Our trainer Jessi Piha is back and better than ever! This month, she shares with us the story of how she pre-habbed and rehabbed her back after a major spinal surgery on the magical Megaformer.
As your teacher I’m not just coaching you to challenge your body's physical potential, I’m compelled to encourage you to fight when you get mentally fatigued. When I tell my classes that, “I’ve got you, I have your back” I’m kinda being literal.
Some of you have been wondering where I disappeared to for a year. Even those who attended my classes regularly were surprised to hear I had a serious back situation. In fact, my surgeon was confused as to how I was functioning. After seeing my x-rays, the damage so to speak, he said the pain must be on another level. The truth is, it was unbearable, I hurt everyday. It got to the point where I flipped an auto pilot switch, I showed up, did my job and the rest of my life was spent in agony.
So what’s the story? On May 1st 2015 I went under anesthesia and sharp objects for almost 6 hours. The anterior, posterior spinal fusion performed was to correct some structural issues that contributed to a collapsed portion of my back, the part crushing some nerves. The part of this tale you may find particularly relevant is directly correlated with this beast of a machine we adore, and, at the same time curse, here at The Studio (MDR), the mighty Megaformer. I’ll get to that in a moment.
First, to answer some of your questions, no, there wasn't any grand event that landed me in a hospital bed with five, three inch screws in my vertebrae. What began at birth with a small curve in my spine was exacerbated by year's of the usual wear and tear of an active girl. I lived a "semi" normal life, playing sports, jumping out of airplanes, surfing, climbing mountains, and roller skating. What? This is totally normal for California. My point is I didn’t take “the road less traveled” in fear that back surgery would be in the my future. I mean who does that anyways? We don’t seize our days like that, waiting for something to break in our bodies. Truth be told, if it wasn't for my tenacity coupled with my love of health and fitness, things could have been much worse. The reality is anything can happen to any of us, at anytime. No one is exempt. Our bodies are precious and powerful, and yes, undoubtedly resilient. Unfortunately sometimes we take for granted this gift we were given, we ignore the signs or go into denial that something could be seriously wrong.
I wasn’t in denial, rather, I was determined to find a solution through conservative therapy, like acupuncture, chiropractors, massage, to name a few. I fought for years before I reached my breaking point. I wasn’t worth it anymore and that’s when I asked myself this question, “What is my quality of life?” Wow, it had got to that? My answer was sad, but very honest. For the past six years I was consumed 24/7 in pain. It depended on the day, the weather, how I slept, etc. It was different degrees of discomfort as the years passed, but it was always present and at the forefront of my thoughts. It’s frightening when your body you rely on to help represent part of your strength and power begins to fail. The time sucking planning of where to sit at a movie, dinner, or on a plane, the constant pondering about how will I stand on my feet for a couple hours at an event, or where can I put my leg so it’s extended rather than bent, and driving, forget it. OMG, it was exhausting. Enter big white flag. I surrender! As terrified as I was to be sliced into, I was equally as excited at the thought of having any kind of relief. Sometimes it takes strength and courage to recognize when it’s time give in. Don’t misunderstand, I didn’t give up, there’s a huge difference. I made a choice to not be in pain anymore. Fortunately for me, and some spectacular news for you as members of the Megaformer club, I was very prepared physically. I pre-habbed, if you will, and continued doing my workouts, taking classes and training myself on the Mega. I had set myself up for success. Despite the obvious issues, ironically I was in the best shape of my life, strong and toned and internally healthy. All my doctors agreed that I was a perfect candidate because of my commitment to my fitness, and overall wellness, including that I eat like a champ. Mentally was a whole other preparation too and that’s another blog.
After it was over, I’ll never forget my doctor coming in my hospital room, pleased with his work I imagined, grinning, and he says, “you did great, you’re amazing, you have the abs of a 18 year old ”. I laughed, but at the same time I was thinking to myself, “yeah, that’s right, I’m a bad ass”. But he meant it, he had his hands on my abs, like he had to “move stuff around” (not to be gross) true fact, needless to say, I felt proud.
I was walking just 7 days after the procedure, that was all I could do for the first 8 weeks. When I was cleared for PT in July, my physical therapist worked on my incisions doing soft tissue. He started me in his office just doing very minimal leg extensions, bridges and a modified plank on elbows and knees, all of this was on the massage table. When was I going to use some of the equipment in the office I wondered? This is a prominent sports and spine center, pro athletes rehab here, what about me? “Be, patient”, he kept telling me. I had imagined using cables and weight machines, lunging across the gym and I would invasion myself back at The Studio taking class. But none of that was happening. I was getting antsy so, one day at home doing my prescribed floor exercises, I got out my skateboard, (I know, a day in the life) I did my own version of our Lagree exercise Bear. I videoed it and showed the PT. He was taken aback, happy for me, impressed, and at the same time thought I was insane, in a good way. That’s when I showed him some video clips of the Mega and what I teach. I needed him to see for himself because I wanted permission to start taking classes. I was bursting to go try, to see what my new bionic back could do. My first day back I modified everything, extra springs for support, lying on my side, only worked off the front of the machine, #modifiedbeardontcare, it was a great triumph, I felt incredible, all smiles. Little by little every exercise got easier, and you all know what I mean when I say easier, I mean, DO-ABLE. It never gets easier, I was getting stronger. My PT never had me touch one piece of equipment in his office, he said I was already doing all the rehab, all of the strengthening my spine, hips and core needed. His work was done. Cue fireworks.
So, where am I at today you ask, am I totally void of pain? Well, no. Keeping it real, because that’s my style. I believe it’s to your benefit to know I understand injuries,that I’ve been there and made it through adversity. It’s a longer road than I thought it would be. However, the fabulous news is that I can sit in movies without being in the special isle seat. When I go out to eat I don’t have to have the entire booth side to myself to stretch my legs out. I can drive my own car and not be chauffeured around because it hurts to press on the gas pedal. Simple stuff like that, it’s the little things that make me happy, and It was the little things that became a chore, not fun anymore because of the chronic pain. So the news for me today is all good. The short of this story is back pain is no joke, it’s for you to determine the risk verses reward. No one would ever be able to take away my aches but me. And nobody can minimize what you go through in your own body. No, I’m absolutely not saying if your back hurts, go have surgery. I’ve shared my experience because I believe in what I teach and the benefits for me have been miraculous. I’m saying that you’re doing it now, you’re taking care of your body, you show up, work hard, and you get stronger. I say it before every class, “you got the hardest part done, you signed up, committed and showed up.”
Body awareness is a valuable tool, learn something new about your body everyday, ask questions. I’m always here to motivate you through your health and fitness journey. I would teach you all for the next hundred years to repay you for the immeasurable amount of love and support you have shown me. I am forever grateful for your generosity and inspiration! - Jessi Piha
Follow Jessi on Instagram @jessipiha and read more from Jessi over on the Beyond Yoga blog!