Ten years ago, after I gave birth to Gabrielle, I began to develop lower back problems. After seeing a physical therapist/chiropractor, I discovered I had a bulging disc in the lumbar region. Thus began a lengthy process of treatments (including a machine I affectionately called "The Rack" because it essentially pulled my upper body in one direction while simultaneously pulling my lower body in the opposite direction). I eventually reached the "Maintenance" phase, which meant I came in every 6-8 weeks for a chiropractic adjustment.
My insurance paid for the therapy part, but the maintenance which would prevent future injuries? Naw, they weren't having that. What was I thinking, trying to stay healthy? As the years passed, my out-of-pocket expense for adjustments grew. These appointments last about 5-10 minutes, and while I felt better after it was over, I couldn't justify the cost for what seemed to be an unnecessary procedure -- after all, I rarely had any pain in my lower back any more.
(Yes, I realize this is because the adjustments were actually working and preventing injury. But, I was thinking like a single mom who really hates to spend money on herself.)
This spring, I committed myself to running in the mornings more often, and when summer came, I was easily logging 4 miles each day. I also began to notice a nagging ache in my lower back. I bought new shoes, I alternated biking and running and walking. And then I called my chiropractor.
I don't have the bulging disc issue (yet), but my muscles were very tight and my spine needed to be adjusted. I dutifully scheduled regular check-ups. I had a massage, and took a bit of break from the high impact of running.
Last week, I decided to try a yoga class. I used to take yoga (among other classes) when we had a Y membership, and I thought the gentle stretching might be good for my back. I loved the class so much that I took Gabrielle to one the following Sunday.
During the first class I took, my instructor led us through a series of movements for one leg, and when we brought it back down to the mat, she said, "You may find that this leg feels longer than the other one now." Surprisingly, this was true. She led us through the same movements for the other leg, and then led us through some breathing exercises, asking us to slow down, to concentrate on our breath, to become fully aware of our bodies and how we feel.
"When we slow down, we notice more," she said.
While this statement obviously applies to the practice of yoga, its simple truth applies to every aspect of our lives. We live in a loud, fast-paced world -- Gene and I have 6 children between the two of us, and if you think that doesn't get loud, you are welcome to come over for dinner some night. In our jobs, we are increasingly asked to do more than was ever expected of one person. In our personal lives, we are expected to be constantly available via text or call.
How many times have you tried to have a conversation with someone whose face was in a screen? How many times are you that person in the screen, telling yourself that you are able to carry on two (or usually more!) conversations at once while still being present in each of them?
If we slow down -- to write in a journal, to meditate, to take a walk -- we appear to be slacking off in some way. (By the way, "slowing down" doesn't mean binge-watching Netflix for hours. That is escapism, if we are honest with ourselves. That is mindlessness, not mindfulness.)
When we slow down, we notice more. We notice facial expressions, we notice nature, we notice the messages our own bodies are trying to tell us. I wasn't listening to my body when I was running; I was often listening to an audiobook or music, and ignoring the pain in my back creeping in. Many people confess to emotional eating or other harmful behaviors that could be prevented by simply slowing down and facing the stressor. When we aren't paying attention, an entire bag of chips can disappear without us noticing, which then makes us feel ashamed, and the cycle repeats itself.
I am not saying, by any means, that slowing down in our culture is easy. I am not an expert at all. In fact, I am writing about this because I've been convicted by the statement made by my yoga instructor -- I need to slow down, to notice more. It isn't easy, but like most challenges, it will be worth it.