Thursday, March 30, 2017

Rebuilding Your Thigh Muscles After Surgery

Since having both of my hips replaced, I have been slowly getting back into shape, while being careful not to overdo. Initially, I just did household tasks as physical therapy. While in the hospital, I was given a sheet of physical therapy exercises to do; I did them there and once I got home. I was careful not to do too many repetitions. I had heard stories of people over exercising after hip replacement surgery, and then having problems with bursitis and tendonitis.

My surgeon and his assistant recommended walking and riding the stationary bike, so I did those, too. At first the bike really aggravated my hip joints, so I waited. Little by little, I was able to add more activity. It took a long time, but eventually I was doing some yoga and pilates each night before bed. I felt like the class I gave myself was simple, but it felt healing and relaxing.

After about a year and a half, I decided to try doing the Bikram Yoga sequence. I had tried it twelve months after my operation, but again, my hip flexors burned, and it felt wrong... so I stopped. In the meantime, my thigh muscles had atrophied. Because I was a professional dancer for so many years, I had never seen my leg muscles just waste away like they did. I had to severely limit what I did the three years before having the surgery. One by one, I was giving up my favorite activities. I could no longer do yoga, pilates, ride my bike, or work in the garden. Forget about dancing. I stopped going for walks because people would stare at my gait. (which my neighbor described as "atrocious".) I was bent forward from the waist, and my father told me that I looked like a little old lady. My thighs had shrunk, and were the size of my boyfriend's arms. "We've got to get some weight on you," he would tell me. I would get very defensive, because people kept making comments about how skinny my legs were. The seniors at the pool all assumed I was anorexic, and would shake their heads at me.  It was the osteoarthritis. I really was wasting away. I felt a sense of dismay and deep worry. I had always taken my health for granted. I almost never got sick, and I had never had a weight problem. Unlike a lot of women, I had always been happy with my body, because of the way dance and yoga had shaped it. Now I looked like I  had a disease.   

After the surgery, I noticed a huge difference. My bones were in the right place, and I had a liner to replace the cartilage, I could use my muscles. I couldn't believe the difference a few short years had made in my legs. The skin looked like a baggy sack. My thighs had become lumpy, like cottage cheese. I had always had very toned, strong, dancer's legs. It was a blow to my ego. I told myself just to be grateful that I was no longer in pain. I didn't want to get injured, and THR requires a very long recovery. I walked, rode my bike, did my easy yoga, and watched the rest of my body become more toned and cut. My thighs still looked sluggish and soft.

I began taking a few ballet classes a week, working in a barely turned out first position. I focused on the upper body, and did very little from the waist to the feet. I decided not to put any strain on my hip or knee joints. I found I was able to do a half set of Bikram Yoga at home on the days that I didn't dance. I remembered that Juliet Prowse had both of her hips replaced, and she still had gorgeous legs. When I worked with her, I noticed that she did Bikram Yoga every day, and she also took Pilates classes. She was very dedicated. I figured if she was able to get her legs back in shape, maybe I could, too.

I noticed an immediate difference after adding back the Vaganova ballet and Bikram Yoga sequence. These were familiar exercises to my body, and they work in very sophisticated ways. Finally, my legs started to take shape again. I had never understood how women could get soggy legs, and the surgery taught me first hand how much harder it is to gain muscle when it isn't already there. Since I had been a young gymnast and dancer, I had never really had that experience.  Part of me was going to give up, because I thought it was just age and nerve damage from the surgery. Now I am seeing that it isn't. It's going to take time and work, but my dancer's legs will return, I can see the beginning.         

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Using Your Natural Abilities

Each of us has natural, in born gifts that are unique and individual.  Often, we aren't even aware of these talents, because they come so easily to us. As a dancer, I always had a very muscular physique. I was also very strong. The problem was, I was extremely stiff. There were many things I couldn't do, because I was so inflexible. My ballet teacher told me that I would never be a dancer. When I tried to sit in a straddle, my back was humped, and my legs were about half as wide as the other girls'. I didn't understand why I couldn't do the stretches that the rest of the class could do so easily It was just impossible for me. It wasn't until I was 51 that I found out I had some childhood hip dysplasia. My hip sockets are shallow. My hip surgeon pointed it out to me while studying my xray. That's why I couldn't get into the positions the other girls could, like bringing the knee to the chest.   To make up for it, I developed my sense of line. I studied how the men used their port de bras. I noticed that the male teachers we had possessed beautiful arms positions, and I could match them. I could see that this was very important in dance. Even if my leg wasn't as high, I could make the line of the body still look very beautiful. Sometimes it seemed to me that the high extensions distorted the line. It was a skill that I had, and I worked on it with an exactness and focus that helps me to this day. Because  I was very lean and toned, I looked good in the costumes, which also helped. The costume designers always beamed when I came out of the dressing room for a fitting. It was a great feeling. They were happy and I was happy. Although it came from hours and hours of classes and work, it was still a gift. For some reason, my body responded incredibly well to good training. Not all bodies do. This helped me get hired for many shows. I was also used in many publicity shots for the newspaper. I felt lucky at the time that the photographers were choosing me. Now I see that a lot of it was because I had the body. I looked like a dancer. To capitalize on that, I always wore nice leotards and tights, and I showed my legs. I made sure I did my make up carefully, and I fixed my hair and got haircuts that were flattering. So much of show business is how you look. People respond to what they see immediately, and the stakes are high. There are so many beautiful girls at those auditions.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Yoga Breathing For Pain Management

