Tuesday, March 10, 2015

(Don't) Lean In

Lean In is the title of a book that has nothing to do with this blog.  It just came to mind and has been sticking.

In learning to walk again, I watch other people walk and see amazing thing.  First and foremost, walking looks so easy, and standing looks so easy.  Beyond that, I notice that people seem to just move their legs when walking - the upper body just sits on top.  People don't have to lift their legs much at all, and walking is smooth and flowing.  I try to learn some things from how other people walk.  When people walk uphill, they actually lean a tiny bit uphill; when people walk downhill they relax a bit.  If you can walk, think about it sometime.  I even ask my daughter to walk certain ways sometimes!  She even explains how this easy walking works for me.

I walk with a walker.  First and foremost, it's not easy; and standing starts easy but then my body likes to bend.  Beyond that, I throw my whole upper body into walking; my upper body sways or jolts from side to side when I walk.  I feel like when I walk that I am lifting my legs to the sky; if my Bioness (electronic device that helps me lift my heel) isn't working, then I feel like I am pulling my leg through mud and flinging it forward at the end.  Walking is smoother and more flowing than it used to be, but it's not smooth and flowing.  When I walk uphill, if I am not already leaning, I lean at a 90 degree angle.  I try to work on not leaning; that is the biggest part of learning to walk again - getting vertical.  When I walk downhill I am afraid my walker brakes may fail, so I lean forward even though that is not necessary at all.  I don't relax going downhill; I tense up.  I am always thinking about walking.  My daughter shows me how I used to walk, how I walk now, and then I know I am improving and I know there is so much more to learn.

I'm focused on leaning now.  The swaying of my upper body is huge, but as my physical therapist says, I can't work on everything at once.  Per previous posts, I torture myself twice a week on an "Alter G" treadmill that supports 25% of my body weight which allows me to walk straighter.

The treadmill provides support for core muscles.  At first, the physical therapist set the support level very high on my body.  Gradually, she has brought the support level down and it's now at "9" which is the lowest it will go and where it offers the best support.

When I walk on the treadmill I zone everything out and focus on walking.  I started a year ago at .5mph and am now walking for 15 minutes at 1.7mph.

But here is the thing.  As the support level dropped, what I have found is that I cannot lean forward onto the treadmill.  For some reason, it just doesn't work.  At 1.7 mph, I can't lean forward at all.  I know this because for some reason I was leaning today, was having trouble, and told myself to stand straighter.  At this level, I have to grab a bar that is next to me, and I have to walk like I see other people doing, with just my legs.  And for those of you who can walk, you have stronger stomach muscles than you know because I tense my stomach muscles when doing this.  I am going to get a "6 pack" of stomach muscles by walking at a whopping 1.7mph!  Go me!!

And the point of this post is in the title: Don't Lean In.  It's critical on the treadmill.  When I go walking and see my reflection in a window, I work on not leaning.  Leaning while walking is tiring, but the first thing that tires for me is my core area which causes me to lean.

A couple other things on the treadmill... I have learned that my left leg likes to drag behind.  On the treadmill, both legs have to go the same speed.  There is a camera I watch and I can see my legs, so I use that to train my leg to move when it reaches a certain point.  It's not at all natural.  Then my leg learns and I can go faster.  My right leg has another issue.  It doesn't like to kick forward as well.  So I think of it kicking although most of the time it can move like a robot, without me thinking.

So there it is, me on the treadmill.  I'm thinking of walking straight and grabbing the bar; I'm thinking of when my left leg needs to move forward; and I'm thinking of kicking my right leg.  Beyond that, I'm trying to remain calm as I go faster.  My therapist doesn't always come to ask if I am ok, which is good, because then I have to keep going.  At the end, I collapse and take a few moments before getting off the treadmill. Then I sit and drink cold water until my body temperature drops enough for me to walk to my car.

And there are so many moments with God during the 15 minutes, and right afterward. It's quite a torture session.  Someday soon hopefully I'll have a runner's high again. I had that back at 1.5mph.  And then on other days I might walk on a bikepath to a bench, where I sit and think of  how I didn't used to be able to walk this far.  I feel the breeze; the sun; the air; the strange presence of God; if it's not God, it's something else.  It's emotional, too, because no one ever thought something like this would happen - that my walking would get better.  And I don't take any of it for granted.  Ever.