Update on My Back, Since You Asked

posted May 25, 2009

Several of you have written in and said, “Nerissa, you are supposed to be writing about your back pain. I haven’t seen that much about your back pain, and it hurts me not to get to hear about your back pain, because your back pain is my back pain!” Or just, “I can’t sleep another night without knowing whether you are really making those small changes you said you would.”

Thank you for your interest and concern; I am grateful for it. To inform those of you who are now saying, “Huh?” I started the month of May wondering whether making a commitment to changing something “small” like the way we stand, or adding some simple daily exercises can result in an increase in general well-being. I know it seems obvious that it can and would; I guess what I wondered was whether I would be able to sustain that work for a month and write about it while doing it.

Frankly, I thought this would be easy. I am good at this kind of thing. I frequently take up a commitment and run to the finish line, as if it were a baton in a relay race. But something about the tight focus on my own personal pain made me hesitate. I did the work, but I didn’t feel like writing about it. An anonymous reader recently accused me of being self-absorbed and narcissistic, and what could be a more self-absorbed subject than one’s back? But after weathering the usual storm of shame and angst that comes from a tough anonymous critique, I concluded:

1. It’s true that I am self-absorbed. But only because I am so fascinating.
2. I am self-absorbed and narcissistic, but oh, well.
3. It’s my understanding that on occasion blogs are a kind of online journal in which the writer writes about herself and her struggles, even if her struggles are about her boring back pain.
4. Those who don’t want to read about me don’t actually need to read this blog.

So here I am back to tell the tales. Though I didn’t feel like posting daily, I did keep some notes in my journal.

May 17- Everything is worse. True, I am not doing my exercises as religiously as I want to, but I am in general mindful of slouching, using my stomach muscles to lift heavy children and guitars. But my S-I joint is much worse and Tom says it’s about an inch and a half higher on the left side than the right side (he learned how to check it last year when I was pregnant). I couldn’t see my PT today because our babysitter was twenty minutes late, and the appointment was half over by the time she got here. There’s no other time to see the PT until June. I am going to drown my sorrows and aches in Advil, though it’s beginning to give me a stomach ache.

May 19- Finally read Esther Gokhale’s intro and first lesson. As I have already written, I am totally inspired by the photos of young children and people from other cultures with gorgeous upright posture. Now wherever I go I notice how people are carrying themselves. My grandmother had such lovely carriage, and what Esther says is that it used to be taught by parents to their offspring. I vaguely remember this from TV shows from the 50’s. My other grandmother was a would-be flapper and even though she was a dancer and yoga practitioner, I think of her as trendily slouchy. But both her daughters––my mother and aunt Sarah––stand beautifully. Neither has rounded shoulders. Sarah used to study the Alexander Technique, which I tried once. Now she’s a Feldenkries devotee. Coincidentally, there’s a practitioner in town who for reasons I won’t get into here has offered me a free session. Perhaps I will take her up on it. I am feeling desperate.

May 20- I notice that for about four days after a gig, my upper back and shoulders raise a giant protest. I also notice that when I stand to play guitar, I shift most of my weight to my right foot and my hips hurt. I wonder if that’s why my S-I joint is off. I really should start playing a smaller, lighter guitar. The problem is (well, besides that I can’t really afford a new guitar right now) that I like a big bassy sound, and you just can’t get that from a parlor guitar or an OM or 00. You need a dreadnought. Dreadnoughts are heavy. Still, I want to see if there’s a perfect guitar out there for me that weighs at least a little less than my Taylor.

May 21-I have been diligently doing shoulder rolls and correcting my posture while driving (the key is keeping my upper arms parallel to my torso and only reaching with my lower arms. Makes for a very short armed person, and keeps me from overreaching, which is of course a powerful metaphor.) My upper back feels slightly better. But my hips are worse than ever. Taking 600 mg Advil two or three times a day.

Listened to a Speaking of Faith podcast, thanks to my friend Melissa who turned me on to this wonderful weekly treat. Now I have 108 podcasts on my iPod. Today I got to hear Seane Corn, cool yogini who said something I love, something like, “When I breathe consciously, I am calming down my nervous system. This I know, and it is fixed. When I practice in alignment, and don’t go beyond my range but just up to my edge, I know I will get stronger and that my edge will grow wider.” I love this. Today I will stay within my limits but go just up to my edge.

