58 Vinyasas

58 vinyasas. That’s the best count I could get out of the ashtanga book I use. If I did the full primary series, I would hit 58 vinyasas.

5 for the first round of sun salutations. 15 for the second round of sun salutations. 3 for the standing sequence. 31 for the primary series. And 4 for the road in the finishing sequence.

58 vinyasas.

58 chaturangas. 58 up dogs. 58 down dogs.

My shoulders are achy just thinking about that. And that’s exactly what I want.

Yesterday, I tried a new class with a new teacher. It was a slow, deliberate pace. I worked up a sweat. And somehow, I was still a bit dissatisfied. It wasn’t a bad class. I plan to go back, but I was still dissatisfied.

But why?

I had excess energy when I left. I’d gotten used to creating puddles of sweat that I could collapse into for shavasana. This class didn’t do that for me.

Oh how far we’ve come.

3 years ago when I started at this studio, this would have been a perfect class for me. In fact, it was. My Goldilocks teacher stressed a slow, deliberate practice, and I loved it. Last night was very reminiscent of that teacher’s class. They even shared the same first name.

The stars all lined up, but it turns out I’d moved somewhere along the way. I’ve become a new version of me.

This had me thinking about the changes that had occurred. 18 months ago, this was still a pretty ideal class for me. And then I started ashtanga.

Did ashtanga ruin slower classes for me? Maybe.

There’s no getting around the fact that I think of ashtanga as my core practice. It’s what I do at home now. When I think about what yoga is, I think of ashtanga. I think of 58 vinyasas.

Sort of.

I’ve never done all of them. There’s never time in class to do all the poses and vinyasas in between. And since I’ve gone after ashtanga at home with a bad knee, some poses are just off limits.

But I know what’s out there. 58 vinyasas.

So when I think of yoga, I think of 58 vinyasas. I think of tired shoulders. I think of sweat dripping off my face onto the mat. I think of moving with my breath. I think of the sweet rejoice of hitting shoulder stand and knowing that I’m not far from getting to collapse into my puddle of sweat and just breathe.

If that’s yoga, then what was I doing last night?

It was still yoga, but it was yoga light. I need a new high. As I’ve pushed myself further in yoga and as I lost running as an outlet for the foreseeable future, I started chasing a new high.

There are other highs, but they’re detrimental in the long run. Yoga was my way of dealing with stress in a positive way. And I’ve got a lot of stress right now.

Productive unproductivity.

This isn’t the only place I try to use this philosophy, but this is the only application that’s relevant here. If I’m going to chase a high, then I can at least chase a high that will leave me a little better off at the end of the day.

So 58 vinyasas.

I burned up my body on Tuesday with my ashtanga practice. I warmed it up yesterday in class. I let it coast today with the sun salutations. All for the high of chasing 58 vinyasas.

I’m not sure what I’m trying to find on this quest for 58 vinyasas. Maybe I’m hoping to find a better version of myself. Maybe I’m just trying to make sure I’m just trying to stay present when I’m on the two- by six-foot piece of PVC.

Either way, pretty sure tomorrow I’ll be trying to get a little closer to 58 vinyasas.

Yogis and Academics

They say you should blog to reach a broad audience. I’ll do the opposite. I’m going to talk about the general types of people who exist at yoga AND in academia (and really, the only thing more pretentious than talking about yoga and academia is using the term academia). So for all 12 people this applies to (and the 2 of you who might actually read this), here we go, let’s start with

The one who’s been there forever. The old-timer. They’re still going strong, but they’re using techniques no one’s seen since the Reagan administration. They were there before it was cool (we’re going to pretend at some point that faculty life became cool). They’ve done their time, and they’ve earned your respect. They’ll listen to Joni Mitchell if they want to. And even though they’ve been here forever and been at it longer than the some of their peers have been alive, they’re still not

The know-it-all. Ugh. This is the one you would throw something at if you weren’t so enlightened (in yoga) or afraid of prison (because who wants to be the professor in a sweater vest in San Quentin). If this was the same as the last person, all would be well. But usually it’s not. Usually they have more in common the next person. I should probably admit that I’m this person in the academic community. I can’t help it. And this person makes it worse for

