In 10 or 11 oh-so-careful steps, I can get from one end of this balance beam to the other.
It started as a brain-body exercise, a way I could gauge my recovery from a 2008 TBI. But soon the feat of crossing the little balance beam became much more: a way to connect with people during this time of isolation and masks.
I found the beam a few weeks ago on my usual run, after something made me turn right instead of left when I got to Lake Michigan. I eventually came upon my new toy, part of a “fitness trail” of exercise equipment.
“This looks fun,” I thought (or possibly said out loud, because masks make that socially acceptable).
After stretching, I carefully stepped up, noting that the thing isn’t any wider than my shoe. I made sure my hips were level and my abs were sucked in (yoga training) before slowly planting my other foot ahead.
Many tries later, I managed a few steps before falling off—always landing on my feet. Good thing that beam is less than a foot high.
By the end of the week, I was able to make it across; in another week, I’d learned to pivot at the end and sometimes cross back. I kept improving, but some days I just kept falling. (More yoga wisdom: Every day is different.)
Better day, better balance
So my brain was getting tons of stimulation, and I was having a blast!
But as I said, it’s really the social aspect of my daily-ish beam routine that’s made it worth my brain’s while. Who cares about some middle-aged lady waddling along a curved strip of metal, falling off and getting back on again and again, putting on warmer layers of clothing when necessary because she’s too stubborn to give up?
Apparently, lots of people.
I gladly stepped off and aside when a mother and her kids stopped by. The young girl and boy made quick work of the beam, but the mom said there was no way she could do it. The kids and I traded tai chi and yoga moves before they walked on.
Then there was the man who said he’d seen me at my quest (well, what would you call it, obsession?) and admired my determination. We actually introduced ourselves. S-O-N-Y (sounds like Sonny, I think, but … masks).
I started getting balance advice, too. Guy With Dog (guy masked, dog not) urged me to look ahead and slightly down, instead of at my feet. (That’s a yoga wisdom fail on my part: To keep your balance, gaze at a drishti, or calming point, downward in the distance.)
Similar advice came from a 20-something passerby named Vince, who was accompanied by Mary. We had a long, socially distanced conversation when I learned about Mary’s epilepsy. That’s a condition I’ve had since the car accident that led to my brain injury.
Unfortunately, in her case the grand mal seizures are not treatable by medication or surgery. (I didn’t get her number, but if I see them again I’ll recommend our neurologist, who specializes in intractable epilepsy, as my husband suggested.)
Another day, out later than usual, I met two fellow regular beamers, Ellen and a different Mary. We exchanged phone numbers and texts. Ellen’s a yogini, like me, so we did a few poses for fun on solid ground.
She can walk the beam backward but hasn’t mastered the pivot. Mary had been afraid to beam-walk but figured if I can learn … Anyway, backward beaming is not among my goals.
Bad selfie of me, Mary and Ellen
A piece of advice that has proven especially useful came last week from an elderly woman named Christiane (“like Amanpour”). She critiqued my technique between fascinating tales (“Oh, wait; that reminds me of another story”) of a childhood in Europe and a stint with the circus—she switched topics too quickly for my brain to figure out when she was in Germany and Switzerland, and her mask obscured her age. Also, she may well have just seen “The Sound of Music.”
Who cares? Her advice—to keep a slight bend in my knees and tilt my pelvis up so I’m not even slightly bending forward—has gotten me to a personal best of seven times across and back, with pivots!
Does it always work? No.
Do I always have fun trying? Yes.
Am I about to put off finishing this blog piece so I can go running to the lake and play on the beam? You bet!
While I’m gone, please enjoy this photo of my former Beam Queen daughter. This was taken when she was a high school senior, but she went on to become a college champion.
Now, where were we?
Mostly it’s been nice just to have conversations with people, whether it’s discussing the constantly changing beauty of Lake Michigan with Ellen and Mary, sympathizing with the other Mary over the injuries she’s suffered during seizures or agreeing with a passing couple that “We’re all crazy now” after they’d caught me talking to myself on the beam about which song I have to keep in my head to avoid falling off. (It’s the theme to “The Bob Newhart Show.”)
One day this week I was crossing the balance beam after pivoting when I heard clapping. It was Sony.
“Lisa, you’re doing great!”
I think we all are.