This is kind of a theme of mine, so forgive me if you’ve heard this one before. But working out today I had the chance to chat with a friend who is also a physical therapist at the office I go to (it’s a “continuing fitness” rehab thing for those of us who are pushing beyond PT per se but still need support from time to time — brilliant, I say). So anyway, there we are, and I’m asking about whether it’s best to use a foam roller to iron out difficult muscles before or after working out. John, my friend the PT, says at first that you should do it afterward. Then he thinks some more and says that there’d be no argument against doing it before, especially for someone like me, where the tensest muscle groups tend to be the ones we’re trying to strengthen. And for me, that statement causes a total Lucy Van Pelt moment:
“That’s it!” I holler (internally, lest people think me strange). I want to strengthen what’s all balled up (my writing, my consulting, my willingness to be out there in the world), and instead of working on the simple, feel-good steps along the way (which are, incidentally, totally vital), I beat myself up for not being there yet.
Once again, pt offers a perfect metaphor for my life. You can’t properly strengthen muscles that are foreshortened due to tension — they are in the wrong places, using bad habits, and you have to guide them into better paths before they can really do what they are designed to do.
I realize that this may mean I need to stop watching Grey’s Anatomy, but only if I want to take my own medicine. Which I may not. But here’s the thing: I’m a writer. I’m a reader and a teacher and a thinker and a critic and an organizer and a grower and a maker and a friend and a mother. Of those things I am meant to do, the only ones I GET to do are the ones I HAVE to do. I parent because I have kids and they rock the house. I read what I have signed up to teach and I teach when I get the opportunity because it’s the best way I know to make a buck. I read and critique what I need to to be useful on the board I’ve committed to serve; I grow in the summer because it’s cheaper than buying food; I make things I’ve promised to make, and I don’t often promise any more. I am a friend when I can squeeze in a phone call without kids around (can ANYTHING make them whine and cling faster than seeing me pick up a phone?). But overall, when I look at my life with clear eyes, I offer this diagnosis:
I am no longer broken; I am not in pain. But there are many things I long to do, muscles I long to work, that feel like “luxuries.” Just like using the foam roller feels like a luxury. If it feels good, this particular logic goes, it must not be very important. Pain is the indicator that something is broken, and if we can limp along without much pain, well then, we are fine. Today, I think: fine is not good enough.
Today I want to sort feeling comfortable from feeling alive; feeling pain from feeling vulnerable. Because vulnerability, discomfort, awakeness when we’d rather be asleep, are the things that make us whole. They are that deep and welcome ache when you hit the specific muscle that needs release. They give us room to live, to thrive, to explore, to develop.
Here’s a handy reference tool for sorting what is crucial and what is luxury. For me, now, today. Feel free to make your own.
Warm delicious snuggles with loved ones: crucial. (Ezra staggered into our room at 6:10 with his new dinosaur book, flipping on the light and climbing into bed between us, only to discover later, I think, that he was not in fact really awake at the time.)
Stretching, foam roller, or other forms of muscle relaxation: crucial. (Just because it feels good does not mean it’s non-essential. It is hard work for me to remember that.)
Strength-training, in body and spirit (weight-lifting; meditation): crucial.
Long delicious shower after a workout: crucial for spirit; luxury in terms of time.
Writing up creative ideas for community projects and being willing to share them in their draft stage: crucial. Also, luxury, because more time would make for better work…but what great practice at letting something take shape among people rather than just in my own mind!
Taking a nap: probably a luxury today, since I got a good seven hours last night. But sleep: crucial.
Eating well and making good food for my family: crucial AND a luxury. I have a friend doing the hard work of cooking in advance and freezing whole meals…that’s hard work that makes sense. But I’m not there yet. I’m here.
Exploring new ideas through reading and writing: crucial. Crucial, I say.
Watching tv for downtime during lunch…well, I’m allowed a little luxury, right?