Mind and body

Yesterday I wrote you a beautiful blog post. It said exactly what I wanted to say, and how I wanted to say it. Unfortunately I managed to accidentally hit a combination of keystrokes which made it disappear, apparently without trace or possible retrieval. I suspect I hit Ctrl instead of Shift, and then some other stuff… Without knowing what I hit, I have even less chance of recalling it from the ether, so we will declare it lost.
Therefore, you get the streamlined version today. It won’t be as beautifully crafted but it might manage to communicate something, I hope.
Drifter and I both are doing well physically. I no longer ache constantly from the drastic rebuilding of muscle, which is nice. We went for a long walk at the weekend and we both found it easier and moved more quickly than when we did the same walk 2-3 weeks ago. For the first time I managed a week including 5 full-time working days, 5 days of busy commuting and 5 days of exercising Drifter to a reasonably high standard for at least 30 every time and remained functional and useful around and outside that activity.
While I’m proud of that, I’m not as excited as I might have hoped or expected.
My body is doing really well, and that’s great, but there’s an unexpected impact on my mind. Because nothing is ever simple.

I couldn’t understand why I had a slight but growing feeling of unease.Then I realised that for vast chunks of the last year my brain was running the show. I couldn’t do anything physical but for most of the time I was ill or recovering my brain was in great shape. While I couldn’t ride, I learnt more dressage theory, read more and planned future rides. While I couldn’t read books (too heavy to hold up) I devoured internet articles and blogs. When I couldn’t crochet I learnt stitches in my head and planned patterns and designed concepts. When I occasionally felt the need for company there were blogs and fora to entertain me, or audiobook autobiographies. My mind was actually pretty happy about all this. While I won’t say that I never got bored, it was a very very rare occurrence. My mind got used to being in control of how it spent its time. Now my body’s back, and my mind has to share again.

Yesterday I was interested in the etymology of the word cloud. My mind is used to instant gratification but no, I couldn’t just google it because I was driving. So I had to wait until I finished driving … but I was driving from work to the stable, so it had to wait until after I’d ridden the horse (and done all related tasks). But then I had to drive home from the stables, and feed the cats, and clear up cat sick and get showered and make food and eat it and then … then I was too tired to care about the etymology of “cloud” anymore. I suppose I can see why my mind is annoyed, but it’s going to have to get used to it again.
The other reason it’s a bit upset is the whole introvert thing. I score off the chart in “are you an introvert?” tests, which I tell you to prove that I’m not exaggerating when I say: people are exhausting; I need more alone time if I am to continue functioning.

While I’m perfectly capable of dealing with full-time work + horse + all the related people stuff, when I was doing it before I’d worked up to it over a long period of time. Now it seems a bit sudden. I’m not sure what I’m doing to do about this, but I accept that I do need to do something. The most direct solution seems to be to stick a sign on my head asking people only to interact with me if they have something that really needs saying, but I have a feeling that would just lead to extra interactions while everyone asked about my sign. So that may not be the best solution. I need a new plan.

Getting stronger. Part 2

Drifter saw the physio! Hurray! He’s feeling much better now, although it’s clear from his work that he’s lost muscle strength while he wasn’t moving properly. I haven’t had a chance to ask for too much yet, as he was on light duties post treatment, but it will need some work for us to get back to a nice balanced horse who can work nicely, bent or straight, on each rein. And I have no idea what to expect from the canter! It’s a bit frustrating that if he’d seen the physio when she was first supposed to see him he wouldn’t have had much muscle loss, but it can’t be helped.

I realised that we’re both in the same boat, he and I. We’re both going to be rebuilding lost muscle. Things we used to do are harder now, but we can still get back there. It’s just another part of our journey that we take do together.

I’m really starting to see the strong pattern of when he gets bad – it’s usually just after I have a cold or some other reason why I’m not maintaining his usual exercise patterns. I always make sure he gets out of his stable every day – if it’s not a day he gets some turnout then he will be either ridden, lunged or hand-walked, but it’s obviously not enough. I think I’m going to have to be quicker to put my hand in my pocket to get him schooled. At the moment if I have a cold his week might look like:

Saturday: Turned out for a few hrs
Sunday: I get on and force myself to make him do something for 20 min.
Monday: handwalked for 15 min.
Tuesday: Turned out for a few hrs
Wednesday: Schooled by staff (30 min., incl. tack up & untack)
Thursday: Turned out for a few hrs
Friday: I make a half-hearted attempt at lungeing him in a head-collar because anything else is too much for me. He goes like a bored antelope but hey, he’s moving, and he’s out of the stable and those are my targets!

