When I tore my ACL tendon and dislocated my shoulder in a freak ultimate Frisbee accident on April 1, 2001, I imagined that many activities were simply no longer available to me. I tried to run here and there after corrective knee surgery, but I would experience sharp pains in my knee and dull, aching in my shoulder.
I didn’t let the pain stop me from getting outside and being active. I went on hikes and long walks. I tried a few times to play ultimate but felt unstable in my body and more nervous than I had before the accident.
Before the accident, I didn’t even know I had an ACL tendon. I didn’t realize how easily my body could break. I also didn’t realize the remarkable ability for a body to heal. It was difficult and also empowering to learn to use my right leg again after surgery. It was like learning to walk all over again. The atrophied muscles in my right leg took years to build up to match the stronger, more defined muscles in my left leg. It was not until I moved out to Washington state after graduating from college and hiking as many mountain trails as possible that I began to see the difference (or the lack of difference, in this case).
In injuring my body, a new seed of doubt had been planted, however. I was not invincible. My body was fragile and could easily break.
I hurt my back while studying abroad and another seed was planted.
The summer after college, I worked at the Audubon, leading kids on trails around New England. On the final hike of the season, I twisted my ankle while descending Mount Washington. Even as I type, my ankle is achy.
I began telling a story about my body to people. When invited to play a soft ball, volley ball, or pick up game of ultimate Frisbee, I would respond, “I’m not allowed. I break too easily.
I told this story so often that I came to believe it. It was a story born of fear. I was afraid of injuring myself again, needing surgery, being bed ridden, and having to undergo weeks upon weeks of physical therapy and strength training.
So I stayed away from any kind of activity that might possibility do me in.
Until I found yoga.
I was teaching English in elementary schools in the northwest corner of France and a fellow teaching assistant asked if I might be interested in joining a yoga class with her and a few other teachers.
Yoga, I mused. My only memory of yoga was taking a Bikram class and walking around in a dizzy, dehydrated fog for several days after.
I joined the class. It was Ashtanga with a strong focus on breathing and meditation. And there was the added bonus that it was all in French. Very relaxing. As I moved through the poses from one class to the next, I found that the shoulder I had dislocated began to move more easily. I felt less nervous to move it, too.
Perhaps. I might go so far as to say that yoga really is magic, but I think the magic is within those who practice anything for which they hold true passion.
When I returned to the United States, I could not find room in my life or my transient living spaces for yoga. There was too much noise and commotion going on all the time.
Years passed, and I fell back into a rhythm of telling myself that I really was broken.
I threw my back out on multiple occasions when my stress level rose to extreme levels during times of transition and by way of reminding my mind to slow down and reevaluate my life choices and the path I was following.
I think my return to yoga a decade later was because I was looking for it. It was not an accident. I was desperately treading water and wondering how to find healthy ways to deal with the inevitable surprises the universe sent my way.
It was not a completely smooth transition. Yoga intensive studies requires long hours of sitting between asana practice, and this sitting was difficult for my back. My body expressed the stress from my transition into yoga from a part-time job that was not serving my soul through pain.
I was uncomfortable in my body. I was worried that maybe I was too broken even for yoga.
But something happened. I changed my story. I decided that there was no way I was going to let myself be too broken for something that was quickly taking on deep meaning for me.
And as I shifted my story, the pain in my body began to dissipate.
It hasn’t disappeared altogether. My ankle still aches, I get sore from practice and from sitting during weekend trainings.
But every once in a while, I detach just enough from my concentration on an asana to notice how much has changed in my body in just a few short months.
This morning, I was poised in plank pose, which is similar to a push up position above the ground. A push up was something I had long since given up on after my shoulder injury. There was no way my shoulders and arms were strong enough to hold me up.
Yet there I was, holding myself up, strong and confident.
When my teacher invited us to lower with steadiness and control into chataranga toward the floor, I did just that. Only a few months ago, when I first began teaching myself the series of asana for sun salutation, I would simply put my stomach down to the mat in a quick, easy motion. There was no slow and steady.
I was using my body in ways I had told myself I would never experience again in my life.
I guess that old phrase never say never still holds true.
I will do my best to never say never again.