#6 of 52 - Healing Running Injuries with the Body’s Wisdom
I recently awoke on a Saturday morning, and as I sat up in bed I felt a light twinge in my lower back. The sensation was familiar, and I knew exactly what it was. It’s been a semi-annual event for me since 1985 when I strained my back leaning over my car to check the oil. Since that first episode my back has spasmed with the regularity of an equinox…about twice a year; generally, when I’ve had too much of one of the three “S’s”… Stress, Sweets or Stimulants.
Energy efficiency and injury prevention are the two main goals we encourage all runners and walkers to embrace in their practices of ChiRunning® and ChiWalking®. There are many ways to work towards these goals, but the most important tool of all is Body Sensing. Being able to physically sense what’s happening in your body, and respond with your body’s intelligence, is a skill that can be learned by anyone but is latent in most people. Body Sensing is an informative and intimate two-way conversation between your mind and your body. One place Body Sensing can be used is in healing an injury. As a matter of fact, I believe injuries are the body’s way of waking us up to the fact that we have not been listening and that we need to. Read more about Body Sensing in the ChiRunning book.
Here’s how Body Sensing helped me through this dilemma.
As soon as I felt this most recent twinge I knew I needed to pay close attention to every move, confident that in doing so, I could get it back in good shape. I had scheduled a trip the following week, so resting and allowing a slow healing process was not an option.
First, I did short walks around my neighborhood to loosen and relax the affected muscles. I listened intently to how my back was responding. As usual, careful walking: very short stride, engaged core, relaxed but lengthened spine, helped relieve some of the immediate pain and tension. All day, I sent my mind deeply into my spine and body, listening for exactly how my body wanted to move, sit, and how often it wanted a short walk. Before bed that night I slowly felt my way through some spine-loosening exercises.
The next morning my back was noticeably better, so I gave myself the “thumbs up” to meet some friends for a scheduled Sunday long run.
We warmed up with a walk. I was again listening to every nuance, and after a brief walk together, I decided it was too soon to run, so I told them to go ahead.
After they left I began trying every helpful focus I could think of while at the same time listening carefully for any “push-back” from my body. I gradually increased my walking pace and allowed my pelvis to gently rotate with my stride. My core was engaged the whole time. After 15 minutes of this I noticed my back gradually loosening with each stride, allowing me to break out of a walk and into a very slow running pace. I picked up my feet into a more circular stride, and it worked like a charm. Soon I was cruising along in a comfortable 1st gear run with no back pain. Hallelujah.
I knew it would be a mistake to pick up the pace, so I settled into a “no-push” mindset for the next set of focuses. Still feeling some tightness in my lower back, I focused on allowing my hips and pelvis to rotate, while using a fuller arm swing and a little more lean. For the next 20 minutes I locked onto these focuses and stayed as consistent as I possibly could.
Thirty minutes later, and for the first time since the initial twinge, my legs felt solid beneath me. I felt completely supported, with no sense of weakness in my legs or spine. My one-legged posture stance felt solid as a rock. Going with this feeling I let my stride open up very gradually over the next 20 minutes. As long as my body wasn’t complaining, I let it open up.
The last couple miles of my run were at a strong 2nd gear pace with no discomfort. When I finally stopped I had no sense of having had a back issue. It was gone, and my back has remained strong since.
Body Sensing, Gradual Progress, relaxation, postural alignment and core engagement are all ChiRunning principles that can help almost anyone heal from running injuries. If you’re injured, Body Sense very intently into the injury. Let your body tell you what it needs. Become a very good and practiced listener, and learn to trust what your body has to say. Then, look for how you can best address that cause and begin the healing process. It’s done by feeling with your body and responding with your mind. Healing happens when you allow this “dream team” the time and patience it needs to discover the solution that works best.
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