Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Working with Lower Back Injury

Some gorgeous spring blooms from my garden...

Life can be challenging.  Some times more so than others.  I place these last 10 days squarely in the "extremely challenging" category.  On a national level, there was the heartbreaking tragedy at the Boston Marathon combined with the devastating loss of life and homes in Texas.  I think a collective consciousness formed as a result whose hallmarks were sadness, disbelief, grief, anger, and frustration.

On a personal level, my recent back injury has left me feeling adrift and struggling to find hope.  Add those two things together and I have felt as if my spirit has been pounded down by a giant wave crashing onto the shore.  It's taken a while for the tide to recede and for me to claw my way back onto the beach.

I guess you could say that my practice is still in it's infancy.  Or maybe I'm in the terrible twos?  Either way, I don't have decades of yoga behind me to give me wisdom when things become impossible.  My back injury is one such "impossibility".  It has been technically classified as a lumbar strain.  More specifically, I believe I pulled a ligament connecting the vertebrae in my lumbar spine.  That's how it felt when it happened.  I was relaxing into a seated forward fold and something along my right lumbar spine just opened up - like all of a sudden something that was previously taking up one inch of space released into two inches.  And not in a good way.

I rested and iced.  X-rays came back normal (which I expected they would).  I finally found an out-of-network physical therapist who was reasonably affordable.  She's been treating the area with ultrasound and electrical stimulation.  She's also a big fan of Pilates so we've been carefully working to strengthen the surrounding area using that apparatus.  I get the intention with the Pilates stuff but I find that whole component really useless in my real world.  I mean, give me something I can do at home.  One or two sessions at the PT space isn't going to be enough to prevent this from happening again.

Up until yesterday, I've continued to experience a lot of pain and tenderness at the injury site.  I wasn't sure whether anything I was doing was actually helping and I started to wonder, "Well, maybe I've really screwed up my back and this is the way things are going to be from now on.  Perhaps this pain will become a permanent part of my practice and I'll never be able to do what I once could."  (I know, I know... attachment issues, anyone?)

I stayed away from Mysore class for two weeks because I was afraid.  There are so many forward bends in the Primary series, I just didn't know how I could cope.  But yesterday I got up the courage to go back and all I can say is THANK GOD FOR ASHTANGA and for my beautiful, wise, supportive Ashtanga teacher Jodi.  She is, simply, THE BEST!    I emailed Jodi ahead of class to tell her about my situation and she could not have been more warm and compassionate.  She spent so much time working with me - more than I had any right to expect in a Mysore setting.  She started with questions so that she could really understand what my injury was about and then she proceeded to disect and tailor the series to fit my needs.  We worked on modifications and she added extra strengthening components to help solidify my core.

One such new addition was a five-minute endurance test.  She had me lay on my back with my knees bent and my arms on the ground straight overhead.  We placed a block high between my thighs in order to remind me to activate mula bandha and encourage the inner rotation of my legs.  Jodi then told me to tuck my tailbone and lift my hips into an easy bridge pose.  She said that not only would this help to strengthen the entire core, but it would also give us valuable information.  How?  Easy... the first area to burn is the weakest.

Minute one was no problem, but by minute four, my lower back was on fire.  Next to burn were my inner thighs.  I had to lower my pelvis and rest a few times but Jodi wants me to work on this for five minutes every day.  (It's interesting to note that I tried this with Steve at home last night.  His back was fine but his shoulders and hip flexors began to burn - both of those are areas he is challenged by, so it does work!)

Jodi really underscored the fact that my practice is something I can turn to to help heal me.  She shared her own story of a back injury that she worked through.  She stressed that the only things in my practice right now should be asanas that help me to feel better - NOT cause pain.  She said we would gather information together to learn what needs to be strengthened and how.  We agreed that my flexibility needs to be better supported by more strength in the core and that I need to focus on learning to activate mula bandha throughout the series, not just the few times I remember to think about it.

