The New Normal

One of the hardest things about growing older is accepting my limitations. The area of my life in which this is most noticeable is my physical ability. I know it seems a little extreme to be a 38 year old talking about my physical limitations; it’s not like I’m 68 or 98. And yet, I can’t do things I could do less than a half-decade ago and I’m having a very difficult time settling into a new normal.

In my early thirties, I had run two half-marathons, dozens of races and fun runs and did yoga on the reg. Then I started having lower back problems. My back issues are still undiagnosed as I have not visited an M.D. I just don’t want to go down the cortisone shot-surgery road yet. I have been told by various chiropractors and an ART that I have the following: bad alignment that causes one leg to “be longer” than the other, a bulging disc, arthritis. Whatever the specific cause, the pain has caused me to give up running and yoga altogether.

The fact that I can’t do these two activities, and especially that I can’t do them at the intensity I once did, represents a loss of identity and community. In addition to the physical pain, I feel the loss of who I used to be. Furthermore, exercise served as a way to help me manage my emotional state and process thoughts and feelings. It gave my days structure and my weekends a sense of purpose. It provided a very necessary stress relief and a high that I can’t quite seem to shake.

Case in point: a couple weeks ago I sat in my office preparing for a potentially contentious conference call. I could feel the anxiety gripping my chest and through and knew I needed to calm down. I stood up and did one sun salutation. Just one. One deep breath in and out in mountain pose, followed by focused breaths moving me through upward salute, forward bend, plank, chaturanga, upward-facing dog, downward-facing dog, forward bend and back to mountain. My back hurt for weeks in the way that I remembered but hadn’t felt in a while. Almost immediately, this shut down any thought of going back to a weekly yoga class, an idea I had been toying with as a way to relieve the shoulder stiffness that comes with a 90-mile commute to a desk job.

Freezing Runners
“Four-mile Valentine’s run in below freezing weather…Where do I sign up?” said my former self (on the right).

I’ve also failed to establish an aerobic routine that can fill the void of not running. Don’t get me wrong, I loathed running during the prep to get out the door and the first 5-10 minutes. But 85% of the time, somewhere in the middle of the run, no matter if it was 2 miles or 10, I was converted to a true believer in the church of the hobby jogger. My baptism by sweat 3-5 times a week gave me the subtle smugness that all runners feel. The smugness which causes them to proselytize to their nonrunner friends and put oval-shaped stickers on the back of their cars boasting their longest distance. I once went out for a run with my friend on one Superbowl Sunday in a light snow and had drivers shake their heads and gesture at us in disbelief. I finished my first half-marathon in a heavy sleet/light hail. There’s no other aerobic exercise in the world that is both achievable for me and at the same time makes me feel so tough and strong.


The problem is that longing for my former yogi-jogger self doesn’t get me off the couch. Mourning what I can’t do instead of doing what I can is a physical and emotional problem that I can no longer afford to indulge in. I still haven’t found answers for my back problems or for an exercise routine that I can sustain and that’s okay. I have some conditioning work to do to counteract my years of couch-sitting, car-sitting, desk-sitting. I’m about half-way through a very basic strengthening plan. You can find it on my Pinterest board:

The exercises are doable and don’t leave you with so much muscle soreness that you don’t want to do the next day’s exercises. The increasing intensity is manageable and encouraging. You can easily tell by the number of reps that you are getting stronger. The almost daily exercises also are helping me create a new routine that includes exercise as one of the components. It starts out with just a minute and slowly increases in a way that allows you to find more time for exercise in a sustainable manner. While it isn’t where I want to be at the end of this journey and it may never get me back to a place that I was, it is helping me to create and sustain a new strong and active normal.