THE AGONY AND THE ECSTASY
By: Lauren Anderson
Two weeks ago, I did a series of successful box jumps for the first time in my CrossFit life. (see week 43 blog post.) I felt triumphant. Indomitable. It was ecstasy. You don’t feel that way very often in this cruel world– especially without designer drugs– so you can bet I felt good. For the rest of that day I walked around like I was 10 feet tall. Floating on a cloud of pride and the good ol’ fashioned American “can do” spirit. Then I went to bed.
I woke up the next day sore as hell. When I bent my body forward to get out of bed, my lower back lit up like Ghost Rider’s face before he unleashes his vengeance on the unholy. (Agents of Shield anyone?) I was shocked by how sore I was. It was agony.
It didn’t feel hurt, or ripped, or anything requiring medical attention. Perhaps strained? But man, this was intense. A more intense ache than the ones I have been used to. I had to take a break when I was putting on my jeans, and getting the second leg in required assistance from a chair. But I had stuff to do, so I rambled onward.
Despite the pain, I walked around that day wearing my soreness like a badge of honor. This is my body reacting to something it’s not used to, I told myself. I mean, I know I was not meant for flight. And yet, I decided to jump off the ground willingly more times than I have since my tender youth. These are just muscles that aren’t used to being used. Of course they would be sore! You gotta break a muscle down to build it up right? Right?! Or something like that…
This soreness is nothing new either. It’s part of being a consistent worker-outer. For one to two days (sometimes more) after every exercise class, I can expect to feel a bit sore. But it’s that good kind of sore. The one that reminds you that you moved your body. That you pushed yourself to the limit, and you are gonna see progress.
Cut to two days later.
Still sore. And not waning in intensity. What was wrong with me? I start to worry. But then I think, Oh I know! I need to stretch. That’s what I should do. Duh Anderson. Friggin DUH.
But this is part of working out that I always forget. When you go from being a relatively sedentary person, to a person that works out, that can seem like a big change. And it is. And with all these moving parts and new things to learn, you can forget some crucial stuff– like you also have to stretch–along the way. And I don’t bring this up to overwhelm or dissuade, because I’m not feeling like that. It’s just a great reminder that the deeper you get into something, the more things you inevitably take on.
Stretching is the thing that always gets the shaft with me. Sure, I stretch before and after each class. The perk of the classes at Solcana is that a warm up and cool down mobility portion are included in each session. Solcana’s Wellness Center even provides mobility classes that are free with your membership, but I have yet to try one. Why? Well I don’t really know. I know I should. And now it’s priority one on my list of To-Dos.
Because sometimes you gotta do more than the bare minimum. You gotta stretch yourself. (See what I did there? You’re welcome.) So in the meantime, I did a little internet research, and asked a few experts at my disposal, and I stretched and stretched and stretched at home.
And it helped. It felt good. Some of the moves felt like pure ecstasy. Releasing pressure and causing tingles. And I could feel relief. I also took some some ibuprofen, and dabbled in hot and cold applications. I even took an epsom salt bath. Which again– ecstasy. I don’t think people take enough baths. I know I don’t. I can’t recommend them enough.
And I felt relief. I went to bed expecting to be done with it all. Patting myself gently on the proverbial back for being so damn good at self care. I was stretched and ready to get back to it.
But the next day I woke up with the same pain. Oh no, I thought. Was this my life now? Did I mess up my back permanently? I start to worry more. The worry of having a bad back exacerbates my pain. The soreness and the worry mingle together into a cacophony of psychosomatic agony. I start thinking the worst. Uh oh. I ruined it. I will never be able to exercise again.
But I have a tendency to do this. I have what parents would call “an over-active imagination”. And while this serves me very well in my creative pursuits, it can also bring on a lot of unnecessary anxiety.
For example: There was a time in my life when I heard the Tom Petty song “Free Falling” more than twice a day for a week. It played so often on different radio stations in my car (yes, even The Current), that I started to read into it. Am I free falling? Am I good girl that loves her mama? Ah! WHAT ARE YOU TRYING TO SAY TO ME UNIVERSE?!
