Ouch. Is a sore lower back a possible impact of Covid?
I’ve been in quarantine along with my 11-year-old son, Simon, after we tested positive for Covid. We missed family Christmas, but have had relatively mild cases and have been making the best of it. I’ve made serious progress on my to-do list and have had more time to write, think, and practice. My not-husband and I are taking turns making dinner, and in the evenings we watch a movie or play a board game.
Between working on the computer, interacting with Simon, and mundane rituals, I’ve been practicing and writing. Today I practiced sitting meditation for 45 minutes right after I woke up in front of an altar made to celebrate my recent graduation from the 5Rhythms teaching training program. Later in the morning I did yoga. And meditated again after lunch. It wasn’t until mid-afternoon that I finally got around to 5Rhythms practice.
I’ve been hobbled by a sore back since yesterday; and I wasn’t sure if it was advisable or even if I would find any inspiration.
I thought of something Gabrielle Roth, the founder of the 5Rhythms practice, wrote in her first book Maps to Ecstasy about a student who was having severe back problems. She wrote, “After doing the rhythms for several months, her whole body started to loosen up. Now, when her back starts seizing up, she moves gently to the rhythms rather than giving in to the spasms, and the tension eventually subsides.”
I vowed to move gently and rolled up the living room rug to reveal the hardwood dance floor beneath, put on a playlist I already had made, and settled in. The day before my practice had been flat, and I wasn’t sure what I would find.
I began to move in Flowing to a lullabye-sounding song that I danced to with Simon on my shoulder when he an infant. I felt fully engaged, and looped around the space, feeling the soft give of my feet, rocking up like the swinging pirate ship ride at the amusement park, and falling slowly back down the other side of the loop, then turning and circling and rocking upward again. I felt no rush to progress beyond Flowing, and was grateful that the playlist still had two more flowing songs to move with. I remember now that I was also crying in this part.
I sneezed hard and felt the muscles in my lower back clench, and wondered if frequent sneezing might be a factor in the lower back distress.
As the playlist cued me into Staccato, I discovered that raising my knees high and crossing over the midline of my body caused pain, so I found different ways to move instead. The staccato songs on this playlist are irresistible to me, and today was no exception. Before long I was moving in sweeping diagonals, stepping back and across hard, turning and even dropping low. A fast Staccato Chaos song brought me even lower and jittered me, flipping me through the spine, and continued to pull me along. “Just take this ride, Meg. Don’t push anything,” I reminded myself.
The first chaos song was a delightful, twisting jazz track that coils me in every direction and angle, and today was no exception. I thought about skipping the song to try to avoid too much twisting, but something interesting started happening. Some kind of chemical release in the legs and spine. I wondered if Covid was working its way out of the spine and out of the body, and dug a little deeper, let go a little more, gave myself a little more permission, and let the sacrum lead the rest of me into release.
The last chaos song was wild, and I growled with ferocity, trusting something in me, in my body, in my ancestors, in my teachers, that told me this dance was necessary, that told me I was moving something that needed to move, even as I shuddered, sunk low in the hips, jumped my knees in crazy forward and side-out patterns, and contorted and released my face as my released head whipped all around.
Lyrical found me grateful, shining. Still moving with engagement, though with slight hesitation.
During the one brief Stillness song, I watched my hands in the darkened TV screen that is mounted on the living room wall, gave thanks, and almost immediately started thinking about all the things I would accomplish in the afternoon.
Then I put myself in the shower to rinse off whatever poured out in sweat and sat myself down to write.
Meghan LeBorious is a writer, teacher, and meditation facilitator who has been dancing the 5Rhythms since 2008 and recently became a 5Rhythms teacher. She was inspired to begin chronicling her experiences following her very first class; and she sees the writing process as an extension of practice—yet another way to be moved and transformed. This blog is not produced or sanctioned by the 5Rhythms organization. Images in this post are courtesy of the writer.
“Yes, he’s definitely sick. But I can’t reach his parents and there is nowhere else to put him, so I’m sending him back to your class.”
I held the phone receiver and scanned the full classroom as I huddled near the door, speaking with the school nurse.
“But if he’s sick, I don’t think it’s a good idea if he’s in the classroom. There are over 20 students in here. What if it’s Covid.”
“Listen, I can guarantee you’ve already had sick kids in your room. Just make sure everyone keeps the mask on. I’m sorry, but it’s the only option,” the nurse said firmly.
