A few weeks ago, I strained my lower back. If you are a serial blog reader, you may recollect that I wrote about the experience. A dead-lift sprain. A forced stillness in the midst of a busy life. A mandatory slow down in a woman wired for speed and urgency. A compulsory focus on feedback from my body. Ice, rest, heat, repeat. Ice, rest, heat, repeat. I had to let people help me – do things for me. I was navigating foreign waters.
After several days of Dr. Google’s treatment plan, I moved on to seek out advice for the next step in my rehabilitation. I found that YouTube Adriene has a yoga class for lower back pain. And another for lower back love. Still uncomfortable, somewhat resentful of the injury, I chose the class targeting my torment. Until this point, yoga was an activity I dabbled in. I lacked appreciation and commitment to the practice – to the process. I had trouble hearing the teacher’s words over my panting with determination, trying to make myself look like she did. And I always felt one pose behind. Relaxing my shoulders, slackening my jaw, were pipedreams. This was a regime to be endured.
The lower back pain class began with the instruction to get a pillow or a blanket or both. “The mat has your back” was a comforting welcome. I was guided through gentle moves to loosen my “back body muscles,” as Adriene calls them. Each transition, each action, each pose, was initiated in an unhurried, intentional fashion. Always with a reminder to link the breath to physical motion. Again, and again, and again. Compelled by stiffness to move slowly, I was able to match my breathing to the flow of the movements. I was present and connected to my body.
As my sprain healed and my mobility increased, I moved on to other classes, longer classes. Classes with different concentrations. Yoga for self-compassion. Yoga for creativity. Yoga for core strength. The differentiators in these classes are the pace, the guided focus, and the blends of poses. I am learning how to stretch and strengthen with mindfulness. Through managing my breathing, I show respect for the quirks and energy flows within my aging body. I used to fight them. I thought it had to hurt to be productive. I thought faster was better. Heavier was a more efficient way to strengthen. Endless crunches would flatten my stomach. Instead I got a hernia below my belly button. My exercise was always to get somewhere. Hike up the hill. Ski down the mountain. Cycle to the next town. Run to the waterfront.
I am now deeply engaged in a practice that is singularly about the process. I finally understand what it means to lift my knee caps. I now have a bodily felt sense of lengthening my spine, drawing in my ribs, sliding my shoulder blades down my back. I am humbly appreciative of the challenge of moving slowly, balancing on one leg with hands outstretched behind me, holding myself in a V position with measured breaths, in and out. Feeling the heat, feeling the edge, feeling the muscle shake. While focusing on drawing air in and out. Trusting my muscles know what to do. Trusting they will serve me. Trusting my power.
In practicing yoga, I am committing to being kind and compassionate with myself. This is a shift for me. For many years, I have indulged in self-care activities. Which I interpret to mean regular pedicures, hair cuts and colour, and spa trips. Engaging in grooming and body care are momentary contributors to my self-esteem. However, they fall short of nurturing in me a sense of deep caring and acceptance of my body. They are interventions that don’t change my inner dialogue. Only how pretty my feet look in sandals. Or how my grey blends in with the highlights. Or how lovely the pool pictures are from the spa.
Moving slowly, mindfully, powerfully, with my breath. Opening my heart by clasping my hands behind my back. Coaxing my stiff arthritic fingers apart to support me in plank. Being at peace with going nowhere. That’s how I know and honour my body.
At least, that is my experience.