Thank you for sharing this with your family and friends.
About six years ago, I practiced gift economy. I did not charge money for my work. I had no hourly rate. I had no suggested donation amounts. I offered my work for free as a gift with no expectation of a return of value.
I loved practicing gift economy
I loved how it allowed me to work with everyone, regardless of whether they could afford my services or not. I loved it because everybody gave back in heartfelt ways. Most people would give money. Others would offer vegetables from their garden, home-baked goodies, or help with electrical or plumbing work. Best of all, many would forward their gifts to others.
I moved away from gift economy as my life and family needs have changed, but I continue to be inspired by the concept. There is something simple and sweet in the idea of living my life as a gift to others, and I aspire to this each and every day.
In the Spirit of Giving
Since it is officially the season of giving, I am returning to the gift economy. For appointments scheduled during the month of December through the end of January 2016, I am offering deep tissue massage therapy sessions as my gift* to all current, former, and new clients.
*In a gift economy, goods and services are provided with no expectation of payment, or with payment being “forwarded” for another’s benefit. It is my preferred way to give back and to express my gratitude for the trust and faith you place in me.
These sessions are offered as a gift. You will not be expected or requested to provide payment. (FYI my normal fee for deep tissue massage therapy is based on a sliding scale up to $150/session.)
Massage therapy appointment availability is limited. Sessions are first-come first-served, so up and book your appointments now.
The reality is that I cannot do some of these things on any given day today.
If you cannot perform these movement skills today, they won’t magically appear in 20, 30, or 40 years. Which means, if you want to move well into older age, you must learn and practice them now. You must use movement each and every day as therapy to restore the skills you have lost from not moving enough.
Ever wonder why we have playgrounds designed to promote healthy human movement for kids, but not for adults?
Kids don’t walk up to a playground and plan how many sets and reps of each exercise their going to do. They simply play and move. It is through this play that they develop great movement skills.
Children who explore and play using their natural skills become great movers. But then adulthood begins and we sit and we sit and we sit. We stop exploring. We stop playing. Instead of play we go inside a box, stair at the TV’s on the wall, and get on equipment that takes all the fun and joy out of being a human mover. That’s why we call it a “workout”, because it IS Work. And our movement abilities suffer. This is not a recipe for healthy lifelong movement ability.
Exercise should be fun. We need to build more playgrounds for adults.
I believe that the skill of healthy natural movement enables us to be strong and helpful in the world. To be of service to others. This is a mindset that flips the current fitness culture on it’s head. Too many “fitness” programs revolve around vanity rather than function. If our fitness is primarily designed around selfies and looking fit and strong, chances are, it will lack depth and function. It is possible to have the outside look of being strong and fit, but beneath the surface lack competent function.
Looking good is great, but being strong to be helpful has more impact (and is more sustainable). Fitness in our culture has become too contained, too artificial–we want to be fit so that we can feel good in the gym environment. But the true fitness necessary in the real world doesn’t exist in a gym. If my neighbors or family need me to be there for safety or support, I want to be able and capable to really serve them. Pushing a car, getting someone to safety who has fallen on the trail, saving someone from a fire, running to catch a child who is in danger–these are the real moments that our fitness is truly tested.
Our current fitness culture focuses on conditioning–high intensity workouts to burn calories and promote weight loss, with very little focus on quality movement or skill. That approach may lead to a quick fix, but it will also most likely lead to injury that will sabotage the hard work you’ve done.
Movement is Function
Movement Therapy, on the other hand, focuses on a concept of movement restoration and exploration. We start with a movement assessment to see where your movement is limited; and then using MovNat principles, develop solid skill and form with a strong emphasis on quality. We move on to conditioning only once we’ve established solid skill and good form.
Are you ready to be more than an appearance of just fit? And instead become strong to be helpful? It is time to train so that your movement is function. I can show you how.
How do you want to move when you’re 90? Do you want to be able to get up off the floor with ease? Pick up your grandkids? Have balance without the fear of falling? Can you do these things now?
All of these are skills of movement. If you don’t have these skillsets now, and you don’t develop them, you won’t magically have them later. One big secret of movement is that when you don’t use it, you’ll literally lose it.
A Lifetime of Movement
It’s important to explore the full potential of natural human movement throughout your entire lifetime so that you can move well and age well. This is especially true now in the age of sitting for long hours in front of our technological achievements.