Symptoms started for me on Tuesday night, though I wasn’t sure it was Covid. I woke up at 3AM with a headache and felt odd. I wasn’t sure if my mind was playing tricks on me, or if I had some kind of allergies or sinus infection. Simon, my 11-year-old son, seemed ok, but I kept both of us home as a precaution.
Both of us had waited in line for four hours on Saturday and tested negative on the PCR and rapid test. I left Simon home by himself and went again to wait in the long line for testing. Again, I got a negative on a rapid test.
Extended family held their breath as we waited for PCR results. Late Thursday they finally came in.
“Negative! That’s great! It’s going to be a great Christmas this year. We’ll see you tomorrow,” my Dad said.
The rattle-y, respiratory dissonance must be from a cold or some other kind of virus, I reasoned. I would wear a mask just in case. I continued to wrap gifts and pack for our trip.
The next morning, Christmas Eve Day, Simon’s symptoms started to kick in. I heard him coughing before I even got out of bed. I was able to get an immediate sick visit at his doctor.
“You both tested negative on the weekend, and you just got negative PCR results yesterday? And you’ve been in since Tuesday night? You’re probably good then. I could just swab him in case since you’re here, though.”
The doctor came back and told us he was positive from outside the examination room, “No Christmas for you this year! You have to stay home,” she said. Then ushered us quickly out while opening up the window and rushing in with Lysol.
By sheer luck, I was able to get hard-to-find rapid tests at the pharmacy across the street from Simon’s doctor. This time, mine also came back positive.
This was a frightening near miss. My parents, Simon’s grandparents, are 71 years old.
I don’t know for sure if I was infected by my student. There is so much Covid at the moment, it is hard to say. Many of my students’ families have shared that their kids have symptoms, but were not able to officially test because they couldn’t wait in line for hours and couldn’t find rapid tests at any local stores.
I put away all the stuff I was packing to go away for the holiday. Then I cleaned the shit out of the apartment, picked some music that called me, and settled in to dance.
My living room is easily converted to a dance studio. The rug has a big, long cut so I can easily roll it without moving the couch off it and reveal the hardwood floor. I swept the grit from underneath it, too.
This time I decided to record myself dancing, something I haven’t done since the first long year of Covid.
The first song I play is “Fairytale of New York” by the Pogues – which starts out with the lyrics:
“It’s Christmas Eve, babe
In the drunk tank
An old man said to me, won’t see another one.”
In the video, as soon as the melancholy story starts, so do my tears. I think I was crying for multiple reasons, including the exhaustion of nearly two years of fear and anxiety. I fall right into lively spinning and dipping despite the phlegm in my throat and lungs. Part of the song shifts into Lyrical as the story moves into a fantasy about New York, and I move with energy in tracked and lifting circles.
I took care to breathe extra deeply, and to drink a lot of water. I had to stop often to blow my nose, especially when I was crying.
I included extra flowing songs in this playlist, as I anticipated a lot of inertia due to illness, but (to my surprise) when I stepped in, I had plenty of energy and inspiration. I continued to circle, sometimes wobbling backward into my hips, swaying from side to side as I lifted from spin and back into it. My arms look released and awake, and these little ribbons of Lyrical keep lifting them up and then dropping me back into low, weighted, grooved spinning.
“We Might as Well Dance” by Madeleine Peyroux, a song suggested to me by a friend, brings my circling to an ever-wider radius. I alternate between gratitude and grief, sometimes smiling, sometimes holding my sore swollen throat and groaning.
I started thinking about the Italian folk dance, the Tarantella. There are some conflicting accounts, but some believe that the dance originally arose as a way to save the life of a villager who had been bitten by a poisonous spider. The idea was that to survive, the victim would have to dance the poison out. Musicians would play wildly to keep her moving and the entire community would assemble to dance along, for hours or even sometimes days, to help the dancer stay alive.
A new staccato song I can’t trace the origin of comes on. The beginning is mysterious and I’m not even sure it’s a staccato track, but within 20 seconds I’m hooked in – dancing right back into my hips, low. I make the arm of the couch a partner, sweeping my leg over it, pausing mid air, pushing my foot against it and finding a whole new set of movements. Thankfully, though the song is energetic, there are a lot of spacious rests and the tempo is not too fast. During a pause I cough heavily, then start this diagonal dropping and cutting, bringing the knees in ferociously, letting the elbows express themselves freely, sometimes in big arcs in front of my face, sometimes leading me in a dropping spin.
