If It Doesn’t Feel Good… Sometimes Do It Anyway

Over the past few months, I have been trading bi-weekly Pilates classes for massage with one of my colleagues. The private sessions on the Pilates Reformer machine have been helping me in multiple ways, including learning how to breathe (yes, that’s a thing) and targeting habitual structural imbalances.

I had one such session yesterday, which focused on my feet and some of the issues resulting from one of my bunions. Bunions are when the metatarsal and tarsal bones of the big toe decide that “straight” is a suggestion instead of a necessity and start doing their own thing.

3Bunion-xray

They can be minor and relatively painless or major, resulting in your big toe turning almost sideways into the other toes. It can be the result of many different reasons; mine are at least partially genetic. Surgery is an option for severe cases, but unfortunately doesn’t always work very well. In my session yesterday, we focused more on how my body was compensating for my foot issues, and how it was most likely the cause of my hip problems. We discovered that I was supinating my feet (walking more toward the outer edges of my feet instead of having my weight equally distributed). As a result, it was throwing off my Adductors (inner thigh muscles). That, in turn, was throwing off my lower back and giving me hip discomfort.

Crazy how it’s all connected, isn’t it?

This morning, while walking my dog, I made a concerted effort to walk properly: feet parallel, weight equally distributed across my entire foot. It was a fascinating experiment and in doing so really realized just how much my foot supination had been affecting the rest of my body. I felt my Adductors stretching out and engaging; my outer calf muscles coming back to a neutral position; my pelvis having an easier time finding its way out of an anterior tilt.

Something else also came up, which was even more interesting than what my muscles were doing: walking in this corrected way made me feel incredibly anxious.

It made no sense to me. Why would walking properly induce such overwhelming anxiety? And it truly was the new posture; as a test I reverted back to my habitual walking stance and the emotional discomfort almost immediately dissipated.

While I have yet to figure out the why, it made me think. We spend a vast majority of our lives avoiding discomfort, without question. To a certain degree, this is a good thing. After all, touching a hot stove burner is uncomfortable because it is harmful. However, when we avoid all discomfort without question simply because it makes us feel bad, we lose the chance to learn more about ourselves. In our avoidance, we overlook things we maybe don’t need to avoid, or even feel uncomfortable over.

So many times in bodywork, people avoid the uncomfortable because that’s what you are supposed to do. Sometimes, though, in order to feel better you have to first feel a little less so. People mistake the discomfort coming from a muscle stretching (or releasing) after a long period of being held in place as “bad”. They want to return to the “comfort” and security of what was. Because, even though it may eventually lead to much worse issues, right now it is easy and comfortable.

Academically, I know that working on proper foot/walking posture is going to help me in myriad way. Emotionally, I just want to yell “leave me alone!” and shamble away awkwardly. The thing is, if I can muddle through the discomfort, I will come out on the other end much improved. My body will last longer, I will feel better in it, and I will be able to enjoy using it for many more years to come. And as I have eyes on a Black Belt, losing the use of my body is not on my “to-do” list.

What’s the moral of the story? Sometimes Discomfort isn’t the devil it claims to be. Sometimes, if you look at it hard enough and sit with it, you’ll find it’s really just a cranky child in need of a nap. Give it a little love, attention and understanding (and some quiet time), and everyone comes out in a much better mood.