Unfortunately, most people stop moving and lose their skills of movement as they get older. They become more cautious and conservative, and over time, their range of motion shrinks. This is not the way it is meant to be. Receiving support and feedback from a skilled Movement Therapist, personal trainer, or coach can make a world of difference.
You are a natural human mover. The time is now to reengage with what that means. Move like a human.
Over the weekend, a client contacted me complaining of neck pain when moving her head in flexion and extension. I find the common tendency with these kinds of symptoms is to massage and stretch the neck specifically in the direction of the discomfort.
She wasn’t able to come in for a session for a few days. So I gave her some movement tips based upon what we’ve been working on already. Instead of focusing on the neck.
I had her work on bigger movements through the spine and hips, with an emphasis on rotation and lateral flexion.
Last night I received a text:
“You are a wise dude. The lateral movements are totally helping.”
Bring Back Movement Function
We move in three deminsions. Sometimes the deminsion of movement that feels tight, restricted, or painful is just a symptom for what isn’t working in another dimension. And the specific location of pain or discomfort is actually the area of the body that is working well. The problem is that it is compensating for a deminsion of movement elsewhere that isn’t moving well. The painful area is working so hard that it becomes cranky.
Pain is often a manifestation of choice. Once we identify the “why you hurt”, we can begin to change the choices you are making around movement. It’s incredibly important to move well with good form. Receiving support and feedback from a skilled Movement Therapist, personal trainer, or coach can make a world of difference. The bottom line is, if you learn to move well, you’re going to experience less pain. If you move poorly (poor form), eventually, over 10, 20, 30 or more years, it is going to hurt to move.
Clients often tell me that they’d like to be more fit or active, but previous injuries, painful workout experiences, or fear of pain and injury holds them back. If pain, is affecting how you move, it’s important to identify the root cause, and just as important… that you can keep moving. I assess my client’s movement to find the “why” they experience pain, and teach them how to restore the missing movement pieces to improve movement quality and bring back full pain-free function.
Pain Free Movement
Contrary to popular belief, It’s rarely the movements we do too much of that causes pain. In my experience, it is the movements we don’t do enough. During our sessions, I look at how you move and observe where your body isn’t moving well, and then together we use specific exercises to bring those movements back into your body. For example, if you can’t drop into a deep resting squat, an incredibly important human skill , we can break that movement down into its smallest fundamental progressions in order to rebuild and restore the skill of squatting. Once you’ve got the skill, we can continue to build on top of that and eventually add in elements strength and conditioning .
Are you feeling unsteady and fearful around movement? I begin with small safe movements and teach you how to open your body into fuller ranges of the human experience. I focus on movement quality, efficiency, competency, skill, and safety. I’m less concerned with whether you can do it, but more concerned that you can do it well.
I’m a big fan of Yoga–I believe it is an excellent movement practice, and I incorporate a lot of yoga movements into my personal training and coaching sessions; as well as my own personal movement practice. However, I work with many clients who hire me to help them heal and recover from yoga injuries and there are a some common themes I have noticed over the years.
As with most movement related injuries, I find that the driving factor leading into an injury is one’s mindset. With Yoga injuries specifically, I quite often sense a level of competition (either with oneself or in the dynamics of a group class) that pushes them to move beyond their body’s ability, placing them at physical risk.
At its essence, Yoga is about developing a conscious connection with your body to explore movement both externally and internally. It is about listening to the body’s subtle queues of what is a healthy vs an unhealthy movement. It is not about looking just like the instructor, the person next to you, or pushing through a painful movement to achieve a “perfect” pose. If you’re trying to compete or “do it right,” you are in fact doing it wrong, and possibly hurting your body. Which, by the way, goes completely against the whole point of a healthy Yoga practice.
To be present with yourself, focus on the exploration of movement and less on the the end range goal of a pose. Pay attention to your thoughts and check in for healthy pain free movement with questions such as: What am I experiencing in this moment? Is this movement painful? Does it feel safe? Exploring yourself from a very mindful space instead of “I’ve got to beat my last pose”, or “look at that person next to me. I’m not doing good enough”. If you listen to your body and use it as a tool for gradual change, Yoga is great. It is a fantastic exploration of self through movement. But if you are exploring Yoga through judgement or competition, you may be wading into treacherous waters
As you consider these questions, keep it simple. Pain is always a yes or no question. We tend to qualify and discount pain with “it hurts a little, but once I run through it a bit, it starts to feel better” ; “it doesn’t hurt that bad.” ; or my personal favorite “No pain, no gain.” It is a dangerous game to “push through pain.” The mantra of “No pain, no gain” is often what many people say right before they injure themselves. I prefer the mantra of “No pain, no pain!” or “No pain, all gain!”
