At 31 years old, I’m learning the hard lesson of listening to my body. For the longest time, I knew my body was trying to tell me important things – about what I could and couldn’t do, about what it needed and what it didn’t need, about what hurt and what healed. I just didn’t spend much time listening to it.
When I moved back to Louisville, one of my biggest goals was to run the Derby Mini-Marathon and so about a year ago I began a journey to focus on my health and to listen and learn from my body. It’s been a big change in how I exercise because for most of my life I have been able to ignore the pains and groans of my body and still recover quickly. Rather than pausing to understand that source of the pain and what could help heal it, I simply pushed ahead. Rather than listening to my body telling me what it needed, I told it what to do.
I found a training program through Norton Sports Health and that’s how I started to intentionally train and hold myself accountable. If you’re interested or already training, they have programs for both the mini and full marathons. There are two large group runs each week, on Tuesdays and Saturdays, and they also host injury clinics throughout the program.
As I progressed in my training, I felt some of the same old aches and pains. It started in my right knee – a dull ache from a lingering football injury. When I was 17, I sprained my MCL in a pivotal game against Trinity High School. I’ve favored that knee ever since. My body has an amazing capacity to heal and overcome severe injury, but it also remembers my scars.
But with the longer runs, there came a new pain. It moved from my right knee and climbed over to my left hip. My body overcorrecting for the bad knee I thought. And it wouldn’t go away. The longer the miles got, the more days I ran in a week, the longer the pain stayed with me.
And so I finally had to relent. It was time for me to stop telling and start listening to my body. I went to my doctor and then my physical therapist. What my body was telling me was quite surprising. It wasn’t really the knee or the hip. It was my back that was the problem. Too much time hunched over at a desk. My back was bunched up and knotted in a way that affected the posture of my hips, which in turn was causing pain in my knee as well.
Listening to my body meant learning how intricately woven together my body is. Some big pain coming from over here is actually my body telling me there’s something wrong over there. And in my case, it usually doesn’t involve some big procedure or radical change to fix it. Instead, it requires daily attention, more stretching, and intentional effort. To get better, my body requires me to be committed to small changes every day – it doesn’t happen overnight.
I am no expert and there are certainly much smarter people here on Yes Louisville who can help with health recommendations. But here are just a few of the other illuminating things I’ve learned since I started listening to my body:
Water is good. I’ve learned that my body wants a lot of water and that water fixes a lot of things. Water helps with recovery and soreness. It also helps me concentrate and can help with headaches. I’ve learned that sometimes what feels like hunger is actually thirst and so water helps in between meals. I begin each morning with a 32 oz. Nalgene of water and try to do two more throughout the day
Smaller portions are good. I’ve learned I can’t focus on health without focusing on food alongside exercise. I used to eat out all the time and I ate good too! I learned our bodies are wired with a “feast-or-famine” survival instinct from when we were hunter-gatherers. If there is a lot of food in front of us, we can eat it all – because back then we didn’t know when our next meal might come. Restaurants generally serve larger portions, partly because you’re not supposed to eat there all the time (like I did). When I started preparing my own meals, I found that I could be perfectly satisfied with smaller portions.
Eat less junk. This relates to point #2. Fried food, cheese, carbs, potatoes – I love them as much as the next person. But when I started listening to my body I learned that these are better in moderation. In fact, when my body adjusted to a healthier diet I found that if I ate too much of these foods, it could really throw a wrench in things, gastronomically speaking.
Walking is good, too. I’ve learned getting healthy doesn’t mean punishing my body until everything hurts. Walks are a great low-impact exercise and a wonderful way to get out in the neighborhood.
Parker Palmer, a Quaker spiritualist, writes, “Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am.” I’ve learned the same could be said of our bodies. Before I can tell my body what I want to do with it, I must listen to my body telling me who I am. Through all of this, what I hear my body telling me is that it is a gift. My body is a gift – to be able to move around like I do, to be able to sprint and run and play is all a gift. And so it is not be taken for granted. I must listen and learn and care for this great gift.
The hardest lesson I might be learning right now is that I may not be ready for the Derby Mini-Marathon this year. But I am so grateful to be on this journey and I look forward to if and when I might be ready.