In the end, I left feeling more hopeful than I have in weeks.  And more cared for.  I've also been reading as much as I can from other yogis who have battled similar injury.  Of note is Frances from her blog "Lila".  She's written two great posts here and here on the subject and has graciously written to me personally with more encouragement.  Another equally giving soul is my friend Kevin and his blog "The Journey of My Practice".  Not only has he been an inspiration as he has worked through his own injury, but he's been a wonderful listener and support whenever I've needed one.

It's funny but as I work though this, the biggest and most profound help has not come from the medical community at all.  The real, nitty-gritty nuts and bolts help has come in the form of my fellow yogis and their willingness to share.  It is to them that I owe my biggest debt of gratitude and it is with them in mind that I submit this really long post out into the blogosphere in the hopes that it just might help someone else...

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

If Ashtanga is a moving meditation, I do believe this may be the seal version...

Friday, April 12, 2013

This Week in Practice

I've had a rough week.  I pulled something in my middle/low back doing - of all things - a seated forward fold.  While relaxing into the stretch I felt a distinct "pulling" (for lack of a better word) right along my spinal column.  I wouldn't go so far as to say that it was a tearing of anything, but it was definitely a release and not in a good way.

This event led to some pain radiating outwards from my spine.  It has slowly gotten progressively worse during the course of the week.  I've tried resting it and that helps, but as soon as I even mildly stretch the area, the pain returns just as bad if not a little worse than before.

In addition to the back pain, I've been experiencing pain in the tendons that connect my hamstrings to my sit bones for over a year now.  I know this is a common injury in yoga and I've done everything I can think of to help the situation but I'm more than a little sick of it now.

These two things together prompted a visit to my doctor.  She ordered X-rays of my back just to be sure that there isn't a tiny fracture there.  (I really don't think there is, but I don't have the results yet.)  She did say the entire area surrounding that particular vertebrae felt tight.  She also ordered physical therapy, which is great.  The negative side is that I can't get in until April 29.  Not so great.  I've tried visiting/calling other PT offices and they can get me in but they won't accept my insurance.  Grrrr.  I can't afford the out-of-network cost, so I sit and wait.  And call my in-network PT office repeatedly to see if they get any cancellations.

This has added up to a great deal of frustration on my part with minimal practice.  I waver between taking rest and trying to do what I can with modifications.  Still, yoga is difficult without forward folds and even if I try not to bend deeply at all, I still seem to aggravate both areas.

All of this to say not a lot.  Except thanks for letting me vent.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

How Ethical Are Your Eggs?

Is that a question you can answer with a resounding "Very!"?

If not, allow me to introduce you to Vital Farms.

I discovered this company recently after interrogating my local Whole Foods egg guy for a good 15 minutes one day.  I don't eat meat or dairy for a variety of reasons, but my compassion for the animals is chief among them.  I haven't eaten eggs, either, for the same reason.  Yet I feel that if chickens can be raised in a happy environment - with love and care - and their eggs are merely a byproduct of their natural chicken lives, then those eggs don't carry the weight of ahimsa and would be okay for me to eat.

Sadly, most of the chickens raised in this country don't get to experience ahimsa-free living.

(image courtesy of Wikipedia)

Factory farmers have become experts at fooling consumers on this issue.  The photo above shows a typical cage-free or free-range living situation.  Birds are crammed in with no more space than an 8 1/2" x 11" piece of paper in which to spend their lives.  The USDA does not regulate the meaning of these terms.  "Free-range" very often means that there is a single door or window to the outside which the chickens most likely won't be able to use.  Their beaks are sanded off and they are fed diets filled with animal byproducts, hormones, antibiotics, and pesticides.  (For a few articles on the subject, go here and here.)

I wanted to find another answer and I believe I have with Vital Farms.

The hens at Vital Farms are pasture raised.  They enjoy a diet of organic grasses as well as a nutrient-dense Certified Organic feed mix that includes GMO-free corn, vitamins, and probiotics.  GMO-free corn, for Pete's sake!  According to the Vital Farms website, "No pesticides, herbicides, or other chemicals are ever introduced to our chickens, their eggs, or our pasture. This ensures no harmful runoff in our streams, rivers, and oceans."  Those things are important to me.  In addition, Vital Farms chickens are never debeaked and are raised by small, independent family farms.

