Better & Bolder the Blog

Connect: compensation

Here’s a very kind way to discuss a problem that I have.

“Given the body’s remarkable ability to find and adopt a compensatory movement pattern when faced with weakness or dysfunction, it is very important to use a gradual, progressive exercise program when attempting to strengthen and stimulate use of a weak muscle/muscle group.”

Isn’t that the sweetest? Notice the focus on the body’s remarkable ability? 

Here’s how it plays out. 

My abductors are weak. I hate that. I don’t like to think any part of me is anything but bad ass strong. But that’s in the past. My focus now is on how totally Bad Ass it is of me to understand my weaknesses and then to slowly, gradually strengthen.

My first ah ha, the first connection I made in the past few weeks, was that my core isn’t strong enough so I recruit my shoulders to do more work. Then my shoulders get hurt. Happens every time. 

On some level, deep down, I’ve known this for decades. While other people were doing their Pilates-like exercises, I would tank out way before them. When doing floor play movements that emphasize using the core to stay up, I’d end up kind of crunching down, my shoulders and ribs shifting down, my waist collapsing into my hips. I hunch often and easily. Mainly, I simply overwork movements so that instead of the flow and ease of moving from a strong core, I move from a strong base. My quads and adductors are strong. 

While running, I got that ah ha! moment that happens after hearing and reading about this kind of thing for years. Yes, runners have to have strong hips and core -- but surely that couldn’t mean me? After all, I cross-train with Nia, so that means I must be perfectly balanced in strength throughout my body. Mm hmmm. I read Runner’s World “The Whole Body Fix” by Katie McDonald Neitz in its March 2014 issue. That helped. Here was an experienced runner, an editor at a running magazine, and she needed pros to tell her where she was weak and how to fix them. So, it’s not just me. We’re all blind to our weaknesses, and, yes, that’s a metaphor, too. 

Because my core isn’t strong, I collapse downward, shifting ribs down into my belly and forcing my hips and psoas to work hard and preventing the hip flexors from releasing and swinging as I run. I also --and this is very difficult to do so do not attempt it -- run with my energy shifted to the back of my body. I’m straight up, though collapsed a bit at the middle, and coming onto my heels even when I’m running without a heel lead. As I said, this is very difficult, even counter-intuitive, but that’s the adjustment that I made to compensate for a weak core and weak abductors. I am, says the wonderful woman who’s been rolfing me for the past 3 decades, very grounded. I have what rolfers call a ground orientation. 

I’ve been focusing on running form by giving myself a slight forward lean while engaging my core muscles so that I don’t simply lean the top half of my body forward (this is a neat trick many runners know). I engage my core to keep one long line. It’s tiring, mentally and physically, and it goes more like this: straighten, lean, run, forget, oh yeah, straighten, lean, run, get tired, okay, straighten, lean, run, all the way home. 

I focus, too, on a light, quick cadence, and my helpful achilles tendon will begin to ache when I forget to do so. I focus on allowing my hip flexor to release so that my leg can kick back behind me, which is how a runner gets forward momentum with the lean. While running is natural to all of us, many of us develop dysfunctional form. Our injuries often are not where the primary dysfunction lies. The injury is where we’re overworking to compensate for the weak place. 

Go ahead. That’s a metaphor, too. Where are you overcompensating and causing yourself stress? What’s the root weakness? Can you address that place in your life? 

Nurture/Connect: the Princess and the Pea

Apparently, I’m a bit sensitive. I’m also a bull in a china shop, so while I pick up on all sorts of signals, I still go crashing through my life.

I recently have had some gut intuitions. I have been slow to act on them. I didn’t entirely trust them. Instead of accepting that I was receiving reliable information from my gut, I was waiting for a stronger signal from my body.  If I’m not breaking out in hives, how can I be sure that a food doesn’t agree with me?

Go back to my birthday in May where I turned 50. I ordered luscious, healthy carrot cake from La Montanita Co-op. Though it was gluten-free and sweetened with maple instead of cane sugar, it did include dairy. There was way too much left after the party (I blame you, party attendees). 

I ate a piece and then more and then I ate as if I’d been starved for a decade. I ate until I was stuffed, for days, eating leftover party food and cake. Though I had avoided dairy for the previous two years (I ate some but not often or much), I was indulging big time. It wasn’t a fun indulgence. It didn’t feel pleasurable. It felt compulsive and out of control. 

In the 9 months since then, I have struggled with eating that feels unnatural in its rhythm. I eat when I’m not hungry, I eat until I’m overfill, and I eat foods that I know don’t nurture me. 

I created a story about these past 9 months: that I was older and entering menopause, that being achy and gaining weight was part of a necessary transition. Eventually, I’d move through this transition and be fine. I was pretty worried that my new fine would be a lot less fine than my old fine, but there wasn’t much to be done about that. 

I had a gut intuition that it was that carrot cake that sent me down the road to eating in a way that’s less than fine for me. 