The tentative newbie. These are the fun ones. They did their research before they showed up. But now they’re here and they don’t know what to do. They need guidance. They’re watching others to make sure they have the right supplies and take the right actions. And they’re desperate not to be called out in the group because of a giant case of imposter syndrome. Give them a few weeks and a few Google searches, and they’ll become the know-it-all. Maybe. And when they show up in the group, the newbie can’t help but wonder who is

The smelly one. Why does there always have to be a smelly one? And why do they never seem to know it’s them? And deep down, you know your fear is that you’re the smelly one. But certainly, you know you’re not

The chipper one. Almost as bad as the smelly one. They’re just glad to be here. If they can’t do as well as everyone else, that’s ok. This isn’t a competition. We should all be smiling. Do you want to grab lunch? They’ll just hang out and maybe make friends with

The who’s just better than everyone else. And you don’t even hate them for it. They’re not just trying to show off. They’re just better. The only person who doesn’t like them is

The competitive one. And you do hate them for it. I’m also this one in both settings. It’s caused some problems. Injuries in one place and arguments in another. I’ll let you guess which (though wouldn’t it be great to hear a couple of yogis going at it in the middle of warrior II just heckling the crap out of each other? “You call that front knee 90 degrees, Brian? Watch this.” “Your arms aren’t even level, Kenneth. I don’t want to hear anything from you today.”). And the competitive one means you might not get to keep

The visitor. They might be new. They might be seasoned. Either way, they’re just around temporarily. Maybe they’ll come back for more later on, but that’s not in the cards right now. So they’re a stranger in the group. Sometimes they have their own baggage and do things their own way, but sometimes that’s good for the group to see a new example, just so long as it doesn’t catch the attention of

The blogger. And don’t we all wish there were fewer of these…

Introspection After a Good/Bad Yoga Session

I’m trying to treat myself better.

This means a lot of things, but there are some consistent themes in life for me.

I make the same New Year’s resolution every year: treat yourself better. This means a lot of things. Eating better. Working out more. Being nice to myself.

When I go to yoga, I set the same intention each time: bring nothing and take nothing. By this, I mean keep the BS that happens outside of yoga off the mat, and leave any BS that happens in yoga on the mat. But this amounts to the same thing as my New Year’s resolution. I’m trying to treat myself better. By letting yoga be yoga and life be life, I’m not going to get caught up in things as much.

I take the bring nothing and take nothing thing a little further when I’m classes. I try to pretend I’m the only one in the room, and I’m hearing a disembodied voice guide me.

It works, somewhat. I spend a fair amount of time with my eyes closed, and my glasses are off so I can’t actually see people’s faces (facial expressions, anyway) even when my eyes are open, so that I’m not paying as much attention to what’s going on around me (though there’s a very real risk I could be making eye contact without knowing it; my bad, yoga stranger). And multiple times I’ve been in the room with someone I knew without realizing it until afterward.

But that’s my system. Before class, I’m in my own little world lying down to stretch out my back with my eyes closed just slowing down my breathing to get my mind right. And when class is going, I’m trying to just do my own thing within the sandbox of the class instructions.

I modify. And I modify. And I modify.

8 years into doing yoga, I have a better idea of what I want to get out of it, so I make adjustments. I try to be open-minded and generally will always give something I try before going rogue.

Today was no different. And that was the problem. Modifications to make the poses easier or more difficult is something everyone should do. But they should do it for the right reasons. I didn’t today.

I’ve been trying to create lots of puddles of sweat these days. This is a part of me trying to treat myself better. I’m also trying to eat better (I’m currently at about 6 or so days in a row where a salad has been a meal, though I feel like pizza will be supper, so that’s streak’s going away today).

Puddles of sweat and salad. This is me coping with the stress of getting ready to leave a job, town, apartment, friends, etc., and chase a new adventure. Seemed healthier than my usual tactics of pretending everything’s going to be ok and doing nothing to make myself mentally and physically prepared for the stress I’m putting it through.

The puddles of sweat have a problem: my ego. Working out is great. Working out too hard is bad. I have a habit of pulling the latter because of ego and getting injured.

As I’ve been trying to more consistently make puddles of sweat, I’ve been pushing myself harder. On Monday, I did the most brutal ashtanga session I’ve probably ever done, including when I’ve been class. On Wednesday, my body vetoed some of the last poses because it couldn’t take any more. I had muscles feeling tweaked in my chest. Turns out they weren’t the only ones.

