Restorative Recovery: Just as important as Active Workouts

Last Spring I injured the right side of my neck and right shoulder. I was strength training when it happened. I was performing a basic skill that I had performed many times with a moderate, no so heavy, weight. On this particular morning, I performed this skill without fail, however my head was not aligned on the top of my spine and, instead, pushed forward. When I put the weight down, the right side of my neck, back and shoulder spasmed. I suddenly could not move my head. It was scary to say the least.

Being a coach/trainer at this specific facility, I didn't want to make a big deal about it. So I shifted to the other end of the space, grabbed a lacrosse ball and foam roller, and tried to ease the spasm myself, assuring my fellow trainer that I was okay. After that didn't work, I quietly slipped out of the gym and took a slow walk around the block. I could feel myself freak out that I had injured myself as I attemped to rotate my head side to side and up and down. The limited motion and pain alarmed me and began to upset me. I went back into the gym, layed on my back with my feet on a box, closed my eyes and did some deep breathing to calm my mind and body down. Once the hour was over, my boyfriend helped me get home and encouraged me to relax still and later contact my friend and massage therapist for advice. I did just that.

Luckily no major spinal injuries occured, but my muscles were heavily out of wack and my cervical spine had shifted into a misaligned position. After over a month of therapies, including massage, ice, chiropractic care and gentle yoga, my neck began to feel close to normal, and I slowly eased back into my workout routine. But I will be honest with you, I have never felt "normal" since. My right side never felt like my left side and I was constantly feeling the need to "stretch" the right shoulder and neck. 

I continued to see my amazing massage therapist, Jenn Bahm of Massage By J. Marie, knowing that I still needed help in caring and healing this area. As an instructor and educator of fitness and well-being it was very difficult to accept that I, alone with my knowledge and skill set, could not heal this myself. It took me a bit of time to accept this. Luckily I am surrounded by a wonderful, caring and skilled community that offered assistance.

Since the Spring, I have worked with my massage therapist on a regular basis, seeing her at least once a month, in addition to my at-home therapeutic exercises, yoga, kettlebell training and high-intesity interval training. I have been able to observe when the area is most irritated and what movements or exercises tend to flare it up. But I have stayed active. Very active. (Add in instructing over 20 hours a week and commuting via foot). Again, very active.

This past week Chicago exerpienced its fifth largest snow storm. It happened on a Sunday. I teach on Sundays and this blizzardy Sunday was no exception. I layered up, packed a big bagpack with extra clothes, shoes, water and a snack and commuted via foot to and from three classes and two different studios. The next day, while many were snowed in, I refused to let the snow get me down. I went about my day as normal, this time with an added guitar on back. (I take guitar lessons every Monday mornings between private clients). I continued on this snowy week per usual, even adding a few extra hours on. I was able to get in my routine of workouts and I was feeling pretty proud. However, by the weekend, my body ached and did not feel so great. My neck and shoulder were highly irritated again and I was expriencing a high level of discomfort when performing simple tasks.  

Cue yoga and massage. I took it easy on my workouts over the weekend and stuck to yoga. I practice Vinyasa Yoga primarily, with some Iyengar influences. This is pretty active, strengthening yoga. By the time Sunday hit, my neck and shoulder were hurting. I mean, past discomfort. Luckily, my massage therapist had an opening that afternoon.

As I layed on the massage table, I began to think about my week. I was highly productive with work, was still able to get to all of my desired classes and workouts, and plan and attend a big fundraiser. I thought about each day one-by-one and saw all the things I was able to accomplish, all the things I could check off my list. And here I was on a massage table feeling pain. 

After the massage, my massage therapist and I sat down for a conversation about things I can shift and do to further help myself. (Jenn includes this as part of her service so that you can continue the work on your own between sessions). She gently reminded me of the importance of "passive" stretches. I had been doing all dymnamic, active things to try to heal and help myself, and leaving out the more restorative techiniques. As a health and fitness professional, this is something I educate on and encourage all of my clients to do, but I was not doing this for myself. I was working myself to get somewhere, but not necessarily tuning in and caring for myself. Jenn and I spoke about restorative yoga and I explained several techniques that I teach and have learned. We chatted about simple meditative breathing techniques to practice, which encourage and allow the body to be still.  All things I know, teach, and preach on, but had left them out of my own routine. 

Like you, I too have health and fitness goals. And although active workouts are vital in order to reach these goals, the restorative recovery time is just as important. Some may think of restorative yoga as just "stretching", and that has little relevance to fitness. Same goes with breath work and other meditation techniques. However, this past week has reminded me how much I truly disagree with that and just how valuable it is to understand this. We must be constantly healing our bodies and minds while challenging our bodies and minds. We need to allow muscles to recover, as well as connective tissue to relax and heal. It is necessary to slow our minds down in order to listen and be present with ourselves and what our bodies are really telling us. Recovery time doesn't always mean a day off. It means a day to heal. Sometimes rest is what we need. Sometimes it's gentle yoga. Sometimes it's Pilates. Sometimes it's meditation. Sometimes it is sitting still and breathing. There is a myriad amount of recovery techniques out there. While I do practice many of these techniques, my personal goal is to make these a scheduled priority just as much as all of the active things I do to reach my goals and feel good

We all need both sides of the coin. One will almost always be more challenging than the other. For some, the inner, more healing, work comes naturally and the active work is a challenge to make priority. For me, and for others, it is the inner/restoritive work that takes more effort to make time for. Each person is different in this way. But realistically and scientifically, we all need both. So take a moment to think. What do you prioritize for yourself? Is it "active" or "restorative"? What can you do to add in more of the other? Take the time to set your goals and go after them, all while caring for yourself along the way. You will feel better when you reach your goal feeling balanced, healthy and happy.




Any questions on what to incorporate into your health and fitness routine, feel free to email me on the Contact page.

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