Sunday, November 30, 2008

Pain and Balance

by Sarah Albrecht

Several months ago I noticed some hip pain that felt like I’d “strained, not trained” when exercising. The pain worsened a bit over time, enough to require some aspirin every afternoon. After a couple of months, I decided this wasn’t going away on its own and went to the doctor. He also figured something was up but didn’t know what, so he sent me to my first visit with a physical therapist. After an evaluation, she concluded that my piriformis muscle, which runs from inside the pelvis and wraps around the hip, had somehow become inflamed. Inflamed piriformis muscles typically squeeze the sciatic nerve, causing more pain.

The therapist assigned a series of stretches and exercises to relax and strengthen the muscle. They felt good and the pain began incrementally decreasing. After several visits with several therapists, I saw the original therapist again. She assigned a new exercise regimen, then added in a side note: “Oh, and you should be sitting and standing with your weight even. No standing with your weight shifted to one side.”

It seemed intuitive and I felt silly that I hadn’t thought to do that myself. I went home, and over the course of the day I noticed how many times I stood with my weight unevenly distributed and faithfully corrected my posture. By the end of the same day the minute shift in my posture had helped my hip feel dramatically better. I couldn’t believe it.

I thought how, in life, targeting areas where I am “hurting” with specific “exercises” may help, but the exercises become much more effective if I am balanced as a whole and standing tall. And even tiny changes in balance can make a big difference.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Consider the Lilies

by Sarah Albrecht

I'm feeling a bit abashed to be posting again, but here it goes anyway.

Recently I heard a radio interview of two esteemed American poets (yes, esteemed, but I can’t remember their names). At one point the discussion turned to the preoccupation with death in poetry and in literature in general. One of the poets joked that to major in literature means to major in death. Another explained that as beauty in poetry frequently stems from contemplation of death, so we find real flowers more beautiful than silk ones because the real flowers’ beauty is fleeting; in other words, they are beautiful because they are dying.

As is my wont, I disagreed with that assessment but took several days to formulate my thoughts coherently—way too late to call in to the show and comment!

Now, this may seem a tangent, but I’ll get back to the point. Sometimes when I go to bed and need to put my brain in neutral, I make up top ten lists. Top ten favorite movies, top ten favorite places I’ve visited, top ten times I’ve been awed by nature. One of my top, top ten lists is to think up my favorite memories of flowers. I imagine the warmth of a North Carolina afternoon in the Biltmore gardens as bees hum around small purple puffs; I think of the breeze on a Northern California boardwalk entangled by delicate vines with scoop-shaped pink blooms; I smell violets lurking in the shade of my otherwise disreputable newlywed apartment building.

Invariably, as I close my eyes and extract memories for the list, I find myself on a bracing day several years ago, walking with my husband and young children down a wet, hard-packed path just out of sight of the south end of the Golden Gate Bridge. Sea air curls around us and heightens every sense. Redwoods shade the path and the deep, russet soil on its sides into perpetual moisture. We come around a bend into a field of white calla lilies, stark and smooth against the deep greens and browns of the forest. For the first time I can picture the lilies of the field, how they toil not, neither do they spin, yet surely Solomon in all his glory could not have been dressed as one of these.

Now I return to the original idea and dispute with the esteemed poet: real flowers are not more beautiful than the artificial because they are dying, but because they denote there is a God. True, in them may lay the poignancy of death and the shortness of life, but in their intricate simplicity lies the mark of the loving Creator and therefore the hope of life renewed.