But then my better judgement took over, and I realized that it’s just a very popular song, and DJ’s play it, because it’s just that kind of ditty. (Not everything is about you, Anderson. Sheesh. Get it together…)
And just like I realized I wasn’t being haunted by Tom Petty’s greatest hit, the next day, I woke up feeling better again. I take a deep breath. Ahhhhh, the ecstasy of relief. I soak it all in.
But then nature calls, so I bop out of bed and go to the bathroom. When I bend down to sit on the toilet, my back lights up again like a christmas tree. Dammit! Agony, thy name is Lauren.
And so it goes. A week flies by, and I stay away from the gym. I am fearful that I will make it worse. But I keep hearing from everyone to stay active. All I want to do is lay down. But if I lay down for too long it hurts worse. Same with sitting.
Eventually when I wake up in the morning, my back feels better, but by the end of the day it is sore again. Agony and ecstasy rolled together like lovers down a hill destined to destroy each other at the bottom. (Oh my… I guess pain makes my very poetic.)
I decide to call in the big dogs. My dear friend Ellie is a massage therapist (carempls.com) and has what I call MAGIC HANDS. I highly recommend her. I beg her to fit me in, but because she’s so good, she can’t schedule me until that weekend. I continue to diligently stretch and I get better. Day by day. It doesn’t go away, but the agony lessens it’s wicked grip.
The next week, I go back to the gym. Because I got a blog to write, and frankly, I don’t want to stay away! I let Coach Hannah know about my back agony and she helps me modify. I have a great class. I take it easy, and choose a smaller weight. And I manage to do my clean and jerks without my back being a total–jerk. And in a M.Night Shamalanian twist, when I finish, I actually feel better. I feel good! Like my body wanted to move. I am delighted. Ecstasy.
But the pain has not left yet. So when Ellie can fit me in, I treat myself to a 90 minute session. She works on my back, and my legs, and everything. Baths are great, but if you can swing a massage–say it with me now– ECSTASY. Pure and simple. The self-care promise land.
When my session is done, my body feels so relaxed and good. I can feel no pain in my back. Ellie warns that I might feel even more sore tomorrow, because of all the work she did. And she was right. But then the day after the day after, I felt even better. Instead of that naughty, palpable, everlasting soreness, my back is now in a dull ache. I can feel it, but it doesn’t hurt.
So where does this leave your plucky protagonist?
Well for now, slow and steady wins the race. If this persists, or gets worse, I’m going to the doctor… Obviously. I don’t want to mess around with my back. And in the meantime, I’m going to keep taking baths and keep taking it easy. But I’m going to KEEP WORKING OUT. And I am going to treat myself to another session with Ellie, because magic hands + sore back = sweet relief, aka, ecstasy.
Also, I have made it a priority to get myself to one of these mobility classes everyone keeps raving about. Coach Hannah says that even just “30 minutes of mobility a week can drastically change the way you lift.” And she has never lead me astray, so she must be onto something.
Because when I first started to work out, I was just trying to adapt and implement enough to get by. But as I move forward in my journey, I can see that it’s time to level up. If I am going to be using my body more and more in vigorous new ways, I have to do more maintenance to keep it performing at it’s best.
Kinda like, there’s a difference between a car you take to the store, and a car you race on the track. And while I am still nowhere near a race track with this body, I think it’s time I merged onto the highway, so to speak. (Also, I know I’m not a car. And I’m not trying to compare a woman’s body to an inanimate object…oh shoot. Help! I’m caught in a feminist spiral!)
Okay, okay. Before this analogy speeds far far away from me, I’ll try and get to my point.
I guess in the pursuit of any great thing, I am bound to be faced with uncertain amounts of agony and ecstasy along the way. The ecstasy of accomplishment and triumph, the agony of pain and defeat. The ecstasy shows me just what I can do, and the agony reminds me that everything has limits. The ecstasy pushes me forward, and the agony keeps me humble.
The agony of paying 30 dollars for a stupid heating pad. The ecstasy of using it.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back into child’s pose. I have been sitting too long.