Yoga breathing is one of the most useful tools I have ever learned to block pain and to manage fear. Each evening, I start my yoga practice with inhaling for eight counts, holding for eight counts, and exhaling for eight counts. I repeat this cycle several times, usually for at least five minutes. It's very relaxing and it calms the mind. After setting myself up this way, I move into the next section of my practice.  

When at the dentist, I find that this breathing exercise is incredibly helpful to use during the novocaine shot. It enables me to relax and remain calm. Rather than focusing on pain, or the sensation of the needle, I shift my attention to counting the breaths. My dentist has told me that he wishes all of his patients knew how to breathe like I do. It makes his job easier.

When I had my hips replaced, the anesthesiologist asked me if I wanted a tranquilizer. I declined, and told him that I would do my yoga breathing to stay calm. It gave me a focus, and it worked. When I woke up after the surgery was completed, I was still counting to eight, as I did  the inhale, hold, and exhale. The nurse in recovery asked me to stop. She said that my intense breathing was throwing off their machines. I heard her tell the doctors that my vital signs were strong. I kind of chuckled to myself. Even though the operation had taken three hours, I was still breathing and counting in segments of eight as soon as I awoke. Dancers are that way...very intense with their discipline. The nurse in pre op had told me that I would need that breathing for the pain in the recovery room. She was right. It was so useful, and since I had practiced it every day for so many years, it had become a part of my routine. Once they wheeled me up into my room, I was given something in the iv that completely numbed the surgical area.

When we know we can control pain with our breathing, it gives us a sense of personal power and capability. We are less prone to panic or feel like victims. Breathing through pain is free, and it's easy to do. Not everyone understands it, but once you do, it can really bring relief and confidence in your own self healing abilities.    

Friday, March 17, 2017

Being Careful with Physical Therapy

The only time I have ever worked with a physical therapist was in the first few days in the hospital after my bilateral hip replacements. I did a lot of research before having my hips replaced, and I was concerned that doing the physical therapy would cause pain. I had read stories of people who said that their pain skyrocketed a few hours after doing the exercises. I made a conscious decision to listen to my body, and not to push. I knew that a big part of the reason that I had to have my hips replaced was because I had literally worked them to the bone. After 47 years of dancing, I had worn away all of the cartilage. I was determined to learn the lessons from this experience and to not make the same mistakes again.

My surgery was the first one scheduled for the day. My neighbor picked me up at 4:00 a.m. and drove me to the hospital in Santa Monica. I was wheeled into the operating room at 7:00 a.m. and was finished shortly after 10:00 a.m. I don't remember how long I was in recovery. Later that afternoon, they asked me if I wanted to get up and to walk. I declined. "I just want to lay perfectly still," I answered. As long as I did that, I felt safe. I did a lot of prayer and healing visualization.  My reaction was like that of an injured animal. I wanted to protect the parts of me that felt vulnerable. My hips didn't hurt, but my thigh bones felt very tender. They had done a lot of hammering and drilling into the femur. The pain medications that they gave me worked like a charm, but I was still aware of the trauma that my body had experienced. The last thing I felt like doing was exercising. The idea of walking laps around the hospital seemed kind of crazy to me.

They brought me dinner, which was kind of exciting. For some reason I didn't expect it. Maybe I had read somewhere that I wouldn't be eating any solid food until the following day. Dr. Matta had told me that vegetarians don't do well with this surgery, so I had been eating plenty of meat leading up to it. I wanted to do all that I could as far as diet and preparation.

The next day I met the physical therapist. I quickly realized that she was going to push me. I told her that I just wanted to do the minimal amount of the exercises, and to see how I felt afterward. I did ten repetitions comfortably and then stopped. They recommended doing between ten and thirty repetitions. She was surprised at how easily I did them. I had looked the movements up on line and worked on some of them before the surgery. She could tell. Some I couldn't do at the time because   I was bone on bone, but now I could.

