I noticed the occasional discomfort in my left shoulder a couple weeks back, right after I returned to San Francisco from a stint at my place in Los Angeles. The ache went up the left side of my neck and radiated a bit higher on the left side of my head and down to my left shoulder blade and upper arm. It was nothing painful enough to prevent me from moving through the day, working, or socializing, but it was evident.
During my annual physical, I told my doctor about the pain, and she asked me if I had done anything out of the ordinary that might have strained those muscles, tendons, and joints. I thought for a second and said that, other than the usual lifting and schlepping when I relocate from city to city, the only thing I could think of that might have precipitated some damage was a vigorous program of yoga stretching I’d been doing. Her eyebrow raised — the one on the left, coincidentally.
“How strenuously were you stretching?” she asked. “I was doing some serious elongation,” I replied. I’ve always thought, the more stretchy the stretch, the looser and more pliable the body. “Hmmm,” she said, both of her eyes narrowing. “Maybe I was pushing it a bit,” I mused, recalling my “no pain, no gain” approach to what I now presume should be gentle extension, not bouncing and grunting. “You’re not supposed to stretch until you hurt yourself,” she said, adding that injuries due to yoga are not uncommon, despite the ancient practice’s long-touted benefits.
HARVESTING A MUSCLE PULL
Later on, I remembered: Right before I drove north to S.F., I decided it would be prudent to harvest some navel oranges and avocados from a couple of the trees in my yard. As I am wont to say, one of the most gratifying things about my time spent in L.A. is receiving the bounty of my own orchard. But getting the goods often requires the use of a picker — one of those long poles with a metal grabber at its end. And if the tasty target of my desires is just a little out of the reach of my hand or the picker, I will go on tiptoes and stretch my left arm as much as possible in pursuit of my goal, with little heed to the possibility of pulling a muscle or popping a socket.
When I think about ostensibly healthful things like yoga or fresh produce, it’s difficult for me to imagine that they could harm a body, even inadvertently. I’m no betting man and I’m certainly no medical detective, but I’d be willing to wager that my shoulder and neck discomfort was the result of overly enthusiastic stretching or fruit-picking . . . or both. It would be like tripping and falling face-first into the sidewalk while jogging. Or tumbling into the sea and nearly drowning while fishing for salmon, getting one on the line, and having to fight to land the damned thing. That fish may be rich in Omega-3 and good for you when grilled and served with a side of steamed asparagus, but you don’t wanna die from trying to catch it yourself. Even if you get your fruit, vegetables, and seafood at Whole Foods and everything is deemed “artisan” and properly sourced, there’s the danger of choking while dining. Okay. That might be a stretch, so to speak.
MODERATION IN ALL THINGS, AND INVITE THE FRIENDS
I know you’re never supposed to overdo exercise, and you should be careful not to eat too much or, as my father used to say, inhale your food, but it’s kind of bizarre to think that something generally considered good for you could actually do you harm in one way or another. It’s like patriotically complimenting something by suggesting it’s as American as baseball, hotdogs, or apple pie when people are beaned by baseballs, get indigestion from hotdogs, and, well . . . I can’t say anything bad about apple pie. It’s always delicious. Still, you get my drift.
So what are we to do if things that are good for us can also do us harm? For my part, I’m not going to live in fear. I’m going to stretch more carefully when I do yoga. And maybe I’ll invite some friends over to the house in L.A. the next time the oranges and avocados are ripe. They can grab what they can, and I’ll just take some off the top. They can even use the picker — if they dare.
Michael Snyder is a print and broadcast journalist who covers pop culture on “Michael Snyder’s Culture Blast,” via GABnet.net, Roku, Spotify, and YouTube, and “The Mark Thompson Show” on KGO radio. You can follow Michael on Twitter: @cultureblaster