October 15th, 2005
I write to you this afternoon as a huddled mass yearning to breathe free. Yesterday morning, as I emerged from the shower, I felt the familiar spasmodic clenching of the muscles of my lower back -- a sensation that for the past several years has meant that my back was about to go out.
I don't like it when my back goes out. It usually means that I'm going to be in a lot of pain for at least a few days, and discomfort for at least a few weeks. So for the past year or so I've been doing various exercises and stretches to try to keep it from happening. Also, on the recommendation of someone I met at a party (always a sound scientific approach), I bought a little book called Treat Your Own Back.
According to that book's author, a physical therapist named Robin McKenzie, the key area is your "lordosis" -- the natural inward curve at the bottom of your spine. Modern life, he explains, often bends us unnaturally forward, eliminating the lordosis for long periods of time -- for example, while you're riding in a car, or while you're doing what I'm doing right now: sitting and typing at a computer. This flattening results in the pinching of the nerves that run through the squished area, giving us sciatica and other back-related pains. In order to combat this flattening, he writes, you must do these little exercises that restore and maintain the lordosis.
I've been doing his exercises (among others) for a while. Perhaps that's why this time (so far) my back hasn't gone out completely, as it has in the past. But what I've noticed is that maintaining the lordosis has somehow become kind of a mantra for me. ... Am I feeling on-edge? Perhaps my emotions are becoming too stretched out, and I should maintain the lordosis. ... Does our democracy depend on the flexible give-and-take of respectful disagreement? Then maybe the current infexibility of our polarized public discourse indicates that, as a nation, we need to maintain the lordosis. ...
Anyhow, right now, lordosis or no lordosis, I'm feeling kind of bedraggled. Yesterday, we were out in Menlo Park, shooting a "Wandering Josh" segment, and I stopped in at a restaurant to ask for some ice. They gave me some in a plastic bag, which (to the amusment of the restaurant staff) I gratefully stuck inside the back of my pants. And in retrospect, I think that might have been a pretty good strategy -- if only they'd double-bagged the ice. But at the point when I felt a cold dripping wetness spreading down my butt, I began to sense that perhaps it was time to rethink this particular treatment.
Which, of course, has nothing to do with maintaining the lordosis and everything to do with being very careful about putting ice in your pants.
Hmm ... I think I feel a self-help book coming. ...