Friday, December 4, 2015

Mind Over Muscle

Pre-stroke I worked out listening to my iPod, thoughts meandering over yesterday, today and tomorrow.  Post-stroke my mind needs to engage as much as my muscles.  First, I relax the spastic muscles in the area I want to exercise; second, I link my brain to the muscles I want to work (harder with some than others); third, I put my core muscles in proper position. Now I exercise, holding all of the above in mind as I repeat the motions.

I liken it to golf and all I had to keep in mind simultaneously to hit the ball on the sweet spot: Keep that elbow straight, rotate those hips, keep that head down – oh yeah, and try to relax! I sucked at golf.

I’m working harder at rehabilitation than I ever did at golf.  The most mentally challenging aspect for me is correcting bad habits – not just those acquired through adaptive functioning – but those that pre-exist the stroke.

Instead of keeping my feet parallel and engaging my core muscles, I turn out one foot for stability. Eric calls it my kickstand and says a lot of people do this, which contributes to the prevalence of lower back pain. I do it when I’m standing at the kitchen counter, in line at the post office, lifting weights. 

The other bad habit many of us have is to use our joints for stability instead of our muscles. It’s easier to lock our knees than to use our leg and core muscles. I use my hip like a linchpin, taking all the weight on it and cocking it as needed to move me. No wonder it hurts. 

For healthy recovery, I need to stop relying on my joints and make better use of my muscles.


  1. I was surprised to learn how mentally exhausting physical rehab is. Ditto an the bad habits that put extra stress on the back.

  2. I do the "kickstand" all the time, without realize it.

    But what exercises do you do for the core that are very repetitive?

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  4. Hi Marcelle, Thanks for your thoughts about engaging and focusing and using muscles instead of joints. Awareness helps me balance physically and mentally. When I remember to engage my focus, I sometimes overcome my shortcomings.