A few years ago the term self-care appeared as a means of describing anything that a person does to take care of themselves, like getting a massage, meditating, going for a walk in nature, or taking a relaxing bath in essential oils. All of the above are great ways to improve your physical and emotional health; however, they are often used not as a way to improve health, but to undo the damage caused by underlying stresses and simply restore one’s previous level of health.
Take meditation. It’s a practice that has been used for millennia as a means of trying to reach an enlightened state. But what do we often use it for now? As a means to calm ourselves down after an argument with a significant other or a way to gain a glimpse of equanimity before what we know will be a tough day at work.
In the above instances, meditation isn’t being used to take us to a higher place, it’s being used to get us back to baseline. And then the next day, when our job or our toxic relationships drag us back into sadness or anxiety, we use it again to bring us back up.
This is akin to using Tylenol to treat cancer. Cancer causes pain, so we take Tylenol to relieve the pain. This treats only the symptoms and ensures that we’re going to have to take Tylenol again and again each time the pain arises.
How would we stop that cycle? By curing the cancer.
Similarly, you can’t massage away a bad job and you can’t journal away a toxic relationship. In both instances, you’re merely treating the symptoms.
What’s the cure? Quitting.
Quit the job that’s taken your sanity day after day. Quit the relationships that have led you to the negative self-talk that requires hours of journaling and meditation to sort out.
Because all of the above self-care tools are amazing in their own rights, but are so much more helpful in improving your physical and mental health if you’re starting from a more stable baseline — which requires taking a good look (often through journaling!) at what is disturbing your peace.
So next time something has you anxious or depressed, grab that journal and write down what led to that feeling. Then start analyzing whether the cause can be quit. You may need a job-ectomy, or to have some toxic friends surgically removed from your friend circle.
And after you do, be sure to light some candles, throw some essential oils in a bathtub, and meditate your way to enlightenment — free of whatever was holding you back!
In med school I recall attending a cultural fair and from afar I saw a circle of people doing gymnastics, playing drums, and singing in a foreign language. I’m not sure any trifecta of things has ever been more in line w/ stuff I already loved, so I had to find out what it was. It was capoeira, and while I immediately looked into how I could learn it, I realized it was a little more intense than med school would have allowed, so I quit and let it go.
Fast forward four years and I’m at the University of Arizona for my sports medicine fellowship and they gave me an ID card that essentially let me do anything a student could do. So at 30, I decided to try to blend in with the college kids and I went to the student activities fair because I had heard they had a capoeira club and it was time to try this out.
I went to capoeira class there all of three times. There was no music, and no singing in foreign languages, but what there was was a lot of gymnastics on hard floors without mats and a ton of sit-ups on the same hard floor that my spine wasn’t having.
Let’s be honest, I was a very fragile, delicate, breakable flower who hadn’t done a sit-up in over a decade for fear of, and I’m not kidding, visible stomach muscles.
At the same time, I was working at the student sports med clinic and I’d see people from the class coming in with their capoeira-related injuries. I thought for sure this thing was gonna injure me in some fashion, and I was pretty fond of being uninjured.
So I quit capoeira.
With no regrets. Capoeira equaled pain and injury as far as I was concerned, and again, I had grown up as unathletic as you could imagine, so I ran far far away.
But then the next year I ended up playing in a Brazilian band called Group Liberdade, and during our shows, capoeiristas from Capoeira Brasil Arizona would play capoeira in front of us while we sang the capoeira music. And I looked around and realized that half of the people playing capoeira were women about my age and about my size.
What was wrong with me? Why was I such weak sauce?
Well not long after, fate stepped in. I moved to San Diego and my gym offered capoeira, so I decided to try again. And after a few months, someone suggested I check out Capoeira Brasil San Diego.
I did. On May 7, 2011.
Now the reason that’s my capoeira anniversary and not whenever I started back in Tucson is because like with any relationship, you don’t celebrate an anniversary from the day you met, but the day you made a commitment to each other. That’s the day I bought the uniform and made the commitment. I unquit capoeira.
Three months later, I was in the ER. I had taken an overly-aggressive cartwheel to the face.
Seven stitches, a chipped tooth and one sweet facial scar later and I had been more injured by capoeira than I could have imagined. Everyone was sure I would quit after that.
But I didn’t.
Two years later I landed a flying kick wrong and completely tore my ACL,requiring surgical reconstruction. Again, probably more injured than I had even feared I could be from capoeira.
