Protecting Yourself: The Art Of Self-Care

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I wake up, brew my cup of morning Joe, ready to tackle the day. A few things pop into my schedule that was not intended, so now I have to make a decision, what goes? Does my favorite episode I watch every week with my husband go? Does my tee time with my best friend get pushed to next week? Do I get my daughter to catch a ride with someone else so I can get my workout in? All of these decisions, and one thing still remains. I have massive shoulder pain, and hold all of my stress in my neck. What is a girl to do? Let’s look more specifically at the practice of self care; how it can not only help you get more out of your workouts, but help you keep healthy, fit, and moving well for many years to come.

As a Massage Therapist, I have had the fortune of working with a lot of clients who are working with some limitation, restriction, injury, or chronic dysfunction in their body. And I say fortune for a reason, and it is not because I like to see people in pain! I consider myself fortunate because I am grateful for the opportunity to work with people on understanding both the importance and pay off that can come from a healthy self-care practice.

So much of our lives are spent in varying degrees of motion. Whether it be our workouts here at AFS, our jobs, families, or weekend adventures, movement is a part of all of it. And the reality is, the body has to work very hard to keep up with a life on the go. Fortunately, the body is an amazingly adaptable mechanism, and given the right amount of maintenance and care, will carry us for many many miles. This might sound kind of like I’m comparing the body to a car, and in a lot of ways, they’re very similar!

Think about it this way: imagine how much you use your car over the course of a year. It’s quite a bit right? Now imagine that you use your car with that kind of frequency, but you never change the oil, the brake pads, the air filters. Imagine getting into extreme off-roading with your car, but you never check the tire pressure, never take it in for maintenance, never even check under the hood.

How surprised would you be when your vehicle finally fails you and simply quits running? How embarrassed would you be when you finally took your car into a mechanic and had to explain why you hadn’t been doing anything to take care of the car?

In a lot of ways, our bodies are very similar. We run them pretty hard, and we can put some pretty extreme demands on them. So if we do all of that, but never do any of the “regular maintenance” or “self care”, how surprising is it when our bodies start to fail us? An ache in the shoulder, a twinge in the low back, pain in the hip, these are all the body’s way of turning on that “check engine” light. The challenge is listening to the message.

So what is the best way to go about this whole self-care thing? There are a lot of different ways to look at this. If you remember a while back, we talked about the importance of incorporating the concepts of Strength, Mobility, and Stability into a fitness plan. Think about your fitness “pyramid”. What would it look like? Would the strength side be pretty established, with similar time invested on the side of mobility? Maintaining consistent exercise is an important factor in self-care. Regular exercise contributes to a major piece of the “self care” pie. As with everything though, too much of a good thing is still too much. The thing to remember is that even though spending time on self care via massage, stretching, foam rolling, or eating healthy, may not always have immediate, visible results in the same way the exercise can, they are still important. In some ways, they can make your goals, (whether functional or aesthetic) more achievable.

Think about it this way, if you get one massage a month, and stretch for 10 min. after every workout, you are investing the needed time to protect the progress you have worked so hard for. Being injured, in pain, or chronically stiff isn’t any fun, and those kinds of symptoms certainly won’t resolve themselves. Additionally, being out of commission for exercise because of an injury can set you back in your progress, and can be very frustrating.

So what is the takeaway from all of this? While AFS has a lot of resources available for the self care department, the biggest challenge comes down to the choices we make. In the same way that our workouts can sometimes be a challenge to commit to, committing to self-care can be just as challenging. Keep that in mind! Setting unrealistic goals not only leads to a higher potential for not meeting them, but can lead to frustration and disappointment. Set something realistic. One Mobility Solution class a week, one massage a month, 5 minutes of stretching after every workout, these are all realistic, highly manageable goals.

So I invite us all (myself included!) to commit to our self care plan so that we can stay healthy, fit, and active for years to come.   

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