Afterward I had to ice my knee, shoulder, and back.

Maybe I should rest some.

I did myself a favor and took Thursday off. On Friday, I still wasn’t 100%, so I considered doing an abbreviated session, but I also knew I wanted to go to class on Saturday. There’s only one teacher left for the summer I’m still willing to take class with, and this was the last time I’d get a chance to take her class. So I took Friday off.

And Saturday morning? I felt like shit. For some reason, Saturdays before yoga don’t go well for me. My schedule is slightly altered, and I stress about going to class (even if it’s a studio that I’ve attended more than 100 class sessions at). It’s fairly routine for me to feel bad before class, and today wasn’t any different.

So going into class, I’m coming off a couple of tweaked muscles and a knee that’s doing a good impression of being an a-hole. And I’m tired.

My thought was that I would do what I can. Then I revised that thought. Can and should are two different words. I resolved to take it relatively easy on myself.  I wanted to do what I should do, not what I can do. I’m quite capable of many stupid things I shouldn’t do.

These intentions are all well and good until I get started and my ego gets involved. Despite knowing I was exhausted and didn’t need to push myself, I did it anyway. For the most part, it was fine. I was just riding the struggle bus as I went after things I normally would have done. I also got to fly out of a couple of poses and end up hopping around on a concrete floor on one foot, which did wonders for aggravating an old injury to said foot.

But that’s not the dumb part. That’s just the part where I wasn’t successful. That’s the part that stays on the mat when I leave.

The dumb part is where I was successful.

We got to crow. I can do crow. I’m doing crow. Did crow. I was sweaty, so I couldn’t hold it as long as I’d like without slipping. Great.

But the teacher was trying to help some students who were new to the pose. So I did another crow. Also fine.

But the teacher was still helping them, and now I’m standing around. Ok, screw this, I’m doing side crow. I don’t get to do them often, and my ego followed me to yoga.

Brief aside: When I started going to classes, I didn’t know side crows weren’t in everyone’s wheelhouse. It was in the book I used, so I had been doing them for 5 years before stepping into a room full of yogis. I didn’t do it all that well, but I could do it. And then a teacher last summer showed a class I was in a good way to get into it, and all of a sudden, my side crow got a lot more stable. Now I had a dangerous source of pride.

So I did side crow on one side today before sweat-slicked limbs sent me out of it. And then I did it on the other and the sweat wasn’t a problem, which meant I was holding it steady. Then the teacher pointed me out doing side crow. Now we have a problem. I had the attention of some of the class and heard something to the effect of a “wow” from someone. There was some slight embarrassment that I went rogue and it got pointed out. There was also a massive ego boost knowing I (seemingly) impressed someone else in class.

And that’s a problem.

I’m not in yoga for an ego boost. I’m not in class to impress the people around me. I go to class to practice with other people (even when I try to pretend they’re not there). I go to class to allow someone else to shoulder the load of guiding me through my practice. And yet, there I was letting my ego drive me and subconsciously made a decision to do something to impress the room. I can’t show up to yoga hoping to impress people.

It all worked out fine, but that’s not the point. The point is that I let a bad part of my personality take the reins. Even if I didn’t get hurt this time, I’m putting myself at risk for next time. And even if I never get hurt, I can’t be motivated by the perceptions of other people in the room.

I’m trying to treat myself better. Going to yoga was a good thing. Going after that side crow when I was dealing with shoulder and chest muscles hurting was a bad thing. I won’t beat myself up over it, but I need to acknowledge that was problematic. You can’t fix a problem if you don’t know it’s there. Maybe next time I’ll just patiently wait for the next pose. Maybe.

Creating the Perfect Workout Playlist

As any sentient being knows, music makes things better. Whether you’re trying to get through that last mile of your race hoping your jam comes on or you’re like my buddy in high school who would always wait for the Rocky theme to come on in the weight room so he could hit his best sets, you know music can help you through.

I’ve talked about music before, including sharing what was on my playlist and the music vs. no music running, but I wanted to go a different route today. Let’s talk about the construction of a good workout playlist.

I’ll break this into three sections so if you want to see construction, just keep reading. If you want to just see the lists I’ve made publicly available, click on ahead.

What constitutes a good workout playlist?

Yoga list

Running lists

What constitutes a good workout playlist?