Pain is the best coach you will ever have… if you listen.
Ask yourself these questions, really listen to your body, and honor the answer. If you’re feeling pain, tune in and listen to why.
Is your body asking you to stop?
Is your body telling you that this movement isn’t appropriate right now?
Be present with what you are experiencing in this moment. If your body is telling you to stop, then stop, and find a non-painful movement or exercise that feels safe. Painful movement is not healthy movement.
Not sure how to listen well? An experienced Movement Therapist, MovNat Certified Natural Movement Coach, personal trainer, or fitness coach can teach you healthy pain-free movement as well as to recognize and respond appropriately when you do feel pain.
Your Mindset Matters
Where do your decisions to move come from? Most of us choose to move based on where we are emotionally. If we are operating from a place of self judgement, anger, or insecurity, we are far more likely to ignore pain, push it too hard, and/or experience greater physical injury.
For example, the person who goes for a run because they think they are not good enough–they are not operating from a foundation of love, honor, or respect for their body. They are punishing themselves. Every step they take reinforces the mindset of “I don’t like myself.” They are more likely to not only ignore a painful condition, but to push even harder in spite of it. How will this feel over time? They are not moving away from self-loathing by working out. They are reinforcing it. Every painful step drives the self hate deeper. This person may look incredibly fit and healthy on the outside, but every time they look in the mirror, they see someone who is less than.
If you judge yourself harshly, you are less likely to listen to your body. Every movement or exercises decision you make from this place of self judgement reinforces a negative mindset and sets you up for potential pain and injury. These injuries are your body’s way of saying pay attention now! Injury will stall your progress directly in its tracks and drive you deeper into self-loathing! Even worse, it will affect how you recover from injury. You will be more likely to do too much too soon and fall into the injury cycle.
When we are operating from a foundation of loving, honoring, and respecting our body, we make healthy movement decisions around our health and well being. Changing your mindset will make a big difference in your experience and your outcome.
Healthy Pain-Free Movement
Is there a pattern of self-judgement playing out in your fitness activities? Shift into a mindset of love, honor, and respect and use these simple questions to check in with your body throughout your workouts. Making a habit of tuning in this way will set you on a path to engaging in healthy movement that makes you look and feel fit and healthy on the outside as well as on the inside.
When I had my first and second knee reconstructions, I didn’t know where to go or who to talk to. I was making life changing decisions for myself while I was in a state of fear, anger, and self judgement. At the time, I was in the Navy in San Diego, CA sleeping on a friends couch. I was half a continent away from my family, and my best friend was going through BUD/S training to become a Navy Seal. I felt alone and isolated. I didn’t have a team and I did not know how to ask for help. I needed a recovery support team.
We all experience those times in our lives where we need the help of others. Healing from pain and injury is one of those times. It makes a huge difference to have family, friends, coaches, therapists, doctors, etc focused specifically on helping you recover. The stronger and more supportive the team, the faster and fuller the recovery. When I look back on those days 17 years ago, I wish I had someone in my corner like Heidi Armstrong of The Injured Athletes Toolbox.
Heidi is an amazing person. She is incredibly gifted and passionate about helping people heal and recover from the devastating effects of pain and injury. Her gifts lies in her huge beautiful heart, but more importantly in the fact that she has been there. She has experienced it, lived it, and is living it today. I love her story. She is inspiring. I am thankful to have had the opportunity to ask her a few questions about her work. This is her story. It should be shared with any friend or family member experiencing pain and injury.
Thank you Heidi for sharing.
~Jesse James Retherford
Tell me a little about yourself and your story? What was your path to becoming an Injury Recovery Coach and what inspired you to create Injured Athlete’s Toolbox?
Jesse, you’re incredibly gifted at connecting with people, and you’re the first person I’ve met who shares a similar philosophy about the mental aspects of injury. I appreciate you offering this space to talk about my work as an Injury Recovery Coach.