I’ve never thought this was “enough” exercise, but I have hoped it was enough to stop anything bad happening, just while I get through another cold. When I feel better and expect him to work properly again, he’s all stiff and awkward and just can’t do what I’m asking for. People think I’m being over fussy and tell me it won’t hurt him to stand in his stable all day, but it does hurt him! With the single annual exception of Christmas Day (that’s a whole other kettle of fish) I never let him stand in all day and night. Even through all my health issues, by hook, crook or not inconsiderable expenditure, I have made sure he gets out of the stable every day. And it’s still not enough.

The majority of owners on the yard don’t fuss if their horse is in for 24 hours, 48 hours or even more when the weather’s inclement and turnout is cancelled. I’m jealous that they can be like that and get away with it. At least one person who does that has a horse who still moves fantastically when she does get him out. I know all horses are different but it’s hard to be the (only?) one who always turns up in the rain, when I’m not feeling 100% or when it’s really inconvenient to me, to make sure he gets out of the stable, and I’m still the one whose horse is suffering because he’s not getting as much movement as he needs.

I can’t move him to a yard with more turnout because in every other way this yard is perfect for my needs. I have considered getting a sharer, but as Mr S points out, I would find that very stressful. I am a control freak and would almost certainly be perpetually upset by the behaviour of even the most considerate loaner, because they would not be me! He generously said that he’d rather pay for extra schooling costs than endure the extra stress on me!

Anyway, this is mostly just a whinge. The bottom line, which I already knew, is that Drifter and I need to do more exercise. For the next few months while he’s on Summer turnout patterns (weather permitting) it won’t put too much pressure on me, which is lucky. Hopefully by the time we go back to the dreaded winter pattern I’ll be strong enough and fit enough to keep up, as well as quick enough to book him in for schooling or hacking. If I’m not well enough to give him the proper exercise he needs, I have to pay someone else to do it. And I have to remember to get help with him rather than pushing myself when I’m not well because if I have a relapse that’s really detrimental to his exercise regime.

Whinges aside, I’m glad we can start working properly again. I’m going to try to gradually increase what I can do in the saddle, and balance it with in-hand work. The in-hand long walks will strengthen both of us while giving my riding muscles a day off and I can do a ridden session until I’m tired and then get off and extend the time he’s out of the stable with in-hand work without wearing myself out too much. When he’s a bit stronger I’ll re-introduce pessoa lunging as well. We’re back on the right track now, I very much hope!

Getting stronger. Part 1.

I am getting stronger. It’s really strange to me that now I can jog up the stairs to get that thing I forgot, but stranger still is that I go to bed every night with a very slight post-exercise feeling of muscle tiredness. And when I wake, I feel a tiny bit stronger all over. I’m not really doing that much exercise, but everything is exercise for the body that got used to doing nothing.

In so many ways I find that I’d forgotten how my body used to run itself, and now that the old ways are returning it’s rather strange but rather wonderful.

Of course now I’m watching my muscles filling out again I realise things like how much more my right arm gets to do in normal life compared to my left arm, which is still skinny and flabby. When I groom Drifter I’m trying to use my left arm some of the time, but that’s too big of a challenge to do for more than a very brief time. What it can do is crochet: I am now an ambidextrous crocheter … although I have to admit my right hand knows a lot of stitches and my right hand currently only knows one. You might be surprised to know there’s actually a crochet technique that utilises alternate right and left hand rows. Here is an item I created using the technique.


Yes, I posted a picture of my beaver on the internet. (Why do I feel that anyone searching for those terms might be disappointed?)

Anyway, this is my first attempt at tapestry crochet worked with alternate hands and I have to say I think it’s not bad at all. I’m going to do another panel by the same designer in the same technique and then add borders and join them to make a cover for our large coffee table. These pattern charts are available for free which I think is amazingly generous because they are such beautiful designs. Also they work for quite a few different techniques so you don’t have to work with alternate hands unless you want to!

