…grant