5 ways to get back to a healthy back

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I mention in my about section that I suffered from sciatica... It started at the ripe age of 28 and I had no idea what was happening. I was in a very stressful office environment under a lot of pressure to make a project happen and suddenly my leg started aching. Having just run a half marathon I assumed I hadn't trained appropriately or over-trained or simply wasn't young enough anymore to bounce back without problems as I would have ten years earlier.

With more pain that wouldn't stop, other thoughts came up: "it's the long term effects of training so hard as a young person", "I have a serious injury that I keep aggravating by exercising", "maybe I should try yoga", "ouch, stretching hurts- yoga is not the solution".

I became increasingly alarmed and stopped running, by this time the pain was shooting down my hamstring into the back of my knee and all the way down into my pinky toe. The result was that I couldn't sit in an office chair for many hours a day and worse, even lying became a problem.

I spent hundreds of dollars on heat patches, arnica, traumeel, tiger balm, eventually acupuncture and a chiropractor. I tried for as long as I could to stay away from pain medication to avoid getting hooked on them. What I didn't know at the time because it had never happened to me, was that chronic pain can cause a large number of other related issues: my digestion became horrible, irregular and it caused weight gain, any meal caused painful bloating. This was closely followed by skin problems, my face became a minefield of acne that I couldn't get under control, so I stopped going 'bare' and used more make up (I don't have to tell you that that wasn't a great idea). Other side effects included fear because I didn't understand what was happening and people suggested herniated and/or bulging discs, anxiety trying to still do well in my job and ultimately a slight onset of depression because nothing worked.

I am not trying to depress you here, but this is to show you how bad it was for me... Eventually I found out what sciatica was (I was way too young for it, but it is happening more to younger people).

And here is, what helped me:

  1. Realizing that there is usually a psychological component to physical pain that becomes chronic. I had gone through a breakup, work was intense and I tried to do it all at once, all by myself, and as fast as possible.
  2. Finding out that my pelvis and therefore my hips and shoulder strap were about 2 inches higher on one side (no wonder I was in pain). An amazing chiropractor placed a finger on my right hip and then one on my left, stepped back and showed me...
  3. Accepting that anti-inflammatory medication when used responsibly to avoid pain and manage it, will help. I was always worried about addiction.
  4. Walking away from doctors that were ready to operate, prescribe incredibly strong pain medication for open-ended periods of time and generally anyone who told me that I would never be well again.
  5. Listening to myself and addressing the root of the problem, namely the anxiety that was caused by my job, the stress that came with it and learning relaxation techniques (I went back to autogenic training, tried meditation and learned how to do yoga without overstretching which can aggravate lower back issues). Also, mindfully removing those same triggers from my personal life, carving out 'me time' and not being rushed.

I get VERY few onsets of sciatica these days, a whole lot of things have to happen all at once to bring on an attack but I've also learned exercises and tools to get back to pain free. It took 2 years to get to where I am now. And I am writing this article precisely because I don't want people to wait as long as I did, to take action and hopefully avoid surgery.

The NY Times Health and Science section posted an article today on how back pain is being over-treated. I will be posting a video of a few exercises to help level the pelvis and restore balance in the hips, soon; to contribute to healing naturally and empowering individuals like you, to stop the pain.

I hope you will like it and mostly of course, that you don't need it in the first place!

Today I ask you to tuck your pelvis and engage your core!

xxR

 

 

The Mind Body Connection - Creating Space for Happiness

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The mind body connection is a topic that has been discussed at length. It touches on health, spirituality and many other areas of life. In all of these discussions we often forget that it is a very important personal connection that many of us have lost. Based in New York, I have been guilty of living in a rush, a daze, letting weeks go by in which I sometimes wasn't sure what day of the week it was or which date. This has resulted in forgotten birthdays and weeks going by without seeing friends. Many of us are bogged down by long work days and an overwhelming array of things to do in our spare time. When we exercise it is often out of a sense of obligation especially because it often involves 'getting there' and so becomes stressful in its own way.

I mentioned in my previous post that my life as an athlete was also busy - 20-25 hours of exercise per week needed to be scheduled well in advance. Training lengths, intensity, rotations for the various disciplines, and fitting it around school and later university (e.g. 6-7.30 am in the pool!!) created a challenge. There was a fine balance between exhausting high-intensity days focused on improving performance and more relaxed days to recuperate physically and mentally. And somehow despite this hectic and often tiring schedule I still felt very present and happy - I had my dreams in sight and there was always room to grow and explore more.

In recent years, I have gone back to reading about and exploring my own mind body connection and what brings me peace of mind. It seems, that at the time, what I did in my training was right. My coach made sure that I trained hard, but he would let my daily mood influence the intensity of the training. My schedule also included autogenic training (I have shared a short example below the post if you want to try it for yourself) which wasn't too different from what would commonly be described as meditation. For 15 minutes up to three times a day I would visualize things that helped me keep anxiety under control during important competitions. I was creating a comforting, calm space to go back to when I was under duress - physically and mentally - in international events.

Then later in my work life, I was looking for that space and couldn't find my way back. I had developed anxiety for which I tried herbal remedies, acupuncture and spoke to a lot of people, many with similar problems. The talking helped but many of my other approaches didn't. Until I rediscovered meditation - through my husband - and yoga. This combination gave me a first impulse to turn back to my physical body, to open it and therefore create space again, so much so that eventually I left my job to pursue my passion. The result is Chitta Wellness.

I am now in a situation that I have chosen and that fills me with joy when I think and talk about it. The responses from people to the 'new me' have been uplifting, supportive, welcoming and heartfelt. I feel that by doing what I love, I am present most of the time and this presence makes me creative, healthy and gives me the tools to support others. This space quiets the voices in my mind and takes the focus off me, even though initially it was me who claimed it back.

I believe that everyone can create space in their life that can lead to contentment. It can be through baby steps, changing small aspects of your life, like including exercise and a healthier diet or maybe through a more life altering experiment, like a retreat, that takes you away from your regular routine for a while. The most important thing throughout your journey is to keep dreams and passions in sight and not to get too weighed down by what seems right because somebody else said or did so.

J.R.R. Tolkien said "Not all who wander are lost". So, go, search, explore, move, discover, enjoy and I am sure that by doing so, you won't wonder but the things that are right for YOU will become clear and possible.

 

Short Relaxation Exercise with Autogenic Training:

  • Create a calming atmosphere even if it is during a hectic day (e.g. light candles)
  • Lie down on a mat on your back and make sure that you are warm enough
  • Close your eyes and connect to your breath
  • Say out loud or focus on the sentence "My right leg feels heavy" (repeat 6 times)
  • Say out loud or focus on the sentence "My left leg feels heavy" (repeat 6 times)
  • Say out loud or focus on the sentence "My right arm feels heavy" (repeat 6 times)
  • Say out loud or focus on the sentence "My left arm feels heavy" (repeat 6 times)
  • Say out loud or focus on the sentence "My whole body feels heavy" (repeat 6 times)
  • Don't rush through the repetitions and really feel the sensation
  • At the end of the exercise, tense up briefly and stay strong in every part of your body before you release your muscles and let go completely
  • Lie still for a few more breaths.