I went running for the first time in eight years on Sunday. It was just a short one – maybe three-quarters of a mile in jeans and a pretty thick coat, dragging a surprised, lazy dog behind me.
I gave up a 20-year habit as well – sleeping with a pillow either between my legs or under my knees.
These innocuous events wouldn’t be worth a mention for most people, but for someone who’s had two back surgeries they qualify as bonafide milestones.
That’s because I’ve spent the last 20 years of my life defining myself as a back surgery victim. I’ve passed up pickup basketball games, trail maintenance days, tennis matches, flag football, backpacking, Ultimate Frisbee, roadtrips – even parties, because I thought I would hurt myself.
Then I started reading Dr. John Sarno, who believes most people like me (ruptured disk, horrible sciatica) don’t have a serious spinal problem. Instead, it’s a lack of oxygen in my back muscles, nerves and tendons that’s brought on by stress and by protecting my “injury” (by doing silly things like sleeping with a pillow wedged between my legs).
He prescribes thinking of back injuries in a new way – a mindful way that connects negative emotions with actual physical pain (incredibly, in my experience, this lessens the pain, sometimes immediately). And since one of the most negative influences on people with back pain is gloom and doom diagnoses that warn of permanent disability, one of the first things he tells his patients to do is stop acting like they’re hurt.
So far so good – I felt no pain from running and this weekend I’m going to try for a mile or more. As for the pillow between my legs – I actually feel better each morning without it.