Let’s Get Physical

That title may cause you to think of the 1981 Platinum hit by Olivia Newton-John. I have been thinking about a lyric from the song, but I’m not thinking about what Olivia was thinking about. In the chorus, Olivia says, “Let me hear your body talk.”

Our bodies do speak to us. Before recovery, I mostly ignored mine. I believed (wrongly) that to pay much attention to pain or new and unusual feelings was weakness. Faced with pain, my normal move was to keep going. I thought that I was being tough, but often I was just being stupid and unwise.

There are times when pain indicates injury. Something is broken or wrong. I recently broke my elbow. That was painful. The pain was an indicator that something wasn’t right and that I needed to protect that area from further damage, including even moving it too much. I could have tried to ignore the pain and gone on, but after half a century of difficult lessons, I have finally become a little wiser. A trip to the ER confirmed the break and got me a splint and sling to immobilize my arm while it healed.

Sometimes pain and discomfort indicate that we are doing hard work that should be honored. Three weeks post break I am now in physical therapy and have “homework” in the form of exercises to help me regain range of motion and strength in my left arm. When I do the movements as instructed by the therapist, it hurts. Not the same pain as the break caused but discomfort all the same. That pain indicates that I have reached the edge of my capability and provides the signal of where to stop and hold.

Sometimes pain indicates that we need to move. I have found that while the exercises can be uncomfortable, not moving is also uncomfortable, and when I sit with my arm in one place too long it starts to ache. Our bodies are made for movement. Movement is an integral part of the systems that transport fluids to bring oxygen, food, and healing into our cells and carry the waste and toxins out. Even when we are not injured, a lack of motion is unhealthy.

In therapy (the emotional and mental kind), I continue to learn how to listen to my body when it speaks to me. Not all physical symptoms (including pain) are associated with physical causes. Our bodies tell us in many ways how we are doing emotionally and mentally. If we are stressed or injured emotionally, our bodies sometimes tell us through subtle physical signs. Learning to read those signs has helped me become more aware of when I need some emotional rehab.

Communities and organizations are like bodies, made up of many individual parts working together. Pain and discomfort within the community often signal that something needs to be addressed. As leaders, we should be aware of and paying attention to the “body” of our community for these signs.

Seeing the signs is just the beginning. We must also develop the ability to discern what the signs mean and then respond appropriately. There is a time for ER’s and splints, and there is also a time for movements that are uncomfortable. Often, we must be humble and admit that we are unprepared to handle the injury alone, and we must seek the wisdom and skills of others. Ultimately, we should always be looking for the underlying cause of the signal we are receiving and address the source, rather than just the symptom. This is the very real and very physical work of being a leader, and it is The Kimray Way.