Updated: Jul 29, 2019
Ever since I became a competitive gymnast, I have been an incredibly active person. In gymnastics I trained roughly 35 hours a week, an near full-time job while juggling school part-time. When I transitioned into diving I was training over 20 hours a week and going to school full-time. So, when I got medically disqualified from diving and told that I needed to shut down, I found this to be a near impossible task.
Leading up to the spinal specialist pulling the plug on my athletic career, I remember my pain was unbearable. I could barely sit through 60 minute college classes let alone the 90 minute ones. Half the time I would miss what the professor was saying because I was so absorbed in what the strong pain receptors were signaling to my brain to actually be able to process any external information. I found myself in a state of constant nausea, making eating a struggle. I love food and require a lot of it to push away my hanger monster, so when pain interrupts my ability to eat, you know its bad. I wouldn't sleep throughout the night, waking up a bunch of times because I couldn't find a spot that would cause relief to my back. It was all consuming and essentially an invasive form of body harassment…
One Friday afternoon, I was told to meet my trainer in the room us athletes would go to in order to tend to our ailments and injuries. There were about 100 football players taping up their bodies and preparing for their game later that afternoon. I walked past them all to meet her and my specialist where they both pulled me into a private office to have a “talk.” The doc asked me if I intended of having kids. I immediately answered, “yes, of course, I have been wanting them since I was a little girl.” He then asked me if I intended on bending down and picking up my children. Obviously, my response was “yes.” He then said it was time for me to shut down and allow my body time to heal, otherwise I would be crippled before my adult life truly began and never be able to pick up my own children.
This moment altered my athletic course yet again where I was faced with a life path I wasn't fond of. This realization led to my early retirement and left me with a lot of pain and a lot of energy. I had to learn how to redirect that energy, turning it into something that benefits me. This was when yoga became a larger part of my life. I tried a bunch of different disciplines of yoga and learned enough to practice on my own at home.
The morning can be hard for my body, that's when my back is quite tender. This makes getting out of bed process even more of a process! Once I drew the parallel that yoga was helping my pain management in the morning and throughout the day it became more and more of a priority.
This practice would allow me to remain a monkey. I would be able to practice my arm balances and get my daily dose of being upside down. However, back bends were unattainable. Whenever I did them it would make me nauseous as my lower spine was compressing right where the trauma is located.
I continued practicing with less emphasis on the back bends, more on stretching out the rest of my body. I would aim to loosen up my hamstrings and hip flexors and strengthen my core. Recently, in my yoga teacher training I learned that I could move me pelvis in a way to alleviate the pressure in my lumbar spine. By doing this, I have been able to work more on my back-bends while not hurting my injury. This is a huge evolution within my practice!
Yoga has become a tremendous part of my pain management. My back has improved but is still a chronic obstacle I have to manage. On the rare occasion where I miss my morning practice, I will feel my pain flare up and my body feels out of sync. Therefore, it is not worth missing my practice and is an integral part of my daily living.
In the last five years I have become disciplined and practice every day, adjusting my practice to the needs of my body. This is one of the components of yoga that I find so beautiful. It's a fluid practice that changes day-to-day, allowing me to listen to my body.
Yoga is a practice that is tremendously adaptable to every body type and even the shifts within one body from day to another. My practice allows me to push myself on days where my body feels strong and to take it easier on days where I don't. Learning my limitations and the clues my body uses to communicate with myself is is still a learning process. It really is all about finding the right balance and while I strive to achieve that balance, I am eager to continue learning more about myself along the way.