Now, food is a tricky thing, and food is my guru. It’s not as simple as a mouthful of carrot cake. I’m just saying, some part of me knew that I’d messed up my balance. My best daily nutrition excludes dairy and anything made into a flour, which means carrot cake is on my no fly list. When I eat dairy or anything made into a flour, I eat more food over all. I eat fewer veggies. I end up eating more sweetened foods. Happens every time. I can keep proving it to myself. 

We all have food stories: this food is good for me, this food not so much. My husband’s food story is that food is food and just eat it and enjoy it and don’t worry. He has no trouble counting and limiting calories, when he wants, and he kind of assumes every body could be the way he is. But I’m a Princess. A small amount of something makes me so uncomfortable that I can’t sleep right. 

It turns out that I had way too many peas in my system. 

First, it was the energy bars with peanut butter and pea protein. Then it was the cheese alternative Daiya made with pea protein. Every day I was eating the almond milk yogurt that also had pea protein. They were all “healthy” (umm, I’m supposed to say “healthful,” I know) and they were all processed foods. 

I was having trouble sleeping. My jaw ached terribly. Aching in my hip would keep me up at night. I didn’t even want to go to sleep because I felt a bit haunted; I couldn’t entirely relax. I had slight headaches. I was a bit congested. I began having hot flashes. 

At Nia, I was sore and it was difficult to move. I knew something wasn’t right. I was wiped every afternoon, not able to read or do anything productive, and not able to rest really either.  

In bed one night, I wondered if there was something I was eating that was affecting me because this didn’t seem to be just the usual winter blahs.

I wrote a Better and Bolder email about the elimination diet. I was not thinking I needed an elimination diet, though.

How could I not be thinking that? How could I not have thought, well, my energy is low, I’m achy, I’ve gained weight and have been eating compulsively -- maybe it’s something I’m eating? Maybe I’m not being nourished? 

One evening, I was eating a lentil burger with Daiya cheese on top when I felt my throat constrict. I was having an allergic reaction. 

I hadn’t been willing to accept that the body signs I’d been experiencing (and lamenting) pointed to an intolerance to a food. I needed to be hit over the head with a frying pan. Because while I’m sensitive to foods (I’m a princess!), I’m also bull-headed. Feeling my throat constrict was scary enough that I was jolted out of my story. 

When we eat too much of one food, we can become less tolerant of that food. I think (or my gut intuition says) that for months, I’d been taxing my system with foods that upset my balance. I had been eating too much food, which also upsets my balance. 

Once the digestive system is inflamed and upset, it takes much less to throw it off. During allergy season, it’s not uncommon for a person to react to foods that are fine the rest of the year. Most food isn’t good or bad for us: it depends on a lot of factors. Some foods are always not good for us if we have a true allergy. 

Once I stopped eating all legumes, it suddenly became easier to stop eating compulsively. I chose to stop eating any foods that I had been eating several times a day, every day. I chose to stop eating processed and sweetened foods. None of this is forever, by the way. This is a therapeutic diet, a healing diet, one intended to let inflammation die down and return my body and mind to a rhythm that feels right and natural.

Within days, I felt better. I felt relieved.

The hot flashes went away. I slept better. My jaw didn’t seize up. Even my achilles seems to be a bit more resilient.  I could stop eating before I got full. I will add that I also had started acupuncture, and some of the relief of my symptoms could be due to that support. 

Part of what has made me feel better is that my gut knows -- finally -- I got the message. I also enjoy feeling hungry again. Really, for months, I ate until I was full or overfull. I was eating every two hours and if it was too long between meals and snacks, I couldn’t focus or relax. 

I hadn’t realized how uncomfortable I was in my body. I sort of knew I was eating too much sugar and chocolate and I was strung out, but I couldn’t stop. I felt out of rhythm with my body and my life, and I was disheartened and dispirited. 

Within days of switching my diet, I felt better physically and emotionally but most importantly, I felt better spiritually. I felt like myself again. I don’t know why it took me so long this time to get here, back to my body and back to myself. I must have had a lot to learn in those 9 months and a lot of transitions to make. Food is my guru, and once again, I am delighted to take pleasure -- real joy -- in the path.

Nurture/Connect: mid-winter

Here’s the darn tricky thing about nurturing ourselves. When we need it the most, it’s the most difficult. 

If I’m depleted, sick, or tired, I don’t have a lot of energy for doing the things that will replenish my energy. 

Start simple. Go home to the body.

Sense your body, and listen. Your body will tell you if you’re in sync, if your rhythm and the rhythms of the world around you are harmonious. 

If you’re out of sync, ask yourself: what do I need right now? 

What do you need to do to restore your authentic self?

Are you ready?

When you don’t know the answers, keep asking. Keep asking and wait for that one thing that will help support you so you can nurture yourself as you need. 

Connect the rhythm of your body with the season. Connect the rhythm of your body with your food, your sleep, the ones you love. Connect the rhythm of your body to your dreams. Connect the rhythm of your body to your desires. 

This is the mid-point of winter. We sense the stirring of the seeds. We grow excited as the days grow a bit longer. We know we still have weeks of cold and wind ahead of us. 

We are waiting, listening, sensing the stirring.