But I didn’t quit then either.
A year after that I was told it was unsafe for me to continue training with the group I was with, thanks to some less than stable students (ok just one in particular). I had a choice: change groups (which is realllllly rare), or quit.
I changed groups and kept training.
Since that first capoeira quit I’ve tried more unsafe gymnastics on hard floors and done tens of thousands of sit-ups on concrete-ish surfaces. I’ve also gained more confidence than I could have ever imagined. The super fragile flower is now significantly less afraid of physically-demanding, super uncomfortable situations. And though it took about five of the seven years to get to this point, I actually enjoy playing in the capoeira games instead of just dreading it and hoping no one accidentally kills me.
Oh and there’s the music, which I live for…
Anyway, the point of this is that most quits aren’t fatal. Or permanent. So quit stuff if it feels wrong, because someday the right situation will come along and you’ll be ever so glad you’re not stuck in the old situation.
The other point is that I love capoeira. And my capoeira family.
The above photo (borrowed from F45 Training’s instagram account) may remind you of the ol’ Sesame Street days. As in, one of these things is not like the other. Even though this workout was done in groups, it’s probably clear that everyone in that middle group is in some mid-burpee position. All except one…
Yeah, that’s me, the one sticking out like a sore thumb.
Now why, you may ask, do I seem to have confused horizontal and vertical when deciding the direction this was supposed to go? Well I wasn’t confused. This was a conscious choice:
Because years ago, I quit burpees.
Not because I wanted to. But because not all surgeries go well, and some go kind of terribly.
My issue started with a bunionectomy gone wrong on my right foot. During the surgery they cut my big toe into two pieces with the intention of pinning it back together internally. Well, someone cut off too much bone and they had to pin it externally…so I woke up from surgery looking kind of like THIS:
NOT MY ACTUAL FOOT (but in those days no one had a camera on their phone. My pins were green and stuck out of the top of the foot.)But while I don’t have a photo of my actual foot, I do still have the actual pins, seen below:
This was definitely not something I would have signed up for had I known it was a possibility. To make matters worse, I was supposed to have this pin cushion thing going on for a month…but in less than a month I was also supposed to walk across the stage at my graduation from medical school.
Yes, that’s right, the moment I’d been waiting for for YEARS and I was going to be partially out of commission for it?
Not on your life.
So I called the podiatrist and said something like “Um, yeah, so about those four weeks…” and I recall quite well his response. “You’re young and healthy, maybe it won’t take four weeks to heal. We’ll remove the pins in three weeks.”
Phew. What a relief. I’d be able to walk at graduation like a normal person.
Or so I thought.
The day came for them to take out the pins. I was stoked, and the first thing me and my pin-free foot did was head to Target (this was before Amazon, you had to go to Target like every other day). But while walking through the parking lot back to my car after the Target-ing, one of my steps with the right foot was met with a pain like no other. “STAB STAB STAB!” went the pain. I fell to the ground. It felt like my entire foot had exploded.
So what did this genius do? NOTHING. I hobbled back to the car with my ‘ignorance is bliss’ firmly in check and went home. Nevermind that I definitely couldn’t walk painlessly. I told myself this was normal. Again, I had some graduating to do and nothing was going to stop it.
So graduation day comes around and said foot is about twice the size of the other foot. It was so large that I had to wear my mom’s shoes for the ceremony, which were an entire size larger than my own. I managed to cram footzilla into this low-heeled shoe and hobbled off to the symphony hall.
After hours of waiting around, the ceremony began and finally they called my name. It was one of those times I swear you could hear a pin drop as my entire family held their breath hoping I would make it across the stage without collapsing or screaming out in pain.
The following week the pain continued, and I finally ended up chatting with an old friend of mine who had been a doctor longer than I had (meaning longer than 6 days…). I told him about the foot pain and he asked a question I’ll never forget:
“Can you dorsiflex the big toe?”
Dorsiflex means to flex it upwards towards the head. I tried. I could not.
Now had I been thinking, I would have tried this on myself a week earlier, but again, doctoring yourself is hard. So when I told him I couldn’t move the toe, he broke the news to me:
“That means your toe fell apart.”
Ugh. So without so much as an appointment, I limped into the surgeon’s office the next day and showed them my lack of dorsiflexion toe, which earned me an insta-xray and almost as instantly, a diagnosis:
“Your toe has separated. You’re going into surgery tomorrow to fix it.”