We have to start at the beginning before we get into the lists themselves (unless you clicked ahead, in which case you aren’t reading this, so it doesn’t really matter, does it?).

What do you want to feel?

That’s what it all boils down to. What do you want to feel? Do you want to feel anger? Looking at you death metal enthusiasts. Do you want to feel like the audience is cheering you on? Looking at you high school buddy listening to Rocky theme. Do you just want to feel the beat in your chest?  Whatever it is, that’s where you start. You find that emotion, and then you track down the songs that grab your heart just that way.

I like making playlists, so workout playlists are just an extension of this habit. I have a wedding first dance playlist. I have angry playlists (the kind designed to be played so loud you can’t hear yourself think). I’ve made writing playlists. I’ve even made a leaving playlist since I’ll be moving in a couple of months.

The key is catching that core emotion you want to feel. We all have different preferences when we work out, so I don’t expect my playlists to necessarily suit other people (when we get to the yoga playlist, you’ll see why).

Probably the best recommendation I can make is to have existing playlists you can steal from. I have a few core Spotify playlists that I cultivate, so they’re my natural starting point whenever I build any playlists, especially a workout list. I can peruse the list and if I’m not sure if a song works, I give it a listen. If it has that hits the right emotion, it makes the list. If it doesn’t feel quite right, it stays off.

Much like going through your closet to throw things out, be merciless. You don’t need to be in the middle of making puddles of sweat and think “I’ll skip this song.” You want to stay in the moment. I actually got derailed yesterday because my internet went out, so my yoga list got interrupted. I pulled it up on my phone, and then Spotify got buggy and started playing songs related to my playlist but not my actual playlist. I quit mid-workout because I was so frustrated.

That’s step one. Step three is to Google playlists that you’re looking for. When I was building that first song playlist, I Googled alternative and indie first dance songs. For workouts, there is not shortage of lists. In fact, you can subscribe to some if you want. I’m not a fan of this because the lists aren’t yours, but if you’re not picky, go for it. I’m just very picky.

On this note, step four is to steal from other people. There are a few people I follow on the social media who have very good music tastes. When they make a recommendation, I listen. About half the time, the song ends up on some sort of playlist. Along these lines, and this is relevant for the yoga playlist, I steal from yoga teachers. Not all of their songs fit the mood I’m looking for, but if I know I can work out to something already, then that’s a start.

And finally, step five, if it pops into your head, add it to your playlist now. Don’t do anything stupid like adding songs while driving (like I have a bad habit of doing), but if you hear it or think of it, add it before you forget. You can always remove it later, but odds are you’ll forget the song if you don’t add it in the next few minutes.

But let me reiterate, it has to hit the right emotion. I’ll go a little deeper into that thought process in the next couple of sections.

Yoga list

I’m starting with yoga because I can’t run right now, so all of my puddles of sweat are being made on a yoga mat.

Despite doing yoga for 8 years now, I didn’t make a yoga playlist until the last couple of weeks. Why? Because I can’t survive full yoga sessions on my own, especially since I started taking classes. I’m lazy.

But then life happened. My yoga teacher is on break for the summer, but I move in the summer, so to get the practice I really want, I have to do it on my own. That’s all fine and good, but I have trouble keeping myself on my mat. I thought music might help.

But where to start?

This playlist is actually a bit quirkier than my running playlists. Those are built to play on shuffle and maintain one emotion throughout. The yoga playlist is built to function for a full session of yoga, start to finish. This is not when one emotion will work. Added bonus, it’s built for ashtanga.

If you’ve never done ashtanga, it’s doing the same thing every time. Depending on how hard-core you are, you could be at it for 90 minutes. I’m not hard-core. I’m not even medium-core. I’m lucky, especially with my knee, to get an hour out of my session.

But knowing the list is built for ashtanga, I had to keep the practice in mind. While most of these songs are picked from my existing lists, I also bookended the playlist with songs I first heard in yoga (and they were placed where they are in my list).

The most energetic part of ashtanga is the beginning. You’re doing 10 rounds of sun salutations (5 of A and 5 of B). If I survive this part, I’ve already got a decent workout in, and I’m certainly sweating. As such, the first songs in the playlist have more energy than the rest. Kashi Vishwanath Gange (I have no idea what this song’s about) starts slow, which is good for getting in your right mindset, but then picks up as you actually start to do the salutations. And then it gets into Very Busy People. Timing-wise, I get very close to finishing the salutations at the end of that song because then we’re slowing it down.

