When You Have Toothache, You Are Enlightened

Movement Is a Gift
Do you ever dread the thought of working out? Or, maybe the thought of setting your alarm an hour earlier to squeeze in your strength program sends you reaching for the snooze button? Or, perhaps you’re working with an aggressive work deadline and the thought of carving out time for a yoga class makes your hamstrings hurt just thinking of downward facing dog. I’ve certainly been there. But a few months ago, I decided to shift my thought patterns and think of exercise as a “get to” activity, not a “have to” activity.
When You Have Toothache, You Are Enlightened
Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Zen Monk, used an analogy when he spoke to a group of therapists saying, “When you have a toothache, you are enlightened—you know something very important—that not having a toothache is a wonderful thing.” He went on to say, “When you do not have a toothache, you don’t seem to enjoy it.” For the past eight months, I've been dealing with neck and back injuries that have forced me away from my strength, conditioning, and vinyasa yoga sessions. And let’s be clear…those workouts are my therapy, and I didn't fully understand their importance.  

Until recently, I was working approximately 60+ hours/week, and workouts were just one more thing on my “to do” list. I slogged through workouts, thinking of all of the things I should be doing. I was thinking of exercise as a stale chore; or, a “have to” activity.  Exercise certainly didn't feel like a gift. However, when I was injured, all I craved was my old routine.  It took being injured to realize that being able to exercise is a wonderful thing; and, not being injured is a wonderful thing. Or, as Thich Nhat Hanh insightfully said, “not having a toothache is a wonderful thing.”  
Absence Is The Teacher Of Appreciation
It’s so easy to take things for granted in life. Unfortunately, the absence of things or experiences is our teacher of appreciation sometimes. We probably don’t appreciate electricity, until it’s gone and we can’t have a hot cup of coffee in the morning.  In my case, I didn't appreciate going to the gym for my strength, conditioning, and yoga sessions until I was injured. 

After weeks of treatments with my occupational therapist (O.T.), I was itching to get back to my typical strength, conditioning, and yoga sessions, but my body wasn't quite ready. Also, I was instructed to “take it slow” by my O.T. I wanted to move so badly that I had to rethink my exercise style. To enjoy the gift of movement, I had to be willing to try different approaches. I had to be creative, gentle, and patient with my body. While my injuries were healing, I delved deeper into my gentle yoga and meditation practice, went for walks, did bike workouts, and listened to my body.  These were all underdeveloped practices in my exercise programming. So, being injured also taught me the gift of exploring exercise with a gentle approach.  

Seven months have passed, and I’m now easing back into my strength and conditioning program. I’m also making restorative exercise a priority. I was so fortunate to experience this lesson.  Not having a toothache, or in my case a backache, is a wonderful thing. I even think twice before hitting snooze for most of my early workouts. So, the next time you’re thinking of all the reasons not to exercise, say to yourself, “I get to exercise,” instead of, “I have to exercise.” Give yourself the gift of movement. Happy Holidays!

Jessica Sharpenstein, M.S., C.W.C.