There is nothing like a back injury to slow down your life. Being more of a minimalist on the doctor’s visit and strong medicine front, I was forced to stillness after initial denial that I was out of action.
I did initially resist the inevitable slow down, making matters worse and also making my horse partners at Last Resort Recovery Ranch laugh: After insisting on doing the 150 mile round trip to work with our equine program for addicts at this wonderful ranch in Rosanky, I did a great imitation of a penguin. After all, it was graduation day for Paula and I, and we were facilitating the equine program after five months of specific training from Kris, our brilliant teacher. (My neocortex was not thinking properly, my lizard survival brain was in control, and my self-important ego was directing proceedings.)
Secondary denial: It took me an hour to feed my horses, a daily spiritual practice that usually takes me ten minutes. It also took me five minutes to lower myself down a step, hanging onto the door jam, in order to feed the dogs. Very comedic. (Why was I doing all this? Oh, did I mention I was totally alone on the homestead that week? I felt I had to. I did not have to, but I felt I did.)
Animals generally do a better job of taking care of themselves when there is a physical injury than we humans. It was time to put into practice some of that animal wisdom and to consider “horse anatomy and central nervous system 101” in my own recovery. I knew what I needed to do to practice good self-care.
Two lessons emerged for me:
1. Listen to the physical pain – your body is guiding you
My hypothalamus, the CEO of my body, was receiving and sending messages through my sympathetic nervous system that there was an injury: swelling at the site of the injury, pain receptors working overtime, homeostatic natural healing processes going into action.
I could have gone to my allopathic doctor who would have prescribed heat, ice, Ibuprofen and perhaps muscle relaxants to mask the pain. But the pain was my body talking with me to slow down rather than to “push through.”
The stark reality is that most of us do not have time: our jobs and other to do lists keep us moving fast. Ultimately, we are at choice and do have options: it is a matter of breaking through our limiting thinking and emotional patterns to consider healthier ways of dealing with unexpected challenges. For me, it was asking for help and staying in bed. When I surrendered to that notion, I was inundated with resources: all the farm feeding was done, snacks were brought to me, even my donkey who had an encounter with a porcupine, was taken care of by our brilliant vets (Sunset Canyon Vets in Dripping Springs.) Thank you Amy, Linda, Christi, Nancy, Timea, Janel and Cheryl.
Looking at our speedy tendencies from a philosophical perspective, Carl Honoré, a father of “the slow living movement” speaks of how our society is caught in an “ever escalating “arms race” of speed.” In his seminal book, In Praise of Slowness, Honoré:
“illuminates a sad reality shaped by everything from fast food to “one-minute bedtime stories” as well as research on parents who spend twice as much time on email as they do on playtime with their children, workers who face burnout in their twenties and thirties, and doctors whose minimal time with patients causes them to miss pertinent if not critical information. Our addiction to speed, Honoré warns, is undermining our personal relationships, our societal civility, our individual fulfillment, and physical health.”
[From Mark’s Daily Apple: http://www.marksdailyapple.com/the-pleasures-of-slow-living/#axzz2ZJMPOytH]
2. Slow down to recover - your parasympathetic relaxation system is your friend
Whilst the sympathetic system is the gas pedal of your body, speeding up blood flow, increasing heart rate, preparing you to fight or fly, your parasympathetic system is the opposite. If you allow yourself to tap into the “slow down channel” your body will often go a long way to recovering itself.
One example of this is that when you are in fight or flight mode as a Type-A fast-moving, task-focused person, your body’s natural processes prepare your large muscles, heart, and lungs for physical action. (Intense physical activity is one of the four major users of energy according to my Chinese Medicine doctor. (The other three are recovery from illness/injury, digesting, and mental work. Ponder that readers. It does not even occur to us to rest from brain activity.)
Your body cannot recognize the difference between a tiger chasing you or being late for a stressful meeting. It prepares your body for both types of challenges in the same way. The adverse effect of this is that blood supply and other key bodily maintenance systems are diverted away from your immune and healing systems to large muscles, thus slowing down other critical functions in your body.
Research shows that Americans typically face up to 50 stress episodes EVERY day. This chronic drip of stress is unhealthy.
It is day ten after my injury, and I am now up two thirds of the time, and actively taking care of my back the other third – still icing , heating stretching, lying down and going slower. My chiropractor also put my hips back in place. Life is good.
Sheila Armitage helps individuals and organizations adopt everyday resilience practices that boost work, home, and health.