The rest of the playlist gradually winds down as you go from the standing sequence to the seated sequence to the finishing sequence. There is a song my yoga teacher has that basically feels like an omnipresent heartbeat. I wish I had that song because it’s a good shavasana song, but Be the Song is a pretty good closer.

Without further ado, this is the full list, but skip to after for the discussion.

If you know these songs, you probably realize that a lot of them aren’t happy. I honestly didn’t even realize how melancholy this playlist could seem until I was in the middle of using it during a session. It was at that moment that I realized I probably am not cut out to be a yoga teacher, especially for those students who are just looking for a good time.

For me, yoga is a time to carve out space on my mat and pretend that no one else is around (at home, this is a lot easier). This is my time for taking care of me, which means fixing things. Fixing myself doesn’t really feel like a happy endeavor. It’s certainly a worthwhile one, but it’s not a happy one. I’m trying to leave all the bullshit that exists off the mat. As such, I need to feel something. I need songs that have substance. These are the songs you play as you jump off the cliff into the lake below. These are the songs that are playing on a cool, dark night with the windows down on a back country road. They won’t make you cry, but they should make you feel centered in your own little universe.

And that’s why they’re not happy.

Running lists

But how can we have a running blog post without the running playlists?

The first playlist is my 5K mofo list.

This is the list I created a few months into my Super Awesome Year of the 5K when I was getting tired of what was just on my phone. As it turns out, I would run my best race of the year the first time I used the list. Did the music help? Maybe, maybe not. But it makes for a better story to tell.

With this list, I was just going for pure uptempo music that I wouldn’t want to skip. This is music as distraction. There’s a lot of good music here, but it’s not the most substantive music to exist on this earth. The point is to distract me from running. That’s it. If I feel the need to skip a song when it comes on this list, it gets removed from the list. I’ve had a couple where that happened.

It’s a mix of pop, rock, and hip hop. And it’s a beautiful thing. It’s shallow. But it’s beautiful. Maybe I should rename it the shallow playlist.

The second list took a bit more form. I was getting tired of always using the 5K Mofo list during races, so I built another 5K list. This one was built to exclusively be rock music. The music has a bit more substance to it, and it’s honestly going after a slightly different emotion.

The goal for this playlist is a little more to pull at angst. If I’m running and I’m angry, this list is more likely to pop up that the original 5K list. I’m purposefully trying to burn off energy with this list. This will be probably be the list that’s playing when I PR and then pass out before getting hauled off in an ambulance for stupidity.

Puddles of Sweat

As opposed to puddles of mudd

No, we’re talking about puddles of sweat. Why are we talking about puddles of sweat? Because I’m living off of puddles of sweat at the moment.

Sometimes there’s just a lot going on in the world, and you need to cope. There are lots of ways to cope. Exercise just happens to be one of the more socially accepted varieties (I’d try meth, but I’m pretty sure that won’t get as many likes on Instagram).

I’m moving in a couple of months. I’ll be starting a new job in a new town and dealing with all the natural stressors that come along with it. And I work in a career that can be just as stressful as you want it to be.

Coping means creating puddles of sweat.

I’ve been creating puddles of sweat for a long time now. I started doing sports when I was 5. I wasn’t very good (re: I was downright bad), but I was active. I was a kid who played a lot of video games and read a lot of books, but I was also a kid who spent a lot of time on football fields and basketball courts. As I got older, I spent more time being active and less time on video games (books never went away, though. I even have a handy dandy 2nd blog documenting that habit).

While I was running around as a kid, I didn’t pay much attention to the puddles of sweat. As a teenager, I started paying more attention. One was vanity. 9 times out of 10, being a sweaty mess isn’t how you get a cute girl’s attention in high school. Two was pride. I started seeing a sweat-soaked shirt as a badge of honor. Something I earned the hard way.

This came about from the weight room. You’d have the entire varsity and JV football teams in one weight room lifting a lot and lifting fast. There were days my entire shirt was soaked just from lifting. I couldn’t pull that off if I tried these days (and if I did pull it off, I’d probably be asked not to return to that gym any more, please sir).

But that’s where it started. There was this masochistic urge to feel completely worn out and broken down. That was when you knew the workout was good.