I pause to cough and drink water again, still grooving, then hold both my arms out, palms up, and rock side to side while shifting one hand higher, then the other, like a living balance scale.
I started thinking of Gabrielle Roth, the creator of the 5Rhythms practice, and that she died of lung cancer. I interviewed her during the time that she had lung cancer. Once, she had to postpone because her voice was too weak to talk. I was thinking, too, of how vulnerable my own lungs felt. I imagined that Gabrielle was there with me, standing firm and holding the sides of my ribcage, sending healing to the lungs, reminding me that I had a lot of work to do in this world yet, that there was still a path in front of me.
I tried to put my parents’ neighbor, who just died of Covid at age 45 despite being vaccinated, out of my head.
Today while I’m watching back the video of myself dancing, Simon asks me to cut the sound and put on Christmas music, since it is after all Christmas morning.
“And none of that weird Christmas music from yesterday, Mom! Real Christmas music!”
I oblige, and shift to listening to Burl Ives and watching myself without music.
I look really happy and engaged in this part, I think it’s a Dre beat that I love. I can see my energy dip periodically, my shoulders and elbows lock a little, especially on the left side, then move back into sometimes blurry-fast-engaged, no-holding-back Staccato.
My arms are both extended straight up and my face is contorted. I put one hand on my ribcage and then the other, praying for my own full recovery and for Simon’s. I raise both arms back up and turn left and right at 30 degrees, straight up and down like a cake mixer, my face still crumpled. Wiping tears, I go back to moving around my entire individual dance floor – the twinkling Christmas tree in the background of the frame.
All of these long months of the pandemic, I had worked so hard to keep us safe, taking every precaution, drilling the importance of mask-wearing and hand-washing into Simon, wearing the finish off the floors with bleach cleaning, staying home for long stretches. At one point I didn’t even get into the car for over two months. I was so afraid of the long-term impacts on the body – all the horrifying accounts I’d heard, some of them first hand.
And here we were with Covid. All that aversion and warding off and pushing away and fear and constraint. And now nothing left to do but accept, drink lots of fluids, monitor ourselves, and try to avoid infecting others.
We spent Christmas eve home in Brooklyn, playing Scrabble and drawing together at the table – me, Simon and my not-husband, his father.
And now in the video it’s clear that Chaos has taken me over completely. I remember originally thinking I should pick a chaos song that wouldn’t drive too hard. And then I change my mind, add a heavy-drumming Rishi and Harshil track, and throw down: moving low, raising my knees and stepping on every fast beat like I have percussion instruments tied to my ankles. I’m going crazy now, my head released and fast, jiggling and throbbing and flinging, gestures flipping through the spine from the tailbone and out my coiling head.
I click slightly forward in the video, and now I’m smiling and playful, though still moving so fast I’m blurry. This is the lighter chaos track that I had originally picked – a song that always inspires me.
I open a door and disappear from the frame here, going to ask Simon if he will please dance with me. He declines, but I come back and set the intention to dance for both of us, energy rising up, lilting. I imagine that sickness is leaving us, exiting in whirls into the air above.
I take another drink of water, and ride the wave into Stillness, moving with a tender cover of “Higher Love.”
My aunt sent a video of multiple family members wishing Simon a Merry Christmas at a family party, and he buried his face in a pillow and cried.
Later, Simon developed a fever and was too dizzy to shower. Tylenol brought the fever down, but I was still concerned, and monitored him for a lot of the night.
Today, Christmas, I worked hard to make a happy occasion in collaboration with my not-husband. Today, Simon seemed to appreciate his gifts. He even said, “Do you ever have that feeling that you can’t stop smiling?”
Bending over to tie up my hair, I feel the weight in my lungs pulling down from the bottom to the top with gravity as I am bent upside down. Simon is drawing in his room, my not-husband is watching a video and resting. Soon, they’ll go for a walk to get some fresh air, and I’ll dance again. Maybe they’ll even dance with me later.
I’m not sure if I’m the one who has been bitten by the spider, or the villager who is supporting her in staying alive by dancing in wild frenzy at her side.
December 25, 2021
Meghan LeBorious is a writer, teacher, and meditation facilitator who has been dancing the 5Rhythms since 2008 and recently completed the 5Rhythms teacher training. She was inspired to begin chronicling her experiences following her very first class; and she sees the writing process as an extension of practice—yet another way to be moved and transformed. This blog is not produced or sanctioned by the 5Rhythms organization. Images in this post are courtesy of the writer. The blue drawing is by the artist and depicts the wing of a great horned owl.