Fifteen years ago while racing my mountain bike, I had a spectacular crash resulting in a complicated knee injury. In an instant, my identity changed–from an athlete to injured and broken.
At the time I was living with my best friend, Christine. Cassette tapes changed my life–in the year 2000. Why I had a righteous cassette tape collection in 2000 is another story. I was supposed to be elevating a very swollen post-operative knee. Instead, I did what any agitated and irritated injured athlete would do–I grabbed a bottle of Windex and sat on the floor cleaning my cassette tapes, with all the passion of my Italian ancestry. Christine walked in from work and looked at me with a combination of shock and disgust. “What the heck are you doing?” she said. “I’m cleaning the cassette tapes!” I declared. “Um. Aren’t you supposed to be laying down with your leg elevated?” she said. “Well. If I don’t clean these cassette tapes, who will?” I said, undeniably winning the debate.
I was overdue for an intervention–that or Christine was going to toss me off the balcony. “I’m going to my bedroom for 10 minutes, and when I come out we’re going to talk.” Christine said. She emerged, sat in front of me and said, “You know I love you, right?” “Yes.” I said. “This (she pointed to my mess of Windex, paper towels, and cassette tapes) isn’t going to work anymore. You need to find another way.”
I was in a deep, dark hole, unable to see daylight through pervasive anger, impatience, bitterness, and frustration. I was largely incapacitated, barely able to do daily living activities. For a while, I even talked a firefighter friend into carrying me downstairs just so I could be outside.
Christine’s intervention forced me to make radical changes. Over subsequent months, I inefficiently but inexorably established a team of people to help–a new orthopedic surgeon, a new physical therapist, and a psychotherapist among others. With their guidance I climbed out of the hole armed with a positive attitude and life tools that still serve me daily. I immersed myself into creative endeavors like photography and writing. I began volunteering. I wasn’t able to ride my bike, but I could practice yoga and walk a bit. I dealt with issues from my past that haunted me. I focused more on can than can’t, and I created a daily mental training program to replace my cycling regimen. Had I ignored Christine, my lengthy recovery would likely never have been successful and surely destroyed me mentally.
After witnessing my dramatic improvement in attitude, the same healthcare providers who helped me began calling–“Heidi, I have an injured athlete-patient. He needs someone to help him out of the hole. Can I give him your number?” Over the past 13 years, I’ve appreciated helping injured athletes refocus their focus from training and racing to recovery.
For several years, I enjoyed a complete recovery and then, as [bad] luck would have it, I suffered a severe and obscure fracture to the same knee while Nordic skiing in 2010. The fracture led to arthrofibrosis–a rare and chronic scarring condition. Very few doctors know how to treat arthrofibrosis. It’s a tough road for surgeons, let alone the patients. After two surgeries in Austin that distressingly just made my condition worse, I traveled to see the best–Dr. Richard Steadman in Vail, Colorado. At my first visit he gave me a 20% chance of being normal. It’s 3.5 years later and I’m still working hard to finish in that 20%. I’ve had six surgeries in Vail, and have learned to walk again multiple times. I’ve spent more than two years on crutches, and more than a year sleeping in a CPM (a device that slowly bends and straightens my leg). Every nook and cranny of my life has been upended.
The tools I used to emerge from my first injury journey mentally sound and stronger are the same tools I use to navigate my current journey. I learned how to manage injury the right way only by doing it catastrophically wrong the first time. Injury is a most unforgiving and rewarding teacher, much like the nuns who taught me to read and write.
In 2012, while spending months at The Steadman Clinic with other patients of all stripes, I had a realization: irrespective of age, sport, level of proficiency, and gender, injured athletes suffer in similar ways and achieve success through similar tools. I had a brainstorm–what if I could uncover the common behaviors and paths to success and turn my passion for helping other injured athletes into a career?
I tested my idea by interviewing a diverse group of healthcare practitioners who work with injured athletes. It didn’t take long to identify a gap in our health care system. Many providers and coaches had neither the time nor the experience to mentally and emotionally support a frustrated and impatient injured athlete. Most had no idea what to say when a patient broke down during an appointment.
What do you do as an injury recovery coach and how can you help injured athletes? Talk to me about how you work with clients. And what can a client expect when working with you?
About half way through my research, I re-defined what makes an athlete. To me, an athlete is anyone who uses movement to connect with themselves or their life. No movement leads to disconnection, and that’s where things come unglued.
