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...


  1. Seriously jealous that those amazing flowers can from your garden! It was 22 degrees here the other day. Thanks for linking Lila in this post.
    Sending you good healing vibes! Take a hot bath .... the heat always helps me back relax.

    1. I'm a big fan of hot baths... heat of any kind. Your blog really hit home when a guest writer you had said something like the only body you ice is a dead body. That resonated with me somewhere deep - like I knew it to be true. :)

  2. So glad you are getting treatment. Wonderful that your teacher is being so supportive. Just a case of being patient. You will get there and be stronger for it.