Great. I was supposed to be dancing Bollywood at two of my closest friends’ weddings in the next month, which would no longer be possible. I would spend yet another month with pins sticking out of my foot. Awesome.
Now you’d think this time they’d be extra-careful in getting it right, seeing as how the pins were due to their error in the first place but no, I later found out through follow-up x-rays done at the Mayo Clinic that the toe was re-pinned in a rotated position!
You had ONE JOB! Pin the toe STRAIGHT back like it was!
Now I only know this because the toe never recovered. Months of physical therapy and no one could figure out why it still wouldn’t dorsiflex much. But the x-rays cleared that up. The toe is shorter, rotated, and now, thanks to all those months of me trying to rehab a rotated toe, full of arthritis.
So it’s like I’m 40 years old, but my toe is 140.
To make matters worse for my poor right foot, years later this happened:
The (almost) hilarious part of that is that when I got x-rays taken for the pinky injury, the doctor (who saw them before seeing me), walks in and starts talking about what to do about all my big toe arthritis, including … wait for it…
A TOE REPLACEMENT!
I chuckled and told him I was there for a DIFFERENT injury and that he could keep his fake toe, but thanks.
So what’s the result, these 13 years later? That toe doesn’t do the motion that it’s supposed to do when you lunge forward with the opposite foot, or, more appropriately for this article, the motion that is required to propel you back off the ground from the bottom of a burpee.
Have I tried? Yes. Has my foot told me exactly what it thought about those tries? Also yes. Just ask my Costco-sized bottle of ibuprofen.
It does still affect my ability to ginga and esquiva in capoeira, my ability to do crescent pose and a ton of other yoga poses, and at this point walking lunges are a torture to which I no longer subject myself.
But in 2014 I signed up for a free month of this online workout called the Daily Burn. In it one day they had us do something they called “handstand burpees.” I saw the online fitness goddess do the traditional burpee jump up to start, then she put her hands on the ground, but then instead of shooting out into a chest-to-the-ground position (my nemesis), she shot up into a handstand.
Whaaaaa? What is this awesomeness?! A burpee I can actually do?!?
So I tried it. And then I tried it again. Trust me, it took more than a few tries to get it to look like the goddess’ burpee, but eventually I got it.
Now, not being able to burpee is generally a fairly private battle…unless you do group fitness. So my ‘deficiency’ first came to light at a CorePower class where we were asked to do burpees.
To paraphrase the now infamous quote, when the rest of the class went low, I went high. Like vertical. No one seemed to judge me negatively (note: all anyone wants in life it to not be judged negatively, let’s just admit it and move on, k?).
But then I joined November Project, a morning workout group of generally awesome athletes, and the number of people witnessing my abnormal burpees went from 16 to 160, and with it, my self-consciousness about them also increased ten-fold.
Because here’s the reality. If you can’t do a handstand, they look hard. If you can do a handstand, which I’ve been able to do since the age of about 4, they are extremely not hard.
Burpees are hard. My version of burpees are, dare I say, fun. Not hard. Not easy, but on a scale of 1 to actual burpees, it’s about halfway.
However, they definitely elicit a response. Well, two responses.
1. Wow. That’s impressive. Or…
2. Show off!
The first is sweet. Unwarranted (again, cause I’m working only half as hard as everyone else), but sweet. And supportive. I feel unjudged.
The is less awesome. Because I then feel forced to stop and explain that I have a defective toe that had two surgeries and now is arthritic and won’t dorsiflex and that if I want to still be able to walk later in the day, that’s the only option I have.
Now my friends know that one of my biggest challenges in life is to convince myself that no one is judging me. But guess what, when someone calls me a show-off, it’s really hard to feel not judged. It’s much more likely that I’m going to feel like I did back in grade school when I got teased for being a nerd who knew stuff. Not exactly my favorite feeling.
Now I’m well aware we all have our injuries. Especially those of us who are 1. older or who 2. do crazy sports like capoeira. I bet most of the people in November Project could print out their own shirt with a list of the injuries that impact them on a daily basis and yet they still do 100% of the exercises we’re given.
However, as a sports-medicine doctor, I’ve seen what happens to people as they age when they don’t listen to their bodies. It’s not pretty. And since I plan to be training capoeira in my retirement home, I’m gonna go ahead and respect my body…by breaking up with burpees.
So see you in the upside down! 🙃