Aches and Pains, Breaks and Sprains

We keep playing despite the risk of injury. Maybe the real problem is here.
We keep playing despite the risk of injury. Maybe the real problem is here.

This week, one of my favorite skaters fell hard during a drill. She’s just coming back from a long illness, and I know it’s discouraging to take a fall like that just as you’re getting your strength back. There was an audible pop as she went down, and she seemed to be in a lot of pain, but after some rest, she was able to get out on the track again. I was glad she came back out, yet worried about her safety. This got me wondering about pain, how we deal with it in derby and elsewhere in life.

“No pain, no gain” was a major reason I avoided the gym and any form of strenuous exercise for most of my life up to this point. Yoga was the first form of exercise I encountered where the motto was, “No pain? Great!” I believe pain is your body’s alarm system, a way of telling you where your limits are. If you learn to respect those boundaries and work with them gradually, you end up with a rich practice and a healthy relationship with your body. That’s why I prefer a slow and mindful practice and also why yogis emphasize the importance of good alignment to avoid potentially painful situations.

But it’s not quite the same in sports, especially derby. We talk a lot about safety, wear pads and helmets, and learn how to fall safely. Still, every time we put skates on, we take a pretty big risk. Great skaters fall all the time, and despite all their conditioning, good form, and constant practice, sometimes injury is a matter of chance. But we keep taking that chance practice after practice, game after game, because we gain something from the sport that outweighs our fear of pain.

On the other hand, there are the everyday pains of derby. Personally, my feet hurt. My low back and hips are sore pretty much all the time. My hamstrings are tight, and even my neck and shoulders get cranky sometimes. I’m trying to improve this situation by (a) skating better, (b) practicing more, and (c) doing at least a little yoga every day. I think this pain is temporary, and if I treat it right, it’s just a stepping stone on my derby journey. Again, I gain something from the sport that outweighs not just the threat of pain but the reality of it.

And finally, there are the bruises. If you’ve ever hung out with derby players, you’ve probably taken part in a conversation about bruises. There’s always a bit of pride involved, and usually a story about how we acquired said bruise. I currently have a nasty one on my shoulder from my first scrimmage. It’s two weeks old and still makes people ask, “Holy cow, what did you do to yourself?” Getting it hurt, but I’m proud of it because it’s proof that I went out and did something scary and survived.

I still don’t like pain, but I no longer believe it’s to be avoided at all costs. A certain amount of pain on a day-to-day basis is acceptable to me as long as I feel I’m gaining something from it. As for those unpredictable injuries, broken bones, dislocated joints, and even concussions are risks I accept while simply hoping I can dodge them. It’s hard for me to say why I’m willing to take those risks for derby. I still don’t believe in the “no pain, no gain” slogan, but I’m starting to understand that without a certain amount of risk involved, life just isn’t nearly as fun.

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Why I Don’t Want Your Compliment

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I look different than I used to. People comment on it. It’s weird.

People I barely know say I’ve been “slimming down” and ask if I’ve been working out. Um. I teach yoga for a living and skate 3-6 hours a week (way less than many of my league mates). I’ve had a general increase in activity in the past few months because business is good and derby is great, but I don’t feel inclined to explain this to people. The subtext of their intended compliment is, “Although we’re practically strangers, I’ve noticed some changes in your body because I consider it my job and/or right to critique the bodies of others, and I want you to know that I approve/disapprove/have concerns.” In other words, it’s presumptuous as fuck.

I try not to give weight-based compliments because human beings are beautiful by definition and attaching a person’s worth to their weight is shitty. But I will say stuff like, “Wow, you look amazing!” Or I might even say, “You look like you’ve been taking good care of yourself,” which I hear some people take to mean “you look fat,” but I actually mean it literally. I try to praise any positive changes in a person, and maybe it’s equally presumptuous of me. But everyone likes getting compliments, so if someone seems like they’re happy, less stressed out, or really following their passion in life — or if they’re just really well dressed and rocking it, I like to tell them.

But when it comes to weight/body-related commentary, I prefer to keep my mouth shut and think other people should, too. For one thing, asking about a person’s weight is both rude and pointless. 1: It’s none of your business. 2: The number means mind-blowingly little for most people. 3: If the person’s weight is a threat to their health and you’re not their doctor, they probably don’t need or want your advice.

I get it, though. Humans like to give and receive compliments. It’s an evolved social bonding system, and our egos love it. But I could really do without comments on my body from pretty much anyone ever. Because really, I’m not doing this for you.

And that’s all I have to say about that.

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Derby Diary: No longer nameless?

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Quality time with Mao, Anna and Hanna.

The derby dream lives on, but thanks to a lot of cold weather and slush, I haven’t gotten out much. In lieu of watching the Super Bowl, we had a bearing-cleaning party here at the house during which I only broke two bearings. Turns out that if you hold a bearing up and spray directly through it with canned air, you can pop the balls right off the track and send them flying across the living room. Who would’ve known? (We followed the instructions on this blog post, which I found really helpful.)

However, my parents sent me a ridiculous gift certificate for my birthday, which I finally got the chance to use: New toe stops, helmet, laces, bearings, toe guards, and a better mouth guard — awe yeah, I got some sexy, sexy tooth protection. Of course, that kind of haul called for an afternoon of skate maintenance, in which I learned how to replace said toe stops (Gumballs) and attach the guards. (Confession, I am pretty much in love with my skates and take like a dozen photos of them every time I do maintenance.)

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The beers in this photo have nothing to do with the reason I broke two bearings.