As I got into college, the puddles of sweat largely went away. When I lifted, I was going for strength, not cardio. It was a good workout, one that would often leave me barely able to move, but there wasn’t much in the way of sweat. Unless I ran. When I run, I pour out sweat like a faucet. A stinky faucet.

I probably didn’t start appreciating my puddles of sweat again until I was working on my Ph.D. (did I mention I’m a fake doctor?). I worked on my degree in Florida, which is basically like hanging out in a sauna that has gators nearby.

Running was an easy way to achieve sweaty mess status. I finally soaked shirts all the way through for the first time since high school. But this barely counts. I was running outside in Florida summers (basically March to October). It was earned, but it wasn’t the same as doing it in a weight room.

But you know what does feel the same? Yoga.

I started doing yoga in ’09 to kill time and mitigate back pain. This was just at home in my living room to keep from being an embarrassment in a class. I can’t remember when I first pulled it off, but as I was able to progress in the book I used, I was doing a more vigorous workout. Eventually I was soaked in sweat to a point that my mat was slick and a little dangerous to use for some poses.

And there was pride. So much pride.

In an air conditioned apartment doing what seemed like glorified stretching, I was pushing myself to a point where I was indecently sweating. That was something.

Eventually, I realized I liked being exhausted. Even later, I realized I was craving the exhaustion. There are a whole host of things wrong with that, but the fringe benefit is that you have to work out to get that particular type of exhaustion.

As for the host of things that are problematic, this isn’t the only thing I treat this way. I like to dive into things. I dive into work. I dive into books. I dive into songwriting. I dive into cleaning. I dive into interactions with people (on more than one occasion, I’ve had 2-hour conversations with people I just met). It’s addictive behavior. Addictive tendencies lead to being on reality shows hosted by Dr. Drew. I recognize that about myself.

The real trick is to take that inner addict and channel him toward something useful. It doesn’t always work, but when I get addicted to workouts, at least I’m doing something good for me and probably not being a jerk to the people around me.

But let’s get back to those puddles of sweat. That terminology comes from this video (that I watch entirely too often when I need some inspiration):

The video spoke to me. I understood the benefits of exercise in moments when you weren’t especially happy with yourself or the world around you. I understood the puddles of sweat. I understood how those puddles of sweat could help you function. I understood how those puddles of sweat could help you sleep.

With my knee being an asshole, I had to do without my puddles of sweat for a couple of months, and it about drove me insane.

Physical therapy wasn’t just me getting the chance to help my knee. This was also the window I needed to help my brain. I don’t sit still well. I crave puddles of sweat.

All in all, the past few weeks have been pretty good to me. I was able to stay active between PT and yoga (I was inching toward 5 days of workouts a week at one point). Unfortunately, my favorite yoga teacher stopped teaching classes temporarily and PT ended.

I was dealing with a puddles of sweat problem.

Finally, I couldn’t stand it any more. I did the ashtanga workout (mostly) on my own at home. I kept the AC turned up to the I’m-not-home level of mid-80s. I set up shop in my living room, and I went after it. It was about as good as I could hope for.

The next day, I tried to do the ashtanga warmup and actually had my arms give out near the end. Not a win for that day, but at least we know the day before did its job.

A few days later, I was able to go after the full workout again. This time was even better. I think I’d left the thermostat up a little higher. I was dripping sweat.

And the next day (today), what did I do? I went to a heated yoga class. My knee was doing ok, so I took the risk of class with a new teacher when I was still tired from the day before.

It was brutal and it was worth it. Again, so much sweat dropping onto the mat and onto the floor. I earned that sweat. That sweat is currency for sleep and you have to get it as many days as you can manage.

This isn’t the first time I’ve talked about the masochistic therapy of working out before, but sometimes you have to revisit the old topics. If you want another take on this instead of the video or this post, The Oatmeal has a fantastic comic that is well worth your time.

But that’s it from me. I’m going to recuperate from making puddles of sweat and hope my knee likes me enough to do it all over again tomorrow.

Adventures in Physical Therapy

On Friday, I completed my last day of physical therapy. I’m not magically cured, and I probably won’t be in running shape for a long time (if ever without surgery), but I’m getting around just fine, so we’ll call a win a win.

Let’s start with the basics: Physical therapy is where you go when you don’t want to or can’t have surgery. It’s also the place you go after surgery. All of this so you can get better.

