I was a few months from finishing yoga teacher training when I received my MS diagnosis. Considering how many people swear that yoga healed their MS you would think being a teacher would be an advantage.
It would if I were a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants, take-life-one-day-at-a-time, obstacles-are-nothing-more-than-opportunities, no-matter-what-my-body-is-my-temple, type of gal.
It would if being in my body while maintaining a level of curiosity was something I enjoyed doing, but back then I found much solace living from my neck up most days.
Experiencing life via my body is something I’ve never enjoyed.
Except when I was on my yoga mat. There, I could be the most present and least judgmental version of myself. My mat became my mirror giving me insight into my life.
For example, on days when I struggled with with Vrksasana (Tree Pose) I couldn’t help but notice that my day-to-day life was out of balance as well.
If I arrived at the studio feeling overwhelmed and out of sorts, it would be tougher on those days to hold Virabhadrasana I (Warrior One Pose), for very long without shaky legs and a distracted mind.
Meditative moments on the mat would give me insight into what I needed to let go of when my monkey mind returned.
These types of realizations were always welcome and interesting. I learned a lot about my life during my practice. But once MS decided to join me on my mat, my safe space was all of a sudden, crowded and frustrating.
Suddenly I was too present. Too “in” a body that was losing it’s functionality. Because I was a yoga teacher, I knew too much about each pose causing my anatomical and physiological know-how to freak me out.
Walking quickly into a yoga class while wearing a pair of shoes told me nothing about my body. But later while barefoot and balancing I’d immediately notice my inability to tense up the left side of my foot. This new knowledge would follow me out to the parking lot and become my focus as I walked throughout my day. Because of yoga I’d notice even the most subtle changes in balance before they’d manifest themselves into more functional movements. This knowledge didn’t give me power. It merely brought to the surface more fear.
As the courage to face my changing body decreased, so did my ability to work on ways to modify my practice, gait or functional life. In essence, I had completely forgotten to live John Harrington’s famous quote about how, “People need loving the most when they deserve it the least”.
Instead of loving a weak foot that was giving out on me, I shamed it in the same way one shames their cheating spouse. Similar to how we withhold love from thick thighs or a flabby stomach, my increasingly weak left side became undeserving of attention, care or appreciation because it was failing me.
Instead of hating my deficient parts I did the next worse thing. I ignored them. I kept entire parts of myself hidden from view. As my bodily breakdowns increased I spent more and more time focusing on my fiascos, promising to love my body later, after whatever cure I was working on kicked in.
Yoga’s primary objective of mind, body connection became lost on me as I began to solely focus only on my decreasing strength, flexibility, and balance. Eventually I let my practice leave my life entirely which is why these past few weeks have been so strange to me. I find myself longing for my mat and the type of movement best completed on a 24 x 68 inch sticky swath of Thermoplastic elastomer.
You see, ever since I starting wearing my DBS I’ve been getting out in the world more. I even took a huge gamble and planned a European vacation only a few months after receiving it. Last month with walking stick in hand, I donned my brace and traveled through 4 airports and 3 train stations to enjoy 3 beautiful and historic European cities: Prague, Berlin and Amsterdam (Brandenburg Gate Photo by Alice Renders).
At the time of our flight, I had only owned my brace for 4 months and just recently stopped getting tweaks from my orthotist. I also was pushing it weather wise as Europe can have very hot days in June just like in the States.
Yet the more I walked, the easier it became. In fact by day six of the trip I walked over 16,000 steps while touring Berlin! Yes, the universe did in fact conspire to help me by giving me a breezy, overcast day that required a scarf and a rain coat but it was my brace and super-cool Canadian walking stick that made all the difference.
I’m 100% certain that without my DBS there’s no way I would’ve been able to walk through Dulles Airport let alone participate in an overseas excursion for 10 days.
Of course, as soon as I got home, summer showed up in all of it’s extra hot and humid glory, but for a little over a week I was feeling like my old self again.
Then a strange thing happened. I completely forgot what I wrote about last month regarding how gains need to be integrated before they become permanent. In other words, the same pattern that always happens, happened again. After making a huge step forward in my healing journey, I needed to take a moment and let it sink in.
Ever since the high of the trip wore off, I’ve been very tired.
And then an even stranger thing happened. After spending the last five months significantly increasing my walking steps, distance and momentum, the last thing I want to do is walk.
Maybe it’s the heat? Maybe I’m just lazy? Maybe a week of functional walking makes strolling on a treadmill even more boring? Or maybe my nervous system knows exactly what it needs and I’m finally smart enough to listen?
All I know is that I constantly feel pulled toward my yoga mat. I’m now craving the attenuating movements one discovers when force is not the primary focus. Instead I’m yearning to pose, breathe, sit, stretch, meditate, chant and orient.
So I will.