Wednesday, July 13, 2011
The Wide Road or the Tightrope
Everyone has a range of two little or too much exercise. For the average person, one weekend of gardening can cause a back ache. Or it might take a couple weeks without moderate or vigorous physical activity for weakness to turn into stiffness and achiness. Most people do fine with regular exercise here and there with not too much at any one time.
I liken this to a wide road with shallow shoulders. When we exercise the right amount we stay on the road. If we verge to the side of overexertion and strain a muscle, we stray off the pavement and get bogged down in the gravel. It takes some work, maybe seeing a health care provider or doing some stretches or extra time in the hot tub, to get back on the road. Sometimes we get too busy with work to walk, do yoga, lift weights, whatever our usual exercise routine is, so our muscles lose strength, our cardiovascular system loses steam, our organs lose vitality. This is the other side of the road. We’re heading for the ditch of lethargy, aches and pains.
The better our physical condition, the wider the road and the easier the shoulder. With inattention or injury, the road narrows, the banks steepen, the ditches turn to ravines. For people with chronic pain, the road has dwindled to the thickness of a tightrope strung high. This isn’t a glamorous high wire circus act; this is a trembling person, already off balance by pain, who doesn’t want to fall.
Managing the tightrope can be a full-time job. Every activity must be considered as potentially being too much or too little. Vacuuming the house might send one tumbling off the rope into a free fall to the net below, so that an arduous journey is required to climb the ladder back to the rope. Each person’s ladder is a unique combination of treatments. Finding the personal combination of therapy is as relevant as discovering what throws one off balance and into the net.
The other side of the tightrope – inactivity – is just as dangerous. Chronic pain creates and exacerbates weakness. Every day some exercise is required or else one risks falling off the other side of the wire with a similar climb up to the rope of equilibrium.
My teacher, Donna Bajelis, taught me the analogy of the tightrope. My clients, especially those with chronic pain, find it useful to keep on track with activity. They use continual self-care to lower the rope to ground-level, widen it to a balance beam and eventually recreate a broad road. Everyone can broaden their path with regular exercise. If you’re on a tightrope, work toward a balance beam. If you’re on a beam, work toward a narrow path. If you’re on a path, create a road for yourself. If your road is already broad, what will it take to make it an eight lane highway?