I met Erin Paruszewski at Alkalign a while back and took her up on her offer of a week of classes. I’ve never done a fitness or pilates/barre/yoga class before, but this year has been one of self-improvement, so it came at the right time. I couldn’t have known how important my new-found fitness and body alignment awareness would be over the last few months when I first started. I’ll get to the part later where I’m in yoga pants, facing the waterwall with one arm in a sling, trying to balance in neutral spine and wide turnout and realizing that I’m the only one-armed guy in class. I’ll also get to the part when, later that month, I had emergency abdominal surgery, took 2 (stressful) weeks off of exercise and then had to modify for another 2 weeks after that. But first, how I got to be an Alkalign addict and a true believer that my work at Alkalign is responsible for me enjoying physical and mental health like never before.
Erin and I were connected by a friend with shared work interests. In an effort to understand her business better (and since I was curious about what my first Alkalign experience would be like), I took a class. I started with Align 101 and discovered new muscles (lateral oblique, piriformis, and my whole ass in general) I didn’t know I had. More importantly, I found a workout that was really hard and rewarding. After 25 years of chronic back pain, I’ve never felt better than after I found my new core strength at Alkalign (thank you, Erin). My year of self-improvement has included some pretty intense mental health work…not just eating the Mindful Meatloaf at the hospital cafeteria (and that’s a real thing)…but real work and progress on my mind. I consider my progress at Alkalign a major part of that mental health as well.
Strength and mental health are why I try to go to Alkalign every day. Because of my work schedule, I can’t pick the class format, I can only pick the times, which is why in May of 2018 I was in a huge rush back to work after the 6:00 AM class. I knew I would be late for my 6:30 AM work meeting, but if I did a quick shower/change and biked as fast as I could, I would be only 30 minutes late (yeah, it’s a 2-hour meeting at 6:30 AM…I work with surgeons).
This next part is hard to retell, since I wish I could go back in time in a 1985 DeLorean and change what happened next. I booked out of Alkalign, got on my new bike and steam down the Alameda. I received a text message, read the message and tried to reply. It wouldn’t send correctly because I’m pedaling —fast— so I tried again. I’m frustrated because I’m supposed to be in two places at once and I’m late for work. But, I can do this! I can even do this without a helmet at the time — never again (Apryl)! As I’m typing —BANG!!! —OH F&*K! And then…I’m on top of a car, looking down at my bike, which has the fork completely dislodged — sheared right off. I’m bleeding and then laying prone on the Alameda. It really hurts, a lot. My shoulder hurts to the point that I don’t know if I can even feel everything correctly. I stand up, walk to the curb, curse the fact that my new bike is ruined and now not going to make my meeting. I text my work colleagues that I won’t make it, then call my wife and tell her I need to go to the ER because I have a broken collarbone. I can feel the bone fragments rubbing against each other. Other than that, I can feel what ends up being a thigh contusion and a bruised finger, and eventually a chipped tooth. Thankfully it wasn’t a broken neck, major head injury, broken pelvis, or anything life altering….or life ending. I knew these injuries would be a major setback for my mind and body. I knew I needed help. I knew I needed to slow down. I knew, for real, that I needed to slow the F down.
I did a few weeks in a sling with no physical activity on the arm. No plank, down dog, water-ski, push ups, all 4s, or anything else that would delay the collarbone healing. I thought I was in pretty good shape until about 3 weeks after the bike crash. One afternoon I noticed an unusual and sudden pain in my abdomen. After about an hour of writhing around in bed, my wife finally forced me to go to the ER where I was diagnosed with an acute surgical abdomen. I had 10 inches of my intestines twisted and strangulated that required emergency laparoscopic surgery to release it. Yeah, technically it was a “hernia,” but not the kind that your granddad has that bulges out his groin when he coughs like a party trick. For me this meant another 2 weeks of crawling up the walls (Alkalign-less) while I recovered from surgery.
Through both injuries, Alkalign was a major part of my quick recovery. The physical therapist (for the shoulder) was sure I could have wrecked my rotator cuff if it hadn’t been for my flexibility and strength. He eventually cancelled all my follow up appointments because I was “so strong and flexible beforehand.” The surgeons who did my abdominal surgery discharged me within 12 hours because I was “in really great shape and would recover abdominal strength quickly.” I can’t help but think both events could have been much worse if I hadn’t been working on my strength and flexibility at Alkalign.
I thought at first that I’d probably lose touch with my Alkalign routine and slip back into marginal physical fitness and a mental health struggle that has been a familiar routine, but Erin was there for me. She opened the studio to help us figure out what I could do to modify the classes with a broken wing. Then she showed me how to modify after the major core weakener of surgery. I got back into the studio, started modifying classes and that’s what made me realize why I’m Alkalign-hooked…it’s not just the physical benefits, it’s the mental benefits that also keep me coming back. Don’t get me wrong, I am so appreciative of the physical changes and flexibility that Erin and team have afforded me, but in my year of self-improvement, the mental health I’ve achieved at Alkalign is the real gift.
I’m still working on achieving the physical and mental strength that comes with recovering from my injuries. The biggest thing I learned is that I can’t keep rushing around. If you see me in the studio stretching out my shoulder near the waterwall, you’ll know what I’m focusing on, and you can even remind me to slow the F down.
Stanford University Clinical Associate Professor, Pediatrics – Cardiology