Saturday, May 16 2015
The longer I practice, the more I learn, the body is unreliable.
The body fails me. It lets me down. We use the body in yoga, to know more deeply, that we are not the body. For the last year, I have been healing from an injury I incurred from an adjustment in Dwi Pada Sirsana (second series pose where you are sitting upright with both legs crossed behind the head). I was in a large class working on lifting my legs up to put them behind my head and the assistant was helping me settle them in place. Once my legs were in place, she pulled down on my feet. I immediately felt a shot of pain from my left occiput to my left SI joint. Upon coming out of the pose, I experienced intense pain in my lower back on the left side. I am still feeling that pain, and more than that, I am still limited in my abilities to enter certain poses because of the injury.
For the last year I've had to change my practice and relearn my limitations. I've had to get to know myself again without the ability to be comfortable in many of the poses. Even some of the simplest primary series poses have been a struggle for me. For the last year, I have not been able to do any of the first or second series poses with extreme back bends, like Kapottasana, or deep hip openers like Tittibasana or Eka Pada Janu Sirsasana. Describing this experience as humbling, doesn't even begin to touch the surface of what it has been like.
I have questioned yoga on all levels: my practice, my teaching, my purpose, my future. I have almost come to accept that my body is forever changed and that these poses are in the past.
I started practicing yoga in 1992 because of the pain from my scoliosis - I was trying to heal my body. What I understand now, is that yoga couldn't straighten my spine, but it did help me stay pain free for many, many years and decrease the severity of my curve. Because of my scoliosis, when I received the adjustment in Dwi Pada, instead of being helped by the pushing down on my feet (like it would with someone who had a straight spine) it instead compressed my thoracic and lumbar, spraining my posas, SI joint and thoracic spine. The physical therapist I saw, said it was like my spine had been aged by 20 years because of the scoliosis and the impact of the adjustment. The adjustment was like pressing on an accordion.
Adjustments are a very important part of practicing. It is of the utmost importance that when doing an adjustment, that the teacher sees the student and not the pose. Seeing the student allows the teacher to understand the uniqueness of each individual in the pose. Seeing the pose can result in injury and an inability to understand the process.
I am realizing that I have been trying to hide this secret and hoping that no one notices my scoliosis, that I have physical limitations which impact my ability to do certain yoga poses, that I live in a body that is crooked.
And yet, scoliosis began my yoga journey.
Not long ago, when I was practicing, I broke down in tears because of my limitations. I got down on my hands and knees and said out loud, "I give up. I quit."
Dre came into the room and asked, "What are you quitting?"
I said, "Teaching, yoga, practicing, everything."
She simply said, "No you're not. You'd never do that. You can't, it's your life."
I am limited
And so here I am, still practicing, still teaching, still on this path of delving into myself, my vulnerability and yes, my limitations. When I saw the x-rays of my spine, I was shocked. It is true. My curve is real and it is in the center of my body. The PT said, my "S" curve looks worse, but it is actually my "C" curve that is doing the most damage right now. My sacrum is pressing into my lumbar and causing instability and pain daily. "Ouch!"
Once again I am humbled and without a plan. There is no fixing my spine. There is no fixing my practice. There is no fixing anything. I am left with myself and my breath.
The breath is dependable
The breath is more dependable than the body. It comes. It goes. Over and over again, inhale, exhale, without even thinking. I have only one choice, to come back to the breath. This is a breathing practice after all, and all I have to do is follow it. The breath will come and go until death. The body, will go, more than it comes, as I age. The body will continue to let me down as I age. The breath, however, I can count on as long as I'm living. If I'm breathing, I'm doing the most important part. I tell myself this. I hear my voice say it in class.
I've said it at least a thousand times when I teach, "the breath is the most important part of the practice, everything else is extra."