How An Injury Helped Me Get In The Best Shape Of My Life

Photo: @BeyondYoga

"Jessi, how do you feel? Are you 100 percent now, are you cured, is your spine fixed? Does your hip hurt? Did the surgeries work?" I take a deep breath, remind myself the question comes from a place of love, and then I bravely answer. "I am recovering. It is a process. Thank you for asking, I have good days and miserable days."

The topic comes up every day, and why wouldn't it? People are curious by nature about my injury. Clients are wondering from a fitness aspect, but, more importantly, they truly care. I have cultivated this powerful connection to people, relationships with some who have been on this journey with me for decades. I am a teacher, I educate, and I believe in the message that knowledge is power. So I share. I write about my extraordinary experiences and every day I speak about how I am managing to persevere through my recovery so my students can relate to me on an even deeper level. In a way, it is flattering because most of the curiosity surrounds my appearance.

So the real quandary is, how does a healthy girl, coach, and health instructor stay in shape after three consecutive surgeries? Here's the truth. Challenges are part of life, and I am no stranger to adversity—I always come out of that dark tunnel brighter than when I went in.

And in the case of injury, I came back stronger. Here's how.

I cultivated a daily practice of gratitude.

I got into a habit of daily gratitude. One of my jobs is teaching group fitness classes. Part of my recovery consisted of conditioning my body to be comfortable just walking again, and I taught myself to be grateful for that.

To give you an idea, 10,000 steps is a goal for most folks. In just two hours I walk anywhere from 2,500 to 4,500. That is not including the "teaching" aspect of my job—I am not just calling out moves. I get down and personal with students, correcting form, demonstrating exercises. Emotionally, it is an energetic job mentally and physically. If I could do it in pain before surgery, I was determined to do it again after, minus the pain—well, that was the idea.

This was when my creative juices needed not just to flow, but flood. And I was thankful for that.

Photo: Jessi Piha

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I worked on strengthening my upper body.

My goal became living my life with less pain than when I went into the hospital. Physical therapy is not designed for normality—it's a tough process of getting back to functionality and retraining your mind to forget how we tolerated pain for so long. I lived in acceptance of my body's condition. My psyche became used to the discomfort, so it is a long road to the new reality, free from chaos.

I rejiggered my workout routine, training my upper body using anything I could find. Light dumbbells, bands, balls, water bottles, chairs, skateboard, and gravity. I tied resistance tubes to my bed frame and used them for shoulder, triceps, and biceps resistance exercises. Walking on crutches in itself is a workout for my arms and abs, but, even better, it forced me to maintain posture and build stamina.

Photo: @the_food_athlete

I became ultra aware of my alignment.

I rediscovered muscles that were neglected for years due to overcompensation and pain. Wall pushups and squats, Dyna-Bands tied at the door jam; my home became a gymnasium. I kept it moving, pushing myself yet listening to my body when I needed rest. I used a thoughtful balance of smart activity, meditation, and nourishment.

So, what about this 100 percent? It's just a number, right? It has implications, though, that the under 100 percent are somehow struggling. A perfect performance only exists on a scale by Olympian standards, but other than that I do not believe it exists. As a teacher, woman, and human, when I try, then I do—and there is no such thing as failing; there is success in the attempt alone.

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