Month: April 2013

Practicing through an injury

Things are getting personal this week.

In the middle of the night on November 1, I woke up seized by pain in my right wrist and hand. After taking some Aleve and NyQuil, I was able to drift back to sleep. The pain was still there when I woke up, and it hasn’t gone away in the seven months since I first experienced it.

Since August, I had been practicing at least two hours a day for 5-7 days per week and my practice time was only going to increase as I entered into an intensive Ashtanga teacher training.  Determined not to let this injury interfere with my plans, I pushed on and practiced harder with a  brace.  I was reluctant to let anyone know about my mystery injury that appeared out of nowhere, until the pain became unbearable.  I lasted a week on my own before others started noticing.  Many teachers and trusted yogis poked and prodded and manipulated my hand, and each person had a different diagnosis. After much encouragement and cajoling, I went to go see a doctor.  On a Friday afternoon, I didn’t have many options so I headed to an Emergency care clinic.  Two hours, a splint and three x-rays later, the doctor had not made a diagnosis and encouraged me to visit an orthopedic specialist.

The pain had only become stronger and more intense, and I was forced to modify my practice- downdog became dolphin, updog became cobra and chaturanga became forearm plank.  Frustrated, I went to an orthopedic hand specialist.  Dr. Viralkumar Patel walked into the room, 20 minutes late and obviously still rushing to make up for missed time.

“This is a carpal boss.  Only 2-3% of doctors would even find this, it is a rare diagnosis because everyone thinks these things are cysts.”

Staring with my mouth agape, all I could think is, “Wow, this guy is arrogant, he spent three seconds with me and didn’t even look at my x-rays and he thinks he knows what’s going on?”  Dr. Patel then went on…

“You must stop doing yoga. This is very bad, you have a lot of inflammation and you are destroying this joint.”

I started crying.  Dr. Patel looked at me like I had just poured vinegar in a wine glass and offered it to him as a $400 glass of champagne.

“Why are you crying? I just told you we can fix this.”

“But, you, you…you told me I can’t do [wahhhhh] yoga.”

“I don’t see what the problem is, it’s only yoga.  You have to get better.”

Clearly frustrated (and uncomfortable) by my continued sobbing during his already late schedule, Dr. Patel said he would send a nurse in with his treatment recommendation.  He put me on a heavy duty prescription NSAID, Voltarol (which sounds a lot more like a superhero than a drug) and sent me on my way.  Disgruntled, I drove directly to another orthopedic surgeon’s office.

Orthopedic surgeon #2, “Kyle,” was young, athletic and right out of med school.  He was not confident in his diagnosis, and things only got worse when I caved and told him about my morning with Dr. Patel.  To make a long story short, several visits and MRIs with Kyle cost about $9k+ and his final diagnosis: carpal bossing on my third carpal/metacarpal.  In summary:

Dr. Patel: $100 or less after insurance and generic Voltarol and a diagnosis in less than three minutes

Kyle: $1-2k out of pocket and a diagnosis in three months

After I stopped (read: greatly reduced) my yoga practice and took a course of Voltarol, my hand was better but still aching. Any extra pressure on my hands caused the inflammation and pain to flare up. Clearly handstands (my favorite) and arm balances were out of the question. This would be my new yoga practice, I decided. I would have to learn how to enjoy the finer aspects of yoga, and admire those who were born with perfect hands that hadn’t failed them as they soared through their arm balances and took my beloved handstands for granted.  (Still a little bitter? I think so… working on it y’all…)

I’d come to peace with this decision, until I went to Annie Carpenter’s teacher training.  The first week was fine, I felt the pain, but pushed through it.  Bad idea. By the end of the second week, my hand ached all the time.  My modifications were back in full force and I felt so conflicted- ashamed that I was dishonoring my body by pushing through the pain and proud of myself for at least modifying and not just trying to get into the full expressions of the postures. With a tear in my eye, I approached Annie on the second to last day.  With kindness and compassion, she asked me what my options were and what the prognosis of those options were.  She took her time to talk to me about the surgery I was considering and why it might be a good idea, given the relatively low risks and a surgeon I trusted.

In the coming weeks, I will detail my surgery, recovery and return to yoga.  In the meantime, I want you to

Reflect on:

1. The things you are putting off

2. What you gain by putting these things off

3. What you lose by putting these things off

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Are you being shoved?

Recently, I began studying with a new yoga teacher.  This teacher is compassionate but pushes me hard.  She makes it difficult to attain my goals.  New goals that I did not have before I met her.  Contrast this to a prior teacher, who wanted to be compassionate but was not.  This former teacher made it impossible to achieve my goals, but still told me to try anyway because by trying, I’d be better off than I was.  My new teacher is a pusher.  She’s the girl lending a hand down to help me climb up the stairs so I can enjoy the slide on the playground.  My old teacher was a shover.  This is the person shoving you off the stairs when you reach the top just to see if you can climb up again.

Being pushed can elevate us; it can take us to higher levels of understanding and appreciation of a situation.  The push creates space in us, to be  filled with love, compassion, drive, or any number of positive emotions.  Being pushed is a great thing for three reasons: (1) it creates a clear goal we are striving to attain; (2) we gain the support of the pusher, be it a person or motivation; and (3) we are held accountable for reaching the goal by the pusher.

Being shoved only denigrates us; we are pushed back into the muck and the mud- often with little tools or support to help find our way out.  While this develops a resilience to adversity within us, it is not helpful for gaining the strong sense of self and support we crave– a sense of self we need if we are going to be elevated and elevate others.

If you are in a situation that is uncomfortable, be it a relationship or a yoga pose, ask yourself:

Am I being pushed or shoved?

 

If you are being pushed, how lucky for you! You clearly have someone who loves you or love for yourself that is capable of fostering a healthy sense of development towards your goal.

If you are being shoved, begin seeking ways to get out of this situation- it does not serve you and you will be hurt, physically or mentally.  For me, the breaking point was physical injury with my former teacher.  Encouraged to continue a practice in the face of a severe hand injury, I realized this person was not pushing me from a place of compassion- they were shoving me to fit in the box they had created and couldn’t figure out what to do when I didn’t fit.

If you come to the realization that you are in an unhealthy relationship or situation and don’t want to be shoved anymore, take solace in the fact that there are better things headed your way.  When I left my former teacher, I was very confused, angry and worried.  I felt abandoned by the person I trusted and scared that I would never find another teacher to support me.  What happened instead is that I found a teacher I felt more confident in, more trusting of, and as a result, I am becoming a stronger student, a better teacher and a more compassionate person.

It seems so simple but if you are being shoved, try to treat yourself kindly and know that this is a great experience to learn from.  There will be richer opportunities in your near future.…

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