Sunday, September 16, 2012

Yikes! Taking Risks Leads to Growth

This has been a week of growth for me.  As a bitwordy player.  As a swimmer.  As a teacher.  And my willingness to take risks seems to be key.


Bitwordy is a game I recently discovered on Facebook.  Growth in bitwordy doesn't really count, because it only reflects my ability to procrastinate and waste scads of time.  How many words can you find in three minutes?  How much time can you waste?  How sore can your mouse hand get?  Facebook and games can be such valuable tools for connection and relaxation; they can also be time-sucking cyberdemons.  But growth is growth, right?

I love to swim.  I've been swimming since I was a kid.  Never had a lesson, just learned swimming with my mom and cousins during summer vacations at the family lakeside cabin.  My swimming has improved gradually over the years, first with advice from a roommate in college who gave me a few pointers on my breaststroke, later from reading magazine articles about swimming.  One article in Cooking Light gave tips from a swim coach.  Improved my freestyle arm strokes a great deal by imagining my arms as a windmill, turning and turning.

Last week swimming at the Y, I became frustrated with my slow kick while using a kickboard.  As I crept ever so slowly toward the end of the pool, I mentioned to the lifeguard, "I really need to work on my kick."  His reply: "At least you know you have to."  Yep, awareness, the first step toward getting better.  When I asked about adult swim lessons, the lifeguard said he notice I was kicking wrong.  I was bending my knees too much, and needed to kick from the hip.  So simple.  I felt kind of dumb; I've been kicking wrong for 45 years!

I tried the new kick.  It worked.  Now I'm very aware of my kick every time I swim, scissoring from the hip rather than the knee, keeping my legs straight.  I get much more power by pushing water with my entire leg rather than just the lower half.  It also tires me out!  Of course it does.  I'm using my quadriceps and hamstrings, muscles I don't usually use when swimming.

Another benefit of this new kick may be less knee pain.  As a therapy for my patellofemoral pain (poor kneecap tracking, worn out kneecap cartilage), I'm supposed to build up my quads and hamstrings.  This correct kick style could do just that!  As Mr. Lifeguard said, "You'll kill two birds with one kick!"  Today's swim was not as effortless and enjoyable as I'm used to.  I had to rest every two laps or so.  But I know that I'll become a better swimmer, with stronger legs and knees that hurt less.

I'm an elementary school teacher.  Fourth grade.  Been teaching for years, but I know I can always improve.  So I asked my teacher coach for some tips on behavior management.  She and I have been doing an intensive week-long coaching cycle.  She observes me for an hour each day, then we review her notes and my reflections every afternoon.  She makes suggestions.  I get ideas.  We make a plan.  I implement the plan, and she observes me again.

The result: growth!  My students have been more focused, more involved, and better behaved every day.  I've felt better, they've felt better. 

Don't get me wrong: this has been an exhausting week.  It's unnerving to have someone watching me teach every day.  It's scary to let someone see my soft underbelly.  And then to talk about what she sees.  Yikes.  I'm very lucky that my coach is someone I trust implicitly and respect greatly, otherwise this might not work.  Trust is key.  Humility as well.  So I'm exhausted, but inspired.  And optimistic that my teaching will continue to improve.

As my sister says, "That which makes us vulnerable makes us beautiful."  As Maggie Laura McReynolds of Lifeworks Coaching says, "Feel the fear.  Do it anyway."  I look forward to practicing my new strategies.  Thank you Bitwordy opponents!  Thanks, Mr. Lifeguard!  Thanks a million, teacher coach! 

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Love My Foam Roller!

I've been pretty good about doing my leg exercises daily.  When I'm consistently building muscle in my thighs and calves, I tend to have less knee pain (patellofemoral and torn menisci).  The last two days, I've been almost pain-free.  And didn't wear my knee bandage or take any meds!

But with muscle-building come muscle knots and soreness, and sometimes less flexibility.   I was reminded by a coworker to use massage on the aching legs.  Enter my magical friend: Rollo the foam roller.

The foam roller lives in my living room, right next to my yoga mat and my exercise ball.  I see it every morning and evening, but I ignore it.  So thank you to that friend for the reminder!  I'm using Rollo again.
On the calves.  Aaaah.
On the quadriceps and hamstrings.  Aaaah.
On the IT band.  Aaaaouchaaaaah.

What's the IT band?  The iliotibial band runs from the outside of the hip down to the knee.
According to Wikipedia, "The iliotibial band is a superficial thickening of tissue on the outside of the knee, extending from the outside of the pelvis, over the hip and knee, and inserting just below the knee. The band is crucial to stabilizing the knee during running, moving from behind the femur to the front while walking."

Here's a short IT Band video from  I also use it on my midback, and even my neck.  I roll over the roller until I find the sore knotted muscle, and stay there for 30 to 60 seconds, breathing through the pain.  A great way to start and end the day.

This Running Times article by Clint Verran explains the importance of massage, and shows several foam roller poses with photos.  Of course, anyone can have muscle knots, not just runners.  We walkers and swimmers get them, too.  Even sedentary types get those knots in their shoulders and back, from poor posture and/or stress.

I like Clint's key points for foam roller exercise:
"1. Roll back and forth across the painful or stiff area for 60 seconds.
2. Spend extra time directly over the
knot or trigger point itself.
3. Roll the injured area two to three time a day. For prevention of injuries, two to three times a week is recommended.
4. Avoid rolling over bony areas.
5. Always stretch the area following
foam rolling."

 I bought Rollo at my health care provider for $25, but have found some online for as little as $8.95.

Time to go party with Matty (the yoga mat) and Rollo!