Many of you know that I’m studying therapeutic-based yoga. Many of you also know that my body has had some issues (especially since last year, with the onset of my back pain). Obviously I’m learning a lot to help my clients and students, but I’m also learning a lot about my own body, how I’ve contributed to what it’s learned to do, and how I might fix it.
Last year, when my back hurt so much I couldn’t walk more than 5 minutes without extreme pressure around my sacrum, I had an x-ray done. The technician immediately noted that I had slight scoliosis. Just enough to recognize immediately, but still be called “slight”. Neither the technician nor my doctor suggested that this diagnosis would have anything to contribute to the back problems that brought me in.
I very clearly remember in grade school that all the girls were checked for scoliosis. We had to bend forward with our shirts un-tucked from our uniformed skirts (the only time this was allowed!). I remember being in the hallway, standing in a line while people checked our backs for something we didn’t understand. I was cleared at that time, so I was quite surprised to hear that I had any scoliosis noticed at nearly 40 years old. I thought that if I’d been cleared when I was young, clearly there were no curves in my back!
Fast forward a few months later, while I’m in a Yoga Therapy training class and we’re (again) talking about Loren Fishman’s research on yoga for scoliosis. Suddenly it hit me, and I remembered very specifically the moment when I likely first set my body into a pattern of scoliosis. Maybe I was in 7th or 8th grade. I was in church (as we always were in Catholic school). I wasn’t popular, but I wanted to be. I can’t possibly convey how clearly I remember standing split weight, but seeing a cool girl in the pew ahead of me standing with her right hip leaning out to the side. I mimicked the posture, hoping it would help me feel like I fit in. Sigh.
I have been trying for years to stop my femur from popping forward and up without making that connection. I originally noticed this in the preference I have for crossing my right leg over my left, and how in many asymmetrical yoga poses, one side is way open and easy while the other side is closed and “tight”. Boy did this frustrate me during an Ashtanga practice particularly! I attributed this to imbalance in my hips. I’ve seen countless chiropractors and massage therapists. When I first saw my chiro in Austin, one of my legs was literally a few inches longer than the other. Like other practitioners I’ve seen, “oh you poor thing” was said quite a few times. My body responds well to any work, so it would re-align when I was there, but go right back to it’s familiar pattern pretty quickly after I left. Although I loved my service providers, I really wanted to help myself rather than relying on regular visits for temporary solutions.
One more thing to add to the mix: when I was twelve or a little younger, I had an accident with my bike. I was riding a bike way too big for me (again, to try and fit in, to be cool). I didn’t know how to use handbrakes properly, and I was headed down a rather steep hill fast, without feeling confident I could stop. To save myself, I tried leaping off my bike to my left side, but I didn’t clear the bar of my shiny new 3-speed. It hit hard up into my pelvis. I couldn’t pee comfortably for weeks. Blood was involved. I’ve been pretty clear for months now that this is also part of my body’s formation and design.
So OK, I’m nearly 40, I have “slight” scoliosis but my back pain has improved tremendously with yoga therapy, supplements for gut health, and a few dietary changes. But I’m still left with this imbalance, which I notice all the time. And now, I do mean I notice it ALL THE TIME. I put my purse on my right shoulder, and it’s gotten heavier than it had been in the past. Pretty common. Easy to start to switch to the other shoulder (sort of). Then, armed with my new knowledge, I start to notice all the ways that I overuse my right side. I lean into my right hip when working at the computer (standing desk). I lean into my right hip when I brush my teeth in the morning.
The funniest experience I have had so far has been filling my oil diffuser before bed. It’s on the floor, so I squat down to put in the water and oil. When I look at my posture, my right foot is forward of my left, and my right hip juts out as I squat down. “OK, no problem” (I thought the other night). I’ll just reverse that! Nope. It took me about FIVE FULL MINUTES to figure out how to do the reverse of what I had been doing automatically. SERIOUSLY. It was THAT ingrained in my body. And when I finally replicated it in the opposite way, boy did that feel weird!!
They say awareness is a huge step in correcting a problem. I’m certainly doing my side planks as Dr. Fishman suggests, but doing a single posture for a few minutes a day seems like just the start. I often tell this to my students and my private clients, as it’s something that really stood out for me from Mark Uridel’s lectures: if one goes to a yoga class for an hour a day, that’s great. But if for the other N hours they’re awake, they’re putting negative stress on their bodies in a way that counters what yoga is doing, how much progress can one expect to make? It’s like working out for an hour at the gym and then eating 10 cheeseburgers the rest of the day. To my mind, it can’t work like that. I want to undo the issue at the source. I want to use this raised awareness to help my body make different–more balanced–choices. If I can notice all the ways throughout my day that I have trained my body to take a particular shape, then maybe I can train it out of that shape and back into balance more easily.
Today I stood straighter at my standing desk (especially as I’m writing this!). Today I lifted up more through my left side during Barre class, and felt different things happening in my body. When I modeled in my Hatha classes, I did postures on the side that needs them. I paid more attention to which shoulder my bag was on, how I stood, how I got in and out of my car. I want to continue this journey because heightened awareness of how I hold my body may not only unlock my body, but also might affect the way I think about my body, how I feel about it, and how I treat it.
Do you know what your physical patterns are? Do you hold tension in your shoulders or your jaw? Do you use one side of your body more than the other? What traumas has your body endured while you were busy living your life? How do you respond to a part of your body not functioning as you’d like it to?
Compassion. Understanding. Awareness. The body learns. The body can learn again.