The following piece is specifically intended for my monthly contribution to the gym I attend (where I have not been since early December!). In response to a photo on the gym’s Facebook page, I realized that my intense struggle with hip arthritis and the current recovery from my first hip replacement have resulted in a significant change in my outlook on movement and health.
Special note: Because this post leans heavily to the side of personal observation and insight, I here include a previous practice that reflects the theme of today’s writing. Thus, a reader may choose to try the routine before, after, or instead of reading the entire following discussion.
Now, back to the aforementioned photo, which read: “Exercise is a celebration of what you can do, not a punishment for what you ate.” Because these words crossed my screen at a time when I am homebound and tethered to a walker on which I carry a “reacher;’ unable to bend forward past the waist; and enduring extreme swelling in leg and foot, I reacted with a visceral power that surprised me.
If one were to cut off the end of the quote (i.e., “… for what you ate”), the statement certainly has applied to me in the past. As much as I cherish and am elevated by the true joy of movement, I also know that I sometimes would beat myself into submission through physical activity: I ran, jumped, lifted, danced, and shook away frantic anxiety, anger, or fear. When at a loss for what to do or where to turn, exercise was a trusty battle partner—one that I would send in to destroy negativity, but ultimately would bring harm to my body.
For the past 15-20 years, I have been essentially free from that mindset. Yet, when COVID struck at just about this time last year (March 2020), I became very anxious—despairing, even—over the loss of access to a pool. At that time, however, I was still able to take long walks and, despite the pain after each outing, I committed myself to 45-minute walks almost every day.
That turned out to be the precisely wrong thing for my already deteriorating hips.
Cut to September 2020: Increasing pain and lessening mobility reduced the walks to 15-20 minutes.
By November, they were officially off the activity list. December was the turning point of no return: Most movement that involved placing weight on my legs, save for errands, was eliminated; only Pilates and kundalini yoga remained accessible to my body.
And then: surgery on February 19, 2021.
The recent days of early recovery and rehab have been eye-opening. At first, I worried that my usual vitality would send me through the roof: How would I expend pent-up energy, both physical and psychological? But the extreme state of a body that has been hammered and sawed upon (and filled with drugs) inherently diminished my fervent need to bounce around.
What was crucial to me, however, was the need to maintain circulation (to help with swelling and digestion) and overall positivity. Additionally, I learned that both anesthesia and the prescribed oxycodone place significant strain on the lungs. Thus, I began to create short practices to address both: lots of seated upper-body movements (culled from kundalini kriyas) and pranayama sets.
By revitalizing and strengthening the body in this way, my spirit has entered a wonderfully centered and open-hearted state. My past tendency to use exercise as a weapon against all that troubled me seems now an unfortunate, misguided approach to the wondrous miracle that is the physical body. Now, the innate ability of the body to heal from trauma (coupled with outside aid) colors my every choice: If I do x, will it set me back? If I do y, am I introducing kind, supportive energy, or am I unfairly frustrated with my body?
At the age of 57, I consider all of the above to be a clear message and exceptionally generous gift from God and the Universe.
Movement, mobility, health, positivity: These are wildly phenomenal treasures that deserve—need—to be celebrated. And by doing so—for example, through exercise—one bolsters their quality and increases their presence. When “what you can do” becomes limited, think not of loss; rather, find the challenge and opportunity in creating a path for change. When the body falters, it needs you and your mental and spiritual strength: Give it, live it, and share it.