For the walking, she put sort of an adult leash on me, and had me use a walker. I didn't like the leash or how it felt to walk, but I kept my comments to myself and tried to stay positive. "Right, left, right, left," I whispered. I pretended I was walking to music.  Once of the mantras that I gave myself in the hospital was, "Cooperate." The walking felt wrong. I would have rather waited, but I just did it. I felt a sense of them being in a rush at the hospital to get me to do the exercises and to discharge me.  My own feeling was that there was plenty of time.

I kept that approach to the physical therapy  throughout the first year of my recovery. I worked up to a total of thirty repetitions each day of the exercises I had learned in the hospital. I could have easily done more, but I decided not to push. Dr. Matta tells his patients that for the first few weeks, your household tasks are your physical therapy. I loved that attitude. It made so much sense to me. It was true, and it felt safe, logical, and sensible.

Although many people have a physical therapist come to their house, or they go to a special center for rehabilitation, I did my own routine. My recovery was excellent, and I didn't have any problems. I firmly believe that less is more after having a total hip replacement. Thankfully I didn't experience any tendinitis or bursitis, just a gradual and consistent healing. Patience was key.       

Thursday, March 16, 2017

How Emotions Color Your Dancing

A few weeks ago, an adult dancer in the ballet class I take came up to me and said, "I love watching you dance. You look so happy." I laughed and thanked her. I was so surprised and flattered at her compliment. "That's because I couldn't dance for a year" I admitted. "I am really happy to be dancing again. I thought I never would." It really struck me, though. I hadn't realized that anyone was watching me.  At age 52, I am definitely probably the oldest one there, and I no longer have the extensions or the turnout that I had when I was younger. It made me realize, though, that the emotions are the most important ingredient in dancing. They come through your face, your expression, your port de bras, and your musicality.

Most of us began dancing after seeing an exciting performance. Live theater gives you that feeling of  passion, thrill, and joy. There is nothing like being on stage. When you feel that as an artist, the audience will feel it, too. Your hearts will connect.

When we are upbeat, positive, and focused, we have a spring in our step. This gives us a youthfulness and a vitality, regardless of our age. If a dancer is bored or depressed, their body language changes immensely. Everything droops and drops. We are like flowers that need to stretch upward to the sun. The same thing goes for negative emotions like anger. Ask any dancer, if you are angry or upset, your pirouettes go out the window. You need to be relaxed, confident, and centered to turn.

After I had my hips replaced, I didn't think I would ever dance again. I have had to alter the way I work, exchanging things that I no longer can do for artistry, musicality, and emotional expression. What's interesting is that it still gives me the same rush of energy and excitement that it did when I was technically proficient. I feel kind of like a three legged dog running on the beach. I am just happy to be there. I don't compare myself to others, or to how I used to be. I work with what I have, and refocus on living my life's purpose. Every dancer needs to dance. It's such a part of our identity. When we let go of expectations, we can still fly.    

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

How Yoga Helps Your Ballet

I recently started practicing Bikram Yoga at home again. I've done it for a total of six times in the past couple of weeks. I decided to do a half set, just to see how my body would react. I was a bit hesitant, because of my two artificial hips. I had heard stories of people dislocating after going back to Bikram Yoga too soon. That's the last thing you want after making it through this surgery. I decided to wait and let everything heal thoroughly. In my case, it has been a year and a half since my bilateral surgery. I had been doing an easy Hatha series that I had designed, and had added some Pilates exercises, as well. After running into a gorgeous 78 year old woman who swears by Bikram Yoga, I decided to give it a try once again. The results were excellent. I didn't push, and I held the poses for a short time. I was able to do all of them, except for the toe stand.

Today in ballet class I received several compliments from people, which I didn't expect. The teacher, his wife, and  the pianist all gave me positive feedback. I really think the Bikram Yoga is giving me more power and confidence. I can see that my body is becoming leaner and more defined again. I had almost given up on regaining that muscle tone that I had as a professional dancer. The Bikram series just seems to make my muscles pop. It works from deep inside of the body and
out through the skin. It's also helping my balance. When you don't use your legs as a former professional dancer, those muscles that you used to rely on atrophy and disappear. In my case, after the surgery, my thighs started to look like cottage cheese. I tried bicycling, walking, and basic yoga poses. They still looked soggy and like they had aged severely. The rest of my body looked toned, but not my thighs. 

I am seeing a change now. The Bikram series gets easier each time I do it. It's like my body remembers it, and enjoys the routine and repetition. Eventually I will work up to doing each of the poses twice, but for now, I am just doing them once. My surgeon recommended that I work gradually, once I started exercising again. It's better to do less, than to overdo and cause a setback. It's quite amazing how our bodies can heal. I feel on a solid road to recovery.