There I was on the couch in debilitating pain. I couldn’t move. How was this possible? Me, a young twenties, healthy (or so I thought), uber active, dancer/ yogi, and I can’t walk. Actually I can’t move, roll over, sneeze, cough, or get to the bathroom, much less walk. Walking would have been amazing. I say to myself, “No, please don’t sneeze!”. Excruciating. Anyone who has had a serious back outage understands what I mean when I say, you can’t sneeze. Unrivaled pain, besides child birth of course.
It wasn’t an acute injury. I wasn’t in a massive accident. I didn’t fall or get fallen on in dance rehearsal. I don’t remember doing anything unusual in yoga. If I am completely honest, I did feel something coming on in my back but I think I ignored it. Dancers don’t have time for pain. If there were preliminary signs I certainly didn’t pay attention to them. When my back finally went OUT there was no question. It gave me no option. It was OUT. I was down for the count and not only that, it was coupled with extreme shooting pain with every tiny movement. A flinch could bring me to the edge of tears.
In a very busy lifestyle that combined dance, teaching dance, yoga, beginning to teach yoga, waitressing, and a hint heavy clubbing, I guess something finally gave. I literally became, the straw that broke the camel’s back. How did I come to represent a cliche saying? One teacher described this kind of injury like a wire hanger. Over time as the wire hanger is bent again and again, again and again, eventually,… snap… and there it goes. No more wire hanger. So, I guess that was my back. I was diagnosed with “degeneration” of the discs in my lumbar spine. That didn’t sound good. I was a dancer/ yogi and my main way of orientation in this life is through the understanding and living through my body. Who am I if I am not able to use my body?
“The discs between L4 and L5 are degenerative and it is very possible, very likely, that you may not be able to dance and do yoga as you have been, says the Dr.” He was implying I was going to live in pain and this was now who I was.
Dancers don’t have time for pain. If there were preliminary signs I certainly didn’t pay attention to them. When my back finally went OUT there was no question. It gave me no option. It was OUT.
Oh no, I say to myself, that is not happening. I am not going to let a diagnosis take away my freedom. I won’t accept it. If you know how stubborn I am (I am pretty stubborn when I believe in something) I wasn’t going to listen to a Dr. who was going to diagnose my life. Sorry.
This roadblock was a huge wake up call. It taught me so much about myself that I had no idea was there. I saw in myself that it was very possible that I hadn’t relaxed in 22 years. My system was on constant overdrive. I learned about anatomy, therapeutics, restorative yoga, oh… and breathing. That small thing called the breath changed my life. This injury that occured early in my 20’s, informed the rest of my career, my path as a teacher, educator, and yoga method creator. I am eternally grateful for this back injury, which seems like a ridiculous thing to say but it is true. Without it, I wouldn’t know what it is to heal on a physical level and in a drastic way. Without it I don’t think I would have been inspired to create the Abhaya Method, which is centered around self healing and empowered freedom.
One of my biggest lessons in my quest for healing and release from pain was that I had to learn to not do. I wanted so badly to fix it, to make it better. One thing I am good at is doing. I can DO. I can make things happen. I am good at that but why wasn’t I good at making my pain go away. I tried everything, every chiropractor, healer, and continued to look outside of myself. In some cases, the more I did, the worse it got. I realized is that one cannot make oneself heal. I had to learn to undo, unravel tension, make space. For the first time in my life I slowed down. I had to. I literally couldn’t move quickly! I listened. What was I doing all of these years on autopilot on high speed? It was clear I had been running away from myself for 22 years.
This brilliant teaching taught me to look more deeply. I went to find therapeutic yoga teachers. I tried a new yoga method that was more attuned to injury and alignment. I found some of the most influential yoga teachers of my life. They saved me. Or rather, they helped me to slowly save myself.
This surprise injury in the form of fierce grace forced me to listen, slow down, and whether I was going to like it or not, surrender. I don’t think the word surrender was in my vocabulary prior to my back injury. Surrender was obtuse, intangible and yet my intuition told me it was the only way. So, I began to do simple things like laying on my back in constructive rest and breathe full. I began to do a lot less. My yoga practice became slower and more conscious. I began to enjoying not only doing yoga but participating with the flow of breath and energy in my body.
One of my biggest lessons in my quest for healing and release from pain was that I had to learn to not do
I learned how to practice in a way that was akin to my own body. I stopped trying to force my body into picture shapes and I took a huge step back because that was all I could do. My body wouldn’t allow it. And, if I pushed too hard, my back would let me know.
It is curious that in my now 40’s, my back is clear. Why don’t I have pain anymore? Why don’t I feel this debilitating compression and degeneration that the doctors pretty much said would be the end of my career? How is it that my body and yoga practice feels better now than it did when I was 22? I wonder if we took an MRI if you would see the space lack of space between the discs. I am rediscint to believe there is still degeneration or at least what was present before. It is a mystery… or is it?
Once a great teacher said to us at a therapeutics teacher training, “if you want to heal, you have to believe you can heal.” I am a firm believer in that statement and the body’s innate capacity for healing, given the right environment. The body often wants to heal but we don’t even realize we are in the way.
*in no way does this blog post proclaim that we can heal from any illness or injury. I am merely sharing my personal journey of healing and the magic of yoga and letting go.