Athletes face different and unique emotional challenges following injury. What I hear most often includes: I feel worthless and without purpose; my social network is gone; what if I can’t compete again; I’m jealous of my friends; I’m angry; I don’t want to ask for help or be a burden; I have to move to feel balanced and relieve stress.
Through Injured Athlete’s Toolbox as an Injury Recovery Coach, I work with injured athletes from around the world to: empower them to overcome the emotional fallout of injury; recommend a proper care team of skilled providers who understand athletes; identify activities that are injury-friendly and physical therapist-approved; prepare for doctor’s appointments; navigate our [nightmare of an] insurance system; provide swimming and cycling instruction.
We’ll work together to identify your physical and mental barriers and your goals. Are you pervasively frustrated? Does your family find you insufferable? Feeling impatient? I know how to find your patience, even if you, like me, were never particularly patient to begin with.
We’ll talk about the gritty part of injury–the emotional roller coaster–that only another injured athlete can understand. Together we’ll create a plan to make concrete progress toward your goals. We’ll work together, making you more resilient.
We’ll work together to find the best physician, physical therapist, and additional practitioners based on your injury. I can teach you how to interview healthcare providers, ensuring you get the best support for your injury.
Identify activities that are injury-friendly
Despite injury, you still want to move. We’ll identify activities that are friendly to your injury but liberating to your soul.
Prepare for medical appointments
We’ll create a plan for healthcare appointments, enabling you to communicate the salient facts of your injury. I can also attend, take notes, and review with you afterward. Did you know studies show we remember only 30% of what happens in a doctor’s appointment? It’s likely you won’t get to visit with your doctor as much as you’d like, so it’s important to make the most out of each appointment.
Navigate our insurance system
What do you do when you get an $85,000 hospital bill in the mail that was rejected by insurance? I’m not making that up. It happened to me. Together we’ll determine a strategy for engagement with your insurance. No doesn’t always mean no. Together we’ll get more yeses.
Provide swimming and cycling instruction
I have 20 years of experience in both swimming and cycling, including swimming at a university and cycling for a national level mountain bike team. I can help you learn these activities that are often injury-friendly.
I work with each client one on one, in person if they are in Austin and via Skype if they’re not. Together we’ll brainstorm the challenges at hand and your goals. We’ll create a focused and structured plan including: proven therapeutic activities that will keep your mind occupied and help you work toward your goals; mental exercises to regain and maintain an optimistic outlook; physical exercises that are enjoyable and PT-approved. Throughout your journey, you’ll have a guide when you’re feeling lost and someone to talk to who gets it.
Injured athletes who meet my coaching with time and diligence can expect to feel empowered, more patient, hopeful, mentally and physically connected, less frustrated, and more resilient.
Who can you help?
When I initially meet clients, they often feel impatient, frustrated, without the self-confidence their sport reinforced, and lost. They feel broken down and unmotivated. They want to talk to someone who gets it–someone who will help them move forward. If I hadn’t experienced the dark side of injury, I’d be unable to truly connect with and coach other injured athletes. I’m comfortable jumping in the hole with clients I coach because I know the way out. A typical case involves working together over the course of 8 weeks.
If: the preceding paragraph describes you; you’re making poor choices that dishonor your injury; you aren’t improving physically and need a new care team; you need to find ways to move that are injury-friendly; you require help preparing for medical appointments; you’re feeling lost dealing with insurance…I can help you.
With 20/20 hindsight and specific to your path of injury, healing, and recovery what is it that you are most grateful for?
In an interview for an article in the Austin American-Statesman, Pam LeBlanc asked me something similar. She said, in just a sentence, can you tell me what you learned from your own injuries? What have they taught you about yourself? What good came of them?
My answer to Pam is the same answer to your questions: Through my injuries, I discovered talents and interests that expanded my world and enabled me to become more mentally balanced and graceful.
I tell clients: You may feel somewhat hopeless right now. You do have hope; hope is a conscious choice. Perhaps it’s squirreled away in some dark corner of your soul covered in cobwebs and dust. Dust it off and breathe new life into it by practicing a new mental approach to injury. The only way out is through, and I’ll be with you every step of the way.
Jesse, thank you again for allowing me to share my journey and my work here. Most of all, thank you for being you.