It’s an odd time to begin writing a “yoga blog,” when I feel so “yoga lost” right now. As a student, I have never, not once, heard a yoga teacher say “I am lost with my yoga.” Writing this, I know I can’t be the only one. But I know many teachers personally, and have never heard one admit to struggling this way.
Don’t get me wrong, I love yoga, and I LOVE teaching yoga. It inspires me every day. Immediately after my car accident, the ONLY time I felt good was teaching yoga. It still lifts me up every time I lead a class. I love my students and feel so honored to guide them in their practice. But my own personal practice has been a challenge since the car accident.
Yoga, the way I learned, and the way I love to practice leaves me in pain. For two years I have tried every which-way to make my Vinyasa practice work. I have modified poses. Skipped poses. I have done physical therapy. I have had a rhizotomy procedure, cauterizing a nerve in the neck to stop pain signals, (helped only partially, and not long term). I was with a chiropractor for a long time. I’ve had massage. I did accu-puncture. I have had cortisone injections (great relief, temporary), RPM plasma replacement therapy (did nothing, waste of time and money, at least for me). And on and on it goes.
My friend Heather had been recommending a physical therapist for over a year. One that is also a yoga teacher. I already tried PT with zero effect. It was very generic. I was given an exercise sheet to take home and follow, but it didn’t feel like the exercises were tailored specifically for my body or my injuries. I was doing so many other things, I put Heather’s suggestion on the back burner. But about six weeks ago, I finally went to see her PT.
This PT is very clinical but also seems to intuitively “get” what is happening in my neck and throughout my body. I liked her immediately. She is so smart! Turns out I have a lot of wonky things going on. My right shoulder is an issue, as is my right hip. In my neck, there is structural skeletal damage from the accident that is not going to change, though we can strengthen the muscles surrounding those areas (by the end of most days, my head feels like a heavy weight, and it feels like my neck is struggling to hold it up). She told me side bends and forward folds were not making my neck happy. Good to know. No more chin to chest anything.
She uses a laser, and that, combined with deep tissue work and prescribed exercises had me feeling a lot of relief within a week of our first visit, and it keeps getting better! This is the good news. As the pain began to lift, I was psyched. Soon, I was practically pain free for the first time in two years. Ready to flow! I knew I would modify, but couldn’t wait.
Right out of the gate, one Vinyasa class (even with modifications) had me hurting again for three days. I told the new PT about this. Maybe I hadn’t done something right? Maybe I needed more modifications? Did she have suggestions?
She looked me in the eye and told me the bad news.
She said with my injuries, if I continue to practice yoga, the way I love to practice yoga, I will wind up making my neck progressively worse and will likely hurt myself.
I nodded along, all brave-faced, but inside I was stunned.
All this time I felt like if I just did the right things, eventually my neck would heal, I would get stronger, I would be back in business. I had hope. Hearing her speak, I felt like the rug had been pulled out from under me.
“I’m not saying you can’t practice yoga,” she said. “Just not the way you’ve been. You can definitely practice, but it needs to be a different practice. There is still so much you can do.”
She added that I need more than just yoga. She said I need to do other things to strengthen my body. I have areas of great strength, but also many areas of weakness. Areas where the strong parts are overcompensating for the weak parts. Those imbalances need to be addressed. And oh, maybe a little scoliosis thrown in for good measure.
Vinyasa yoga is the first physical exercise I ever fell in love with. The only one I’ve ever truly stuck with. It has healed me in so many ways. I love it. I know this isn’t the worst thing in the world. My car was totaled with me in it. I could have been killed, or permanently disabled. But it is a great loss. One I am continuing to process.
Difficult as it was to hear those words, I knew she was right. I’d been intuitively pulling back from my Vinaysa practice since the accident. I’d been sporadic, and so cautious, and always in pain after. It hadn’t been fun in a long time. And upset as I was, deep inside...way back.…beyond the immediate feelings of sorrow (and victimhood), I had a glimmer that something good will come from this. It will be something different. Something new. I know it will make me a better teacher. Whatever I learn I bring back to my students. I still have yoga. It will be different.
It was actually kind of a relief for someone to just say it. This isn’t good for you. Stop it. Stop doing it this way.
But it did/does hurt.
After that appointment, I smiled, thanked the PT….like it was all good. It will all be FINE!
Then, I walked out to my car, shut the door, and I cried.