This isn’t my first rodeo. I’ve done PT before. I had a chest injury three and a half years ago, and I finally decided to do something about my back last year.

I’ve played this game before, but each round has its own quirks, so I wanted to dive in a bit.

What stayed the same?

The biggest thing is the focus on getting to muscles you’re not used to getting. When I was dealing with the chest injury, I was trying to pull my shoulders back, so there were a lot of pulling exercises that got behind my shoulder blade in a way I wasn’t used to (I actually got nauseous the first day). And that trend continued. This time I was hitting my glutes and hips in weird ways (more on the actual exercises later).

Next, there was the assumption I’d do the exercises on my own. That lasted a full week here. The problem was (kind of) yoga (ok, the problem was me being lazy). The idea is they’re little exercises you can do on your own, and long-term, that’s what you’ll have to do.

And finally, I got a new band.

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The first time I did PT, I got a yellow band. I was SO psyched they gave me a free thing (never mind I was paying for said free thing). Eventually, I got blue and black. This time, I didn’t get a band in the beginning. I was actually let down, but I already had three at home. But on the last day, they saved me and gave me a red one. Now I just need green.

I wonder if these colors are universal?

What changed?

The big difference was the clinic itself. Before, I’d done PT on campus. The first PT group I was with had a regular clinic off campus I went to once, but they were across the street from my office on campus in a smaller setup once a week, so that was a no brainer. This is the first time I’d been in a clinic. It was interesting. There was equipment everywhere (awesome) and people too (not awesome, especially when you’re doing stupid human tricks).

The people make up the next point. In a bigger clinic, there’s a bigger staff. Even when I’m only working with one person, there are 4-5 other PTs going, usually a similar number of PTAs. We’re in a bigger room but not that much bigger. There are also the staffers who handle the clerical work. I was used to the first place where there was a PT and a PT student. That’s it. Having so many people around meant you weren’t going to lack for access to people, but it also meant there was always someone who could see if you messed up (Exhibit A: on the penultimate day, I almost ate it trying to get an exercise band off my legs. And that’s how a conversation with a PT I’ve never talked to got started). I actually worked with two PTs and two PTAs. Never knew who I would see day to day.

Frequency of visits was the other big adjustment. I went three times a week for six weeks. I was used to weekly appointments. That was a much bigger time commitment, especially when I was having to drive 15 minutes (and more when they upped the intensity and I had to start going home to shower). The plus was I was basically forced into three workouts a week. There are worse things than exercising three times a week (plus 1-2 more when I was able to get into the yoga studio).

The last difference was the exercises themselves. But let’s give that a full section.

So what were you doing?

I was doing all the things.

The one consistent thing was a warmup. It started with an exercise bike, which actually hurt my left knee the first couple of times. Then they moved me to an elliptical. I hate ellipticals (and irony dictates that was one of the main final recommendations for me to do on my own).

This was sufficient to get me warm and make me a little self-conscious about returning to work without showering. Just not self-conscious enough.

Then the real work began. The real work changed a lot.

At first, it was just weird little exercises. One where I was bending my knee like was taking a step down. This progressed to standing on an actual step. And then a slightly bigger step.

Another that was an extremely abbreviate pistol squat. As I got that down, they had me dipping lower. It doesn’t sound like much, but 25 half squats on one leg get tiring.

One where I bent forward with one leg on the ground and one rising up like I was picking up a golf ball (or a screwy-looking warrior III from yoga). The weird part is they had me progress to an easier version of this for the longest time where I didn’t reach down as far. And then they added weight the last day. That fried my hammies.

I hated it the first day, but after that my favorite activity was the BOSU ball.

The first day was the wobbles. The wobbles make you feel like you’re about to be pitched off. I never got pitched off by a horse, but I was in danger of being pitched off by a piece of plastic. After that, I was a champ. The wobbles went away, and I could own that junk.

And then they had me balance on one foot. This wasn’t as bad as the first day, but when they stick you on the round side and say stand on one foot, you don’t necessarily think, “This will end well.”

The last week, I moved to using the leg press and a machine that was like an assisted jumping machine. Google tells me it was a shuttle machine. Basically, you lie down and then jump. It’s weird.

And then the core stuff. I hate the core stuff.