But don't take my word for it.  Watch their videos.  Those chickens are H-A-P-P-Y.  You can see it in their exuberance as they run across the fields.  My eyes welled up with tears when I got to the part with farmer John Cooper (about 1:45 in the first video).  He talks about the chickens running to greet him and then reveals that he likes to pick them up and hug them.  I want to buy my eggs from THAT guy. 

As I mentioned, Vital Farms eggs are available at Whole Foods Markets.  You can search for them locally here.  I encourage you to explore their website and grill your own Whole Foods employee.  Each carton of eggs comes with a little handout inside, telling you a bit more about the Vital Farms philosophy.  But if after all of this, you're still skeptical (it's okay... I was, too), then give the eggs a TASTE.  The proof is in the pudding, as they say.  The yolks are a rich golden color.  The whites are thicker.  And they taste so much DIFFERENT and BETTER than any commercial egg I've ever had.  That tells me all I need to know.

I am in no way affiliated with Vital Farms,
nor did I receive compensation of any kind for this post.
I just love their eggs.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Why Must I Work Instead of Blogging about Yoga?

This is my first time using BlogGo from my iPad to make a post,
so we'll see how this works.

I missed my usual "This Week in Practice" post last week because several work commitments needed my attention.  Don't you just hate it when work gets in the way of yoga?  Drat!

I attended a new-to-me class in Pasadena today because I was over there to get my Typhoid shot.  The class was good, but the teacher was one of those super-slow-mo varieties.  I get so cranky in those classes.  Holding poses forever bugs me.  How many different directions do you need to use to describe Warrior II to an advanced class?  Twenty?  Geesh.  I like to just get on with things and flow along.

The lesson here is not lost on me though.  I know it's important to take note of resistance when it comes up.  It's usually there for a very good reason.  Any hostility I might feel is most likely an indicator that sitting in a pose is PRECISELY where I need to be.  Certainly that requires strength.  For me though I think the real work is to develop strength and calmness of the mind.

After class, I finally got my Typhoid vaccination taken care of.  Goodness, but it was difficult to find the shot as opposed to those wretched pills.  I want to extend a GIANT thank you to everyone who reached out to tell me about your experience with IBS and the pill form of the vaccine.  I'm good to go now for two years with the shot and I don't seem to be experiencing any side effects beyond a mildly sore arm.  Yay!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Would You Rather Die Than Give Up Your Mat?

I know I would.  We yogis tend to form a really strong, palpable attachment to our gear.  And the reason is certainly no surprise.  We create a sanctuary for ourselves each and every time we step onto our mats.  It is there that we sweat, toil, and persevere.   We often push ourselves to the edge only to come back more humbled by the experience.  We gaze inward and perhaps touch a bit of the divine.  We laugh, we fall, maybe we cry a little bit... yet through it all we get back up and return again and again.

So yes, I cherish that space and I'd very nearly rather die than give it up.

My beloved yoga mat is made by Manduka.

Manduka Best Friend of the Planet - 2013

It's their eKO® Mat.
I have one for my home studio
and one that stays in my car for trips to the shala.

I'm also quite partial to Manduka's eKO SuperLite® Travel Mats
and their eQua Yoga Towels for those super sweaty practices.

I'm curious, what mat do you use and why?  Do you love it?  Do you practice with a towel or no?  A water spritz?  I'd love to hear...

NOTE:  In the interest of full disclosure, I am an Ambassador for Manduka, which means I get a small kick-back should anyone decide to make a purchase through one of the links on my blog.  However, I was a HUGE fan of the Manduka products long before I ever decided to become an Ambassador.  In fact, it was my sincere belief in their company and what they produce that led me to inquire about their affiliate program.  I encourage any of you who are passionate about your yoga mats, towels, and props to find out if there's a way to support the companies that produce them - whomever they may be.  It's a win-win for everyone!