By Ally Ford
While picking up my four year old son from a nap one recent afternoon, I herniated a lower lumbar disc in my spine. The resulting pain has been annoying to say the least, often excruciating, and a little inconvenient. I’m a yoga practitioner and teacher with two young children who love to be held, so working with this injury has definitely posed a challenge. Luckily, I have an amazing husband who helps selflessly.
Eleven years of yoga practice has helped my body feel better, stave off illness, and basically function more efficiently. It taught me how to use my core and develop increased flexibility and range of motion, all of which reduce the potential for injury. Fueled by comments from family, friends, and students who were surprised this could happen to someone so fit, I fell into a self-absorbed tailspin wondering “why me,” and pondered how I’d be able to do my daily asana practice or pick up my children.
Slowly, I pulled myself out of what felt like a moderate depression and stopped focusing on the shock of my circumstances, which had made me feel like a victim. I remembered that in addition to physical health, yoga has given me the tools to change my perspective, to look at situations through yogic eyes and remain open for the lessons in all the events of my life-the easy and the hard, the happy and the sad, the good and the bad-and try to gain some insight from these experiences.
I can now say that I have a much better understanding of what true back pain really is and how overwhelming it can be, and I will forever have more empathy and understanding for others working to heal this type of injury. It has been an opportunity to honor my body and modify my practice to work with the injury, which has also served to inform my yoga teaching. As importantly, this whole experience has been a reminder that life can and will change on a dime, and without the proper attitude, the curve balls life throws at us can really turn us upside down (and send us into a “woe-is-me” tailspin). Finally, it has provided an opportunity to remain in the moment and be thankful for what I DO have, an infinite practice.
How will I heal this injury? I’ll practice what I preach… be gentle, listen to my body, think positive, healing thoughts, and in the words of the great Guru Pattabhi Jois, take it “slowly, slowly.” I’ll practice what yoga calls “vairagya” or non-attachment, and let go of expectations of my body. Maybe I’m not taking both legs behind my head or dropping into a backbend from handstand, but I can focus on all the other ways a true yogi can practice, including Karma Yoga (service to others), Jnana Yoga (self reflection through meditation), and Bhakti Yoga (love and devotion), something my two-year old reminded me of this morning.
As I rolled out my yoga mat to take some reclining poses and ease the pain in my back, buttock and leg, my daughter approached and said, “Mommy, I do ‘woga’ with you.” She sat down, put her hands in front of her heart, and chanted OM. As I joined in, I was suddenly less consumed with pain and overwhelmed with love and joy. She taught me that Bhakti yoga was what I needed to practice this morning, yet another example that teachers appear in our life all the time, as unexpected blessings.