The core stuff was just 5-second planks for 20 rounds and then a side plank variation that consisted of me moving my leg forward and backward. That sound you heard was my glute/hip area experiencing post-traumatic stress. Eventually core got upped to doing side plank raise (or dying mermaid, as the PTA called it). That was brutal. Then another one that was a plank where I just touched alternating shoulders with alternating hands.

And finally, there was running. The last 4 weeks involved some running. Remember how I wouldn’t shower? That stopped the second they put me on the treadmill. One day, I was sweating so bad, I had to ask for a towel. I got a towel every day after that. And water.

Ultimately, I was in PT so I could run. My day-to-day life was returning to normal, but I want to be able to run (bet you never thought I’d say that with this blog title).

This is when the knee pain started to return. I wasn’t used to running, and my body couldn’t take it at first.

It wasn’t just my knee. My feet and ankles were also unappreciative of the endeavor. The first day was in cross-trainers. That was the last day for the cross-trainers. I moved to running shoes after that. Slowly (oh so slowly), the running got better and knee pain dissipated but didn’t fully go away. The way I put it to the PT was if I was running a race, I’d keep going, but if I was just on a run, I would stop. This never really got upped in the four weeks; I just got mildly better about the little they gave me.

They also gave me an extended warmup routine that will make me look like a goober if I ever do it in public.

But what about yoga and PT?

I’m glad you (didn’t actually) ask. Yoga will make you look like a champ at PT.

For real, do yoga, and then go to PT. They have you do planks and weird little exercises. If you know both, then you know I’m talking about both. The best was the BOSU ball. Aside from the first-day wobbles, I could keep pretty still, enough so to get attention from people working there who weren’t actually working with me.

That will be the extent I brag about being a PT champ.

All in all

I’d call it a 65-70% win. I’m not running yet and probably won’t for quite a while, but I got a lot of good exercises I can do on my own, and my range of motion and flexibility got a lot better over the period of PT.

Hopefully I can maintain where I’m at and maybe make a little progress as I move out of state, but you’ll just have to stay tuned.

Let’s Talk About Recovery

As I slowly return to the world of the normal, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to maintenance. I try to do a lot for maintenance. Take away my knee, and I’m trying to do even more.

Why do we do recovery? 1) It feels good. 2) It (might) help. I say might because some of these aren’t necessarily proven to work so much as make you feel better, which then might help. The science of recovery is weird.

This episode of The Runner’s World Show actually delves into a business in Chicago (The Edge Athlete Lounge) that focuses on recovery. It’s like a regular gym, but they add in a heavy emphasis on recovery at $125 a month lowest cost (we won’t go into how this inherently caters to the wealthy who already have more access to recovery sources than middle-to-low-income folks).

But me? I can’t afford that. Ok, I might be able to afford that, but I’m not paying and I don’t live in Chicago.

I have to make other arrangements.

So I foam roll – This takes an astonishingly short amount of time, it’s the only thing that lets me function the day after a hard workout, and I just don’t do it often enough. But when I do? Oof. It’s magic.

I stretch – This may be the most consistent thing I keep getting recommended. In a bygone age, I could stand on 45-pound bumper plates and touch the ground. Now, I can barely touch my toes, and that’s an improvement. Between my back, knee, and chest, I’m supposed to stretch out pretty everything from head to toe. I need to start getting compulsive about stretching. As it is, my muscles, especially my legs, are loaded springs.

I yoga (uncomfortable stretching plus some strength) – This doesn’t have the same magic for recovery as a foam roller, but it’s the most important thing I do to remain functional long-term. You can only imagine the betrayal I felt when not only was my knee keeping me away from yoga but there’s a chance that yoga did me in. I couldn’t stay away. For my day-to-day life, this is the best thing I can do, so even if I’m limited, I’m going to find a way.

And I sleep – This one’s my favorite. I like my 8 hours at night. I’d like 9 even better. I like my naps. I like to eat breakfast, and then go right back to sleep for another hour or so. I like to curl up in my blankets in the winter in a quilted cocoon. I like to throw an exercise mat on the ground and get my afternoon nap. And why do I like sleep? Because my body craves it. That’s when I recover. No stress, no activity. Just sleep. Just rest. And you know what? I think I’ll sleep again tonight. I’ll probably sleep again tomorrow. Something to look forward to.

What do you do for recovery?