Yoga. Part 2, The unexpected journey to enlightened(-ish) practice

Part 1 available here.

My yoga journey continued sporadically. If the opportunity arose to attend a free session arose, I went to a class. Other times I tried one of the various televised yoga routines. Long periods would pass between these times and that kept it interesting when I did do some. That continued until this year when my health curtailed all physical activity. As I started back to work I wondered if I should try one of the very gentle short yoga programmes I’d recorded off the television. I’d do one I’d done before that I knew was aimed at beginners and so easy that I’d felt it a waste of my time last time I did it.

I couldn’t do it. It starts with cat pose, which I’d never felt any benefit from before, but this time was challenging and full of interest. Then it goes to downward dog, and I couldn’t stay in the position for more than a second or two without feeling dreadful and stopping. I didn’t just need to stop doing the posture, but had to stop the whole session. A few weeks later I tried again. This time downward dog was possible, although I didn’t hold the position for more than a breath or two but came out of it and rested until the instructor moved onto the next thing. I managed the next few postures fine until the inhale up to warrior 2. I smiled in anticipation of my old favourite but my face fell when I realised I couldn’t do it. Damn it!

After each session, even those that I had to quit on, my muscles felt awakened, and I think yoga is going to be a wonderful tool to use on my journey back to health. But like everything it’s very hard for me not to do too much because there’s one massive discrepancy between what I think I can do and what I can actually do, and another between what I can actually do and what I can actually do and still be fairly functional the next day.

To feel well tomorrow I need to do almost nothing today. But to feel well next week and next month surely I need to get my body doing things again. While I was at home I sat and lay and barely used my arms. On my first weeks back at work in the library handling books, even singly, was challenging. I had no grip strength. Circling one wrist with the other hand I can feel the change of shape where the muscles atrophied. With the return to commuting I thought the clutch in my car might be faulty because it was so heavy, likewise the power steering, but I came to realise I just don’t have the muscle strength I never even realised I was using when I drove my car.

It’s true that getting back to the daily grind will rebuild the muscle I need to get through the day, but I feel like I have a blank, if feeble, slate to rebuild my muscles evenly and in balance with yoga. But I think it will be a very slow process.

I have been surprised to find how riding is easier for me than handling books or beginner level yoga. The only things I can think to make this make sense are as follows:

  • I have an obliging and forward going horse. That takes a world of effort off the rider
  • I’m using very light aids which don’t take strength I don’t have and because they’re consistently light he’s got nothing to lean on or fight against
  • I’ve not been taking him into challenging situations on purpose. I know I can’t win a fight so I’ve avoided situations that might cause one.
  • We’re not trying to do anything he can’t do, or to do anything for long enough that he gets properly tired, so he’s very willing
  • Because my ability waxes and wanes from one ride to the next we don’t have much routine in our rides. This keeps things interesting for him, which again helps with the willingness. Also it stops him anticipating what’s coming next and so keeps him tuned in to listening to my light aids.
  • Gravity helps a rider. With a good position a rider fights gravity less than a pedestrian. The only exception is in the arms and I’m cheating there by using a much lower hand position than I think is ideal because it’s much easier for me at the moment.
  • The world thinks riders just sit there while the horse does all the work. Maybe in this case they’re right 😛

Getting back to my yoga theme: coming from this position of humble feebleness, for the first time I have finally understood the importance of correct form and the unimportance of range. I am more in tune with my body, having been forced to learn to listen to it. Because everything is weak, I don’t find strong muscles trying to cover up for weaker ones, and I feel that what is working or stretching matches what the instructor says I should feel.

I have to say this is aided by good instructors. I accept that I was not the most receptive student in those early classes at the gym, but I’m astounded at how good a televised instructor is at preventing errors of form compared to one who could see me, and let me believe I was doing postures correctly when I now see I was often letting limbs or joints point in incorrect positions which diluted the benefits of the positions. I would have thought a television or DVD instructor could never compare to having an instructor who could see you, but I was so wrong, as I was about so many things about yoga.

Now for the first time I come to my yoga practice with respect for yoga and for my body. Now I struggle with the easiest postures but I am more of a yogi than I ever was when it seemed easier.