Saturday, October 30, 2021

Spinal Health, Meditation, and Aging Gracefully

Recently an attorney admonished a high profile political figure for not having the "courage and spine" to commit to what could be construed as a treasonous act. This is relevant, as being upright is considered moralistic, a hallmark of martial arts philosophy. Notwithstanding the clever use of metaphors, having a strong spine is essential for overall physical health. I found this out at my job about two months ago when I attempted to lift a modestly heavy container onto a hand truck causing excruciating pain in my back. An MRI has revealed two herniated discs causing nerve impingements that make work (for now) impossible. In the meantime, a pair of steroid epidurals has eased some of my pain, hopefully with lasting results.

In a previous post I've talked about my earlier diagnosis with scoliosis (spine curvature) in a positive way; how the spinal rotation in my back may have actually aided my efforts to perform spin-kicks. When I tell other practitioners this, I'm usually met with incredulity. They think I'm nuts. I'm just trying to look on the bright side. It's a coping mechanism. But as I enter my 62nd year on this realm, making lemonade out of lemons is becoming trickier. I have scoliosis, herniated discs, and an arthritic spine, something I don't relish as I approach my retirement years. Forrest Morgan, author of Living the Martial Way, divulged in an interview that degenerative arthritis is the reason for his cessation in martial arts training, though he still enjoys low-impact cardio and weight training for fitness. I'm currently doing neither.

When I told a fellow karate-ka about my blown out discs, he said to me, in all sincerity, it likely occurred because when I meditate I may be concentrating too hard on my hara. The hara (or dantian), considered the seat of power (ki) in Japanese martial arts and the site of the third chakra in Indian mysticism, roughly corresponds to the physical location of the lumbar spine injury that is wreaking havoc on my ability to go to work or basically do anything else.

Who knows, maybe I am meditating the wrong way. Is that even possible? When Western medicine first encountered meditation in the early twentieth century it was posited that seizures, psychosis, and even death could occur to the overly eager neophyte navel-gazer. I have no plans to give up my regimen of meditation, however, my future is uncertain. One euphemism for karate is "self-defense"; I need to take care of myself. We all do. I have bills to pay, but I need to tend to my health, and I find myself at a crossroads. I'm not even sure what that means for me. Time will tell. I'll have to pick some destination, no matter how uncertain it may be right now. As Yogi Berra once offered, "When you get to the fork in the road, take it."

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