really figure out my groove in the city. During a ski trip in January of this year, I got knocked down pretty hard, and it was back to the back doc. I discovered alongside a moderate concussion, I also had pretty bad strains to both of my rotator-cuffs. Granted this was a completely separate injury than the first time I found myself with pain in my back, and with a completely separate (mostly out of my control) cause, the experience lit a fire in me that I hadn’t felt before. Up to this point I had spent so many hours at the gym, so many mornings traveling there early, free hours from the work day, and even often times late in the evening – anything to get in my lifts, my miles, and my yoga practices. Yet, with one foul swoop of a wreckless snowboarder, I was on my ass and back in physical therapy. How could this be? I decided it was time for a change. To an outsider, I may have always appeared to live a super healthy, active lifestyle, and to be in “good” shape. To me I felt tired, heavy, and like I was spinning wheels and wheels of energy all to still feel weak.
So in the months that followed this recovery, I no longer committed to just working out, just running the miles, or just attending the yoga classes. I flipped my own health & wellness world on it’s head and cleaned out every corner of my life until it became better aligned with my goals – see: my elimination experience, for example. I wanted to not only walk the walk, but also talk the talk. When I am not at the gym, I’m researching ways to be better at the gym. When I’m not measuring my macros, I’m learning more ways to get the most out of my physical routine by aligning my nutrition, sleep, and mental health. And my favorite part so far? It actually feels like it’s working. My commitment has become my passion, and my passion is slowly becoming my lifestyle.
I guess it’s a little bit of a stretch to think the injury in 2015 lead me here, but maybe it’s not. Maybe everything happens for a reason, and maybe even that snowboarder a few months ago was a part of the puzzle. Jeez, I’m all emotional now…that happens a lot when you’re doing something you love, I guess. It has taken a lot of courage and dedication to get to this point, especially when nowadays (especially in New York), you can’t blink an eye without someone offering you their unwarranted opinion on the movement. And when I look back at the person I was five or even three years ago, it’s mind-boggling to see the difference. I know a lot of people promote their physical/fitness journeys from a place of physical transformation, and I think that’s great. For me, my transformation physically is important, especially because I do aim to get stronger everyday. But most importantly, I know a world has passed through my mind over the course of this journey, and to me, that’s what mindfulness means.
In short, I’m thankful for the injury(ies) that prompted the mental and physical strength I’ve developed, and the feeling to finally have something to write about again. If you’re reading this now, I hope you’ll stay tuned for what’s to come…This journey is what gets me out of bed in the morning (that, and the strength I’ve continued to build in my back!). 😉
Finally, I’ve included some of my favorite back stretches below. These were a few favorites to get me through the separate rounds of recovery, and thankfully, I’ve always been a fan of #1. Keep moving, keep breathing, and keep trusting the process. Enjoy!
#1 Wall Supported Handstand
Yes! I’ll do anything to flip upside down – anywhere, and anytime. My yoga instructor in Indianapolis recommended that I focus on my handstand practice in lieu of pretty much everything else during my rehab in 2015 (see featured photo on my front porch in downtown Indianapolis). It takes a lot of practice and core muscle to be able to stick one of these babies out in the open, but kicking up into an easy handstand supported by the wall, and tightening your back and butt, is a good way to strengthen your body’s most valuable muscles.
#2 Legs Up The Wall
Maybe my second favorite pose/stretch – legs up the wall is an easy go-to for adding strength specifically to your lower back. It’s easy to kick up your legs when you’re just lying around the house, wathing tv, or reading a book, and this can undo hours of sitting at a desk all day!
Bridge is a tough one to do if you have an injury, but is a great pose to incorporate into your practice to prevent the injuries from happening. It’s good for targeting your thorax, and neck – just don’t look side to side, and instead stay focused on the ceiling.
Not just good for abs, most crunch-type exercises actually target the back, too! This standard crunch pose is a good one for adding strength to the lower back muscles, as well as the full core, by simply balancing for 10-20 seconds per rep.
#5 Front Bridge/Plank
Similarly, an exercise usually looked at for ab work, the forearm plank, or front bridge pose can be good for strengthening the back, too. To make this more focused on the back, rather than your abdominal muscles, simply lower your shins to the ground, and focus on arching through your mid-section.
Poses/exercises to avoid when you have a back injury:
When nursing a back injury, I’ve found it’s best to avoid all strenuous exercise, as it likely involves stress to your back in some regard. The worst thing you can do is not give your body time to heal and rest. Just as well, if you start to feel better, and then push yourself before your muscles are ready, you can end up worsening the injury, putting you out of your typical routine for longer, or worst case scenario – end up with permanent damage.
But if you want to still take it easy, from my experiences, the most important exercises to avoid when you have any kind of back injury include any of those which include twists, backbends, forward folds, and running.
If you do have back pain and are unsure what to do, definitely consult a chiropractor, or physical doctor for the best advice! And don’t be afraid to befriend a foam roller! 🙂