|Photo by Brooklyn Photographer ANAPHOTO|
I have become passionate about ClassPass in a way that makes me feel a little ashamed. Instead of opening the Revolve app on my phone to see the new arrivals - my most horrible and guiltiest of pleasures - I click on the little blue CP icon instead. My calendar is a rainbow of cancelled and rescheduled classes. Rest days mean gentle pilates or restorative yoga. Exercising has given my days of writing structure - helped me to not feel so alone working from home, given me a schedule and something to look forward to. Given me an valid reason to shower everyday and change out of sweatpants.
After close to six months of lying in bed feeling like a crumpled up napkin, it feels so good to have a working body again. When I joke to my doctors about ripping me open and sewing me back together again, it's funny because it's true. I thought I knew physical pain from chemo. I was wrong. I have never felt any pain like my mastectomy. It humbled me. Chunks of my body that belonged outside of me were violently removed. I was squeezed back together, then stretched out again. I spent weeks violently retching up any food I put into my body, which was being held together by stitches and tape. Every gag was like a hot knife slashed along the inside of my chest. I lost weight, but not the good kind. The kind where I felt my muscles atrophy. Saw my hard earned butt shrink and lower. Household objects magically became heavier. My beloved bed went from my favorite place on earth to a prison.
Then the pain slowly receded.
Pain is not something we can remember. We can remember being in pain, like a concept. We can remember thinking that we were in pain. But physiologically we cannot imprint the memory of physical pain. Once it's gone we can't call back up the sensation like we can images, smells. Every pain is a fresh pain. Each time we experience it anew. The absence of pain is a memory we can call up and revisit more readily than pain itself is. Pain is a sensation that exists only in the present moment, in this breath.
To say my pain scale was thrown off by this experience would be like saying people talked about Leo finally winning an Oscar a little bit. I was so screwed. My new challenge became trying not to hurt myself working out. Because how do we exercise, ever, without hurting ourselves? We listen to the pain cues that tell us "this is bad, stop doing this right now." But I had been fighting through pain, fighting not to take the nausea inducing pain pills, fighting to find a way to sleep that wouldn't be interrupted by a violent stab of pain from moving wrong. I knew the absence of pain so profoundly that my body was a well, and the fresh hell of clawing back into shape was barely a droplet.
So I hurt myself again.
I have excellent muscle memory. The exercises live in my body, ready to be performed - echoes of my former strength. At the very beginning of the year, when I first tried to go back to exercising, I would take a class and feel awesome. I could do everything! Look at me! Wake-up the next morning and I could barely move. The pain, not just in my arms and chest, but in my legs, back, feet, hands, was enough to knock me back into bed for days.
How could I workout the way I loved to - hard, efficient, strength-training, body-shaking, body-changing- without pain?
The answer is I don't. Working out requires a little pain.
The pain of muscle fibers tearing so they can grow back together stronger, tighter, bigger, leaner than before. The pain of releasing toxins and lactic acid. The pain of pushing your body to what is so elegantly called total muscle failure.
When it comes to working out, there is such thing as good pain.
Sweat stings your eyes. Body trembles, quivers, stretches, shakes. Blood flows, lungs gasp, endorphins flood your system.
I want to tell you that I learned some kind of amazing, inspiring lesson. But I didn't. Getting back in shape freaking sucks. It's hard and it hurts. There is a safe way to do it. I became incredibly mindful of the signs of overuse or injury, especially in my chest but also in my legs, back, feet. I am slowly learning to feel the difference between good pain (discomfort, shaking) and the bad stuff. The imprison-me-in-my-bed stuff.
I am angry at the pain that took my strength away from me. The pain that made me dependent and weak. This pain, though, it makes me stronger, faster, better able to manage stress. This pain is mine, not because of something that happened to me. Because I earned it.
One of my discoveries during the great Class Pass Binge of 2016 is this amazing warm yoga studio in my neighborhood. I am so obsessed with Body Temp Yoga, I used my 3 classes up in under a week and got an unlimited membership.
Before my first class I went up to a woman I thought was the teacher (turns out she's the owner.) I told her about my body, how I had abandoned my practice and was scared of what my body couldn't do anymore. She asked me good, knowledgeable questions that made me feel safe practicing in the studio. Then she looked me deeply in the eye and she said,
" You know, the pain is living inside of you already. You're not making the pain. The movement is just releasing it, making you aware that it's there so you can work on it. The breath is connecting you to it. Listen to your body, acknowledge what it's telling you to do and just do your own thing."
This spoke to me on such a deep and profound level. The pain was already inside of me. I wasn't getting anywhere by pretending it wasn't there, refusing to acknowledge it, not letting it work it's way out of me but instead pushing it deeper and deeper. Sometimes the only way out is through. There is no going around pain.
The same truth holds for the pain of working out, of changing your body, your habits, your feelings. Pain, the capacity to feel it, serves us as more than just a warning system. It also makes us feel and appreciate our bodies, connects us to them, highlights the work that we do, and makes us appreciate the rewards we get out of it. Pain shapes us. It is a feeling that we can only have in this moment, in this breath. We cannot revisit it again, cannot carry it with us into the future. It roots us into the present moment.
When you exercise, practice, change your body I hope that you will do it safely. But I also hope you can find a little good, healthy pain. Now, if you'll excuse me - I worked out hard this morning and I'm going to reward myself with a nap.
FTR: Stone Fox Sweat Palm Print Sports Bra