Oh, and I may have found my derby name: Rainbow Smite*. According to everyone I know on Facebook, it’s a pretty good name, and we all know a casual poll of our Facebook friends is a good way to make decisions, right? The name might also have to do with why my gear is all mismatched — I want to wear all the colors. Anyway, choosing a name now might be a little presumptuous as I haven’t actually made a team yet, but I’m pretty invested, and I think there’s a decent chance I will make it to fresh meat status.

Finally, I have cleared one major hurdle that I hadn’t mentioned before: I got health insurance. Or rather, I discovered that I already had health insurance but didn’t realize it because of some combination of paperwork and communication error. That’s a huge relief because you absolutely have to have insurance to play on any of the WTFDA leagues, and I was afraid it was going to be a major expense. Plus, it’s something I really ought to have considering that my job involves a ton of physical activity. The possibilities for me to get hurt are numerous, and after that back injury a few weeks ago, I really didn’t want to be more seriously hurt in the future and unable to get treatment. So, as a responsible adult, I’m pretty pumped that I can now make an appointment for a check up, which I haven’t had in a little while. Wooo! Go team grownup!

*It turned out Rainbow Smite is taken, so I’ve been brainstorming for a new name ever since.

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A Lesson in Ahimsa

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Sometimes, I need to be reminded about pain. Maybe I got cocky last week and tried to do too much, or maybe it was just dumb luck that I tweaked my back. The injury seemed minor at first, but it managed to debilitate me for the better part of a week. To make the whole thing bearable, I’m attempting to treat it as a learning experience, but it’s not going so well.

I often have students come to yoga classes when they are injured, sick, sore or tired. Some have long-term injuries or illnesses that make even simple movements complicated and painful. Planning practices and modifying poses for them is challenging because I don’t always know what’s going to cause them pain, kinda like I don’t know what’s going to cause my back to go into spasms. I guide them through gentle and restorative practices and try to offer alternatives when a pose is beyond reach, but I mostly have to rely on them to respect their bodies’ boundaries. Pain, I remind them, is your body’s way of telling you you’ve reached a boundary and it’s time to back off. I trust my students to listen to their bodies. So why couldn’t I practice what I preach?

Now that I have pushed myself well beyond my limits and am paying the price of being incapacitated for a week, my next course of action has been to mentally and verbally berate myself for getting into this situation. I’m not used to relying on others, and I don’t like it one bit. I spent yesterday with friends who basically waited on me hand and foot, and I felt guilty every time I had to ask for something to be brought to me, even though I’m sure I would’ve done the same for them or any of my students. I just kept thinking about how mad I was at myself for hurting myself, for not heeding the warning signs, and for thoughtlessly going through round after round of Sun Salutations when I really should have been resting.

But maybe this is another chance to practice what I preach: ahimsa. Ahimsa means nonviolence toward all living things, including myself. Physical nonviolence means not forcing through my boundaries and not abusing my body. Sure, I may have failed on this front last week, but I can do better this week by taking the time to heal . But there’s also mental and emotional nonviolence. It means not mentally berating myself anymore, not saying out loud, “God, I’m so stupid, why did I let this happen?” It means treating myself the way I would treat a student who shows up to my class with an injury: with kindness, patience, and a little bit of indulgence. I’ve been told before, but now I know for sure that ahimsa is the hardest to apply to oneself. So, that’s my lesson for this week I guess.

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All Dolled Up for Charm School

Added to my to-do list: Plan yoga practice for skating.
Added to my to-do list: Plan yoga practice for skating. (No, this isn’t me. One day, though …) 

I didn’t so much fall off the bandwagon. It’s more like the Ghost of Christmas Present kicked me off in a whirlwind of junk food, booze, and family gatherings. So … I didn’t do yoga at all while in Louisiana for Christmas, nor have I skated since coming home. My muscles have been tight, my energy has been low, and I was just starting to feel a bit of regret about it all earlier this week. The good news is, you can always rededicate yourself to your practice. Atha yoganushasanam, right? Now we begin. There’s a reason this is tattooed on my forearm. I need the reminder frequently.

My motivation this week has been to prepare for Charm School, a Saturday-morning clinic for aspiring derby girls put on by the Charm City Rollergirls. This will be my first chance to interact with the Baltimore derby crowd (aside from watching them bout), so I’m completely stoked, but also a little nervous. I fall slightly less often than I used to and can theoretically skate backwards, but I still basically suck. On the bright side, I got most of my gear for Christmas from my amazing husband, which means I’m now equipped to do all the falling necessary to actually get good at derby.

I wish I’d done more skating this week, but it’s cold as the bejeezus outside and frankly, I don’t wanna/you can’t make me. Instead, I’ve been using my yoga practice to help build strength and endurance. Thursday morning, for example, I did several rounds of Sun Salutation (with jump-backs) to warm up, then worked on pigeon pose and eagle (two of my favorite standards). After that, I touched on my project poses: handstand, pinchamayurasana, bakasana, and bhujapidasana. I’m finally able to kick up into handstand and hold it for several seconds without using the wall, and my bakasana (crow pose) has gotten a lot stronger. I can get into pincha from headstand if I use the wall, and I can do the first step of bhujapidasana. My asana goal for 2014 is to master this set of poses, and I feel like I’m already making good progress.

What do these poses have to do with derby, though? While Sun Salutation may not be what you think of when you want to build up your endurance, it really is a challenge once you start building up to the 108. Plus, skating can be intense on the hips and low back, so I like to use various yoga poses to work out the kinks from practice as well as that unique post-travel, cold weather stiffness. Finally, all those inversions and arm balances may not seem related to skating, but they certainly help build core strength, focus, and overall confidence. I feel pretty good about the progress I’m making lately, and while I don’t expect to be the best skater at Charm School, I feel ready to learn a lot and challenge myself.

 

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