Seane Corn video

Seane Corn Demonstrates “Body Prayer” from Speaking of Faith on Vimeo.

May 22-Drove to the Adirondacks for the weekend, and took a lot of care lifting bags and boxes into and out of the car, ditto small children. I notice a lot of pain when I bend down to pick up toys, so I cleaned up the music room crawling on my knees, which Jay thought was hilarious.

On the way, we stopped in Saratoga Spring and I found a guitar shop. I forced my family to come inside and made poor Tom juggle the kids who of course wanted to play every single instrument in the joint. Saratoga Springs is decidely not the place to get a deal on a guitar. Nothing under $1600 sounded at all decent, and the best sounding guitars were the big ones, not the littlies. Rats.

May 23-Tom said I couldn’t carry Jay on the hike because of my back. I feel like my whole ambition in the month of May was to get to carry my baby on my back on a hike. My father says there are few things in life more wonderful than the feeling of your child slowly relaxing into your back as you are moving, and eventually falling completely asleep. I wanted so much to experience that.

Esther G says the kind of slings we use here in the Pioneer Valley are the absolute best for babies’ backs (and their mommas’). At least I have been doing one thing right. I use a Sakura Bloom sling that was given to me, and I treasure it. Having the kid on the back of your hip, supporting her with your forearm and keeping your shoulder blades down using a ring sling looks so beautiful and graceful. I brought my sling with me and danced a lot with Jay on my hip.

I did the upside down pigeon stretch for three whole minutes, and when I got up and asked Tom to check my alignment, he said I was almost even! I did the stretch for another 2 minutes, and he said he couldn’t tell which side was higher! Hallelujah! It still hurts, but I think I remember the pain lasting a few hours after a successful alignment in the past.

May 25- I have been in alignment for two days. I can’t believe it! It’s still a little sore, but much better. My shoulders aren’t so bad either. I have been doing about 5 minutes of strength training in the morning, first thing when I get up and about five to ten minutes of stretching at night right before bed. It feels lovely to bookend my day with this simple self-care ritual. I don’t know if this is the final word on my back or not, but I wouldn’t mind if it were, both because I want to be done with it and because it really does feel self-absorbed to write about my back when it’s such a small issue, given that today North Korea told us they successfully launched a nuclear missile and that friends of mine are dying and dealing with real crap. I recognize I am in a distinct season of my life and that I am very very very fortunate.

Today is beyond beautiful in the Pioneer Valley and even the omnipresent Northampton mosquitoes are out of town. Meanwhile, we are home from a wonderful weekend and are having friends over for a cook-out. My children fill me with such rich and potent gladness and we are healthy. We want for nothing. I pray that when the gorgeousness comes our way, we can drop everything to stand still and take it in with big full eyes.

The Comments

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  1. nerissa,
    i was so happy to find your blog in a moment of calm while at work today, and i’m glad to hear that your pain is getting better. having lived for nearly 8 years now with chronic pain, i can understand viscerally the difference even a small reduction in pain can make in one’s life.

    wishing you and your family the very best.

    violet, aka jenny, ellen f’s ex-girlfriend from seattle

  2. Hi Nerissa,
    Another person who has done a lot to demystify the body and its aches and pains is Jolie Bookspan. She has a blog called “Fitness Fixer” as well as books. Thinking about your heavy guitar and how to carry it, try to use your “core” in such a way that your pelvis is not tipped forward or back. To do this, figure out where you have the most even distribution of contact on both of your feet first. Once you’ve figured out how to stand without building tension, think about how to move and carry things while maintaining that even distribution of contact. I learned that idea from David Gorman, a former Alexander teacher who has gone on to develop his own teachings called Learning Methods. Might be great for you to consult with him, because he has done a lot of work with musicians. Best wishes, Linda

  3. p.s. Duh, I’m an idiot. Another practice that could help you is Hanna Somatics, and the Somatics Systems Institute is based in Northampton. They will also help you to identify tension building patterns and then teach you ways to eliminate them. Yay!

  4. Not sure what happened to my last comment, so I’ll post again in case it went missing. Try Hanna Somatics (the Somatics Systems Institute is based in Northampton). Good luck!

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