We hear about it in health magazines, or those chiding pleas from friends to join them at a local studio:
“Try a little yoga, you’ll feel great.”
But who likes to be shamed into their yoga?
Fortunately, there’s nothing like personal experience to solidify the power of a practice. A brief trip down memory lane to my own foray back into yoga practice, when I plunged deeper into my yoga, might reveal a little about the healing nature of yoga, both mentally and physically.
Studies have shown that yoga stimulates bones to retain calcium and increases bone density. Pretty magical, huh? But what about when you don’t simply want your leg to be a tad stronger? What about when you’re still stuck in a cast? When you aren’t allowed to stand up and touch your toes for months on end? What kind of yoga can help you then?!?
When something is broken, it needs more than a mere pose. It needs time, patience and a loving heart to heal.
When my broken leg and I departed for Pavones for yoga teacher training last January, I had no idea that love and kindness would be exactly the “yoga” my teachers would be imparting.
But let’s get back to that leg, shall we?
It all started back on a dewy fall morning in Michigan. I let out a long, foggy breath into the mist. The fall rainbow of colors, the promise of my tenderly sore muscles, warm and ready to tackle an impending New York City Marathon. And then there was the slide. Marvelous, ingenious feat of engineering in bright orange plastic.
And what a slide it was! Over two stories of glorious circular tubes, winding their way down into the sand with the help of unyielding gravity. I waved grandiosely to my family in a glorious “check this out” moment from the top of the slide and then WHOOSH! I was on my way down this modern contraption. The kinks in the slide where plastic met plastic seam were but minor annoyances along my fleece. I wound and wound, whooshing through bright orange morning light. I began picking up more and more speed. Now the morning dew was propelling me at record speeds. I tried to brace the sides of the tunnel with the soles of my running shoes and…and… WHAM.
Straight into a sand pile with more force than my left fibula could handle.
In a moment I went from bright-eyed marathon hopeful to pale-faced fracture patient.
A wannabe racer doomed to sit.
I slowly became one with my computer. Set up my own little “shop” at the kitchen counter. The muscles in my leg began to shrivel. I’d never seen a muscle atrophy firsthand; like witnessing a small death inside your own raisin of a leg. I became completely disconnected from sensations in my foot.
What if I never ran again?
Miraculously, all that time stuck at the counter gave me the stamina to sign up for what I’d always wanted to do: become a yoga teacher.
Here I was, two months later, in Costa Rica, among birds, waves, and humming cicadas. I began to feel peace with my still-swollen ankle. Sitting cross-legged, dull sensations coursing through my leg, I began to tune into my body’s reactions. The difference between sensation (right leg crossed over left-“hmm”) and pain (left leg crossed over right-“ow!”) I began to listen to the difference between a challenging hike down the hill to the beach, and an impossible jog in my running shoes (“nope!”).
There, after a full month of breathing, of practicing pigeon pose until the cows actually did come home (or at least moo home), there, after beginning to feel comfortable with just-plain-sitting; there, on the deserted beach, as I began to feel at peace with just walking, there, my legs reached up towards the sky and asked for a run in the sand. I gleefully obliged.
The bones in my leg were stronger and more solidly mine than ever.
I’ve been drawn to pause upon this recent physical trauma this week as we tackle a more emotional one. The senseless bombings at the Boston Marathon last Monday are traumatic even from a distance: the inane repetitions of violence over the airwaves, the overexposure to the attack bursting forth on channel after channel. While I’m hundreds of miles from the events, just being around the coverage these past few days has me contemplating the intricate nature of trauma. I can’t imagine how the people of Boston, the victims and their families must be feeling right now. I can’t imagine what it must feel like to instantly lose a loved one, or a limb, or a sense of relative safety as you’re walking down the street.
But the event has struck a chord with me, as yet another moment where trauma in the body inflicts violence on the brain; trauma of the brain on the body.
So I return to my seat, cross-legged.
Come back to the body. Feel. Sit.