Treating the whole body
Furthermore, where that pain is located is probably also not the problem, Esquer says. Usually, pain in the shoulder indicates a deeper problem in the body, often starting from the hip or foot or even your pelvic floor not functioning properly. This, Esquer says, is a perfect example of why we have to think in terms of the body as a whole, not individual parts—something contraindicated in her college science courses.
“When we think of the pain as the problem, that’s where we miss the bigger picture of us moving as a whole,” she says. “So acknowledging that pain is not bad, it’s just a signal in your body talking to you. Learn to acknowledge that and say, ‘OK, how can I look at my body as a whole?’”
So how do we learn to treat our body from a whole-body perspective?
Increase your physical awareness. Esquer wants you to get internally present but to seek out an expert for help with this, as well. “That could look like dropping in to see a physical therapist and just getting an overall picture of where your body might be having these compensations or restrictions or strength issues or motor-pattern issues,” she says.
Ditch the “good” or “bad” movement mentality and opt for variability. For Esquer, movement is movement. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing, as long as you’re moving and not sitting on the couch. “Then it becomes how can we start to sprinkle in some different variability within your movement? So if you’re only running, how can we add on different things? If you’re only doing yoga, how can we add on different things?” she asks. “It’s about exploring what our bodies can do. Because our bodies are amazing and really do so much for us. No one way is good and one way is bad. Instead, let’s have compassion for our body, and let’s ease into movement and find where we can flow better between the two.”
Make mobility a priority. “It’s literally our foundation,” Esquer says. As babies, we were mobile—always on the move crawling, standing and walking. But as adults, we sit at a desk and in cars, all day in stiffened positions, and don’t play on the floor or crawl. We lose our ability to move our joints through their full range of motion, which can be dangerous when we step into the gym, Esquer says.
“We lose mobility, and then all of a sudden, we go into workout class and think, I’m going to get really strong and look a certain way, and you get injured because you lost your foundation,” she says. “It’s so important to get down to that foundation first. It doesn’t have to be a whole hour of mobility a day. Add a couple of exercises before you get out of bed, before you work out and after you work out.”
Remember that comparison is the road to injury. When it comes to movement intensity, Esquer says, stop worrying about the person you follow on Instagram or at the gym next to you. “Focus on where you’re at in your own personal journey, and get rid of comparison,” she says.
That might mean starting with body-weight exercises. Once you’ve mastered those, start to add on weight and reps. Ask yourself why you’re working out—for a sport, for exercise, for health? “What do you really want? Start to listen to your body, and be OK with modifying, being OK with progressing over time. Learn what the difference between soreness is versus pain,” Esquer says. “Your brain’s going to believe whatever it believes, so why don’t you just start telling it a different story? Rather than saying, ‘I’m not good enough yet,’ why don’t you just start saying, ‘I am good enough. I am enough. I can do it.’”
Trust your gut. We’ve been conditioned not to trust ourselves, Esquer says. “We’ve lost this whole concept of intuition and our gut because we’re not trusting it,” she explains. “I think we’ve been conditioned to not trust ourselves and not trust our bodies and to listen to the experts—what are they saying that I need to do for my body?—rather than how are they facilitating my road into my own body?”