The night I stayed at Fukuzumiro in Hakone, Japan, something strange happened. Jet-lagged and too excited to sleep, I woke up around four am and wandered around the dimly-lit inn taking in the solemnly beautiful wooden architecture. I took a hot bath in the perfectly round omaru-buro and watched steam rise against a glass window. It was like heaven.
The next morning, I couldn’t find my mouthguard. I’ve been a night jaw-clencher and teeth-grinder since little and have worn a custom-fitted mouthguard to bed for the past six years. I clearly remembered putting it on before falling asleep under a double layer of thick futon, but next morning it was nowhere to be found. Shiho, our chambermaid, and her helper turned all the bedding inside out, but the NTI mouthguard that cost me $500 failed to show.
しょうがない。C’est la vie. Oh well, what can you do. It was as if this tiny piece of plastic grew legs over night and decided to walk away. I’d like to think it chose to stay in Fukuzumiro. Even now, I’d like to think, it is admiring vistas of evergreens and koi pond from a tatami room, listening to the sound of warm river rushing by, and lazily watching the comings and goings of vacationers. An inanimate object that was once an almost inseparable part of me is living a life outside the dank prison of my mouth. I know it’s crazy talk. Illogical as it is, when I think of my mouthguard enjoying its extended stay in Hakone, it comforts me.
I need comfort, because since I lost my mouth guard the jaw pain has gotten much worse. It hurts to chew gum and sometimes to even smile. I wake up feeling like my jaw on both sides has been pummeled with a hammer all night. The stiffness and pain reverberates through my neck and shoulders, sometimes shooting down the back like an angry fist, other times shooting up the temples like icicles. It’s tiring. Thursday morning I woke up groaning, feeling heavy and knotted up in all sorts of places. It hurt to move. So I went for acupuncture. First jolts of muscle spasms ran through me as the practitioner gently placed needles on my face, temples, neck, shoulders, hands and feet. Then blood started to flow where muscles were most tight, and waves of relief washed over me. I lay still half listening to the meditation muzak and mulling on the irony of needles easing self-inflicted pain.
I try to be grateful for pain, because pain is telling me something I need to pay attention to. It’s telling me I don’t sleep well at night because of the jaw grinding and clenching. Because I don’t sleep well, I struggle with low energy and focus. Lack of energy and focus leads to poor habits like bad food and bad posture that exacerbates the shoulder and back pain. When I’m not in pain I take my body for granted. The pain brings the focus back to a body that is more fragile than I’d like to admit. It reminds me to take better care of myself with more discipline. I can do twenty minutes of basic yoga every day and reap great benefits, but because I am lazy I skip it unless I am in pain. So I started doing yoga again and am trying to be more aware, at all times, of my posture and breathing. Move the tailbone in. Lengthen the spine from tailbone and through the crown of your head. Roll your shoulders back. Let the sternum rise above the abdomen.
The video instructs me to relax my abdomen, but keeping a straight spine requires strong abs. My abs are getting a constant workout as I shift to stand tall while riding the subway, working out on the elliptical, or walking down the hallway. It’ll be nice to have definitions in my abs when I run in my underwear NEXT Saturday, 2/16. The Cupid’s Undie Run in NYC was supposed to be held this afternoon but was rescheduled due to storm Nemo. I’m really grateful for the kind friends who bought in on my goofy plea and sponsored me to run (Thanks to Rob, Kara, Yukari, Sarah & Melissa!). I’m also grateful that the run was rescheduled since I’m just getting over a cold. I’m looking to the bright side. By next Saturday, the swelling in my jaw would be gone after return acupuncture treatments. By next Saturday, I would have been fitted for my replacement mouthguard. By next Saturday, I may have awesome abs and look good in running in something like this.