For more than 15 years I have taken all my healing to my mat; heartbreak, grief, stress and physical ailments and injuries. And every single time my body, mind and soul has responded to the practice. My heart and hips would open and release the emotions and tension that no longer served me. My mind would clear of debilitating thoughts and feelings of compassion and love would wash over me. My soul would shed the energy that was dragging me down and I would finish shining bright; my body would release, renew and repair whatever aliments were causing physical discomfort.
Well, the mat worked up until a few months ago. That is when I got my ass handed to me in Virabhadrasana II (Warrior Two). Literally my ass was so screwed up that I couldn’t freakin’ bend over, sit in a chair or drive my car without being in agony. There was no breathing through this discomfort because it had become an unbearable shooting pain from my hip to my ankle. Actually, it was my bloody persistence in breathing through the discomfort that added to my ass injury. This was the first time that going to the mat did not heal me, it actually made me worse. It would be so easy for me to blame the practice. I have heard it many times before, the comments of “I can’t do yoga, it hurt my neck” or “It screwed up my back.” But I know it’s not the yoga that screwed me up, it was ME who screwed me up. How many times have I said while teaching, listen to your body or go to your edge and stop, or breathe through the discomfort but back off if you feel pain?
HELLLOOO, Miss Yogi! Did I think just because I have practiced for so many years that the golden rule did not apply to me?
If my ass did not hurt so much I would kick myself in it and hard! Last year I slipped on some ice and tore my groin. When it happened I went to my physiotherapist, Allison Megeney, (in Canada we call them physios, in the US they are referred to as physical therapists) and rehabbed for six weeks. However, I never felt 100 per cent but I just ignored the slight discomfort. Over the past six months I have kept practicing and breathing through the increasing discomfort, all the while thinking that if I just stretch it out, it will get better. I was actually in a workshop one weekend and had the instructor assist me to go even deeper in Spread Leg Forward Fold because I thought it would make it better! Wrong! It screwed me up so badly that it has cost me more than $1,000, multiple appointments with my physiotherapist and restraining from doing any yoga or running for two months to repair the damage.
Luckily I am blessed to have a physiotherapist who kicks ass in many ways! She surfs, practices yoga and seriously knows her stuff. Her knowledge of anatomy and how the body works is truly amazing. I often tell her she has magic hands but the true magic is in the fact that she has the ability to push my body to the edge, but intuitively knows when to back off. (Something I obviously have not learned).
She determined that my sacrum was rotated inwards and my pelvis was out of alignment. Together we listened to my body, she manipulated and I breathed (and sometimes screamed). I did not practice yoga but did do the slow, painfully boring exercises she prescribed. After eight weeks, I was pain-free and could do a forward fold. She suggested I start practicing again and gave me specific instructions on how to do my down dogs, warriors and sun salutations. Her explanation of how the body should move in those postures, what I should feel and what muscles should fire was better than anything I had ever heard come out of any yoga teacher’s mouth in 15 years. I was so excited I rushed home and unrolled my mat. After my first sun salutation, I was shocked. I felt like I had reverted back to my first year of practice. My legs were shaking, I was weak and could not hold the postures. Why? Because I was doing the postures with my sacrum and pelvis in proper body alignment and using muscles that had not fired in more than a year. I was totally humbled, my practice back to square one. I couldn’t even do the splits (my favorite party trick!). So my practice began again . . . going to my mat was now about strengthening my body in different ways and retraining myself.
So what have I learned about yoga and my body?
- The ego will sneak up on you in different ways and even when you think you know your stuff, you might be wrong and get your ass handed to you in Spread Leg Forward Fold. Pain is your body telling you to stop. Listen to your body.
- After working with my physiotherapist, I now realize that my 18 years of yoga practice and education is seriously lacking in the knowledge of anatomy. This will be an area that I will study further and I encourage other instructors to do the same; we instruct and adjust people without having nearly enough knowledge of how the physical body works.
- To truly be healthy, you need to find the professionals to support your mental, spiritual and physical It will take time to find one that resonates with you. When you are looking for a physiotherapist/massage therapist/acupuncturist, look at not only their years of experience but also what activities they participate in. They will understand you better if they know what you do. What is truly essential is to try and find one that respects the limits of your body. They have to know when to get in there but also when to back off. When you find that person, the real key is to DO WHAT THEY TELL YOU!
- Does yoga heal everything? Yes, it does if you step out of your ego and listen to your body temple. But even then you may need to bring in the big guns of knowledge and support to take your practice to the next level.
Laugh, love and enjoy every moment of your practice! Especially the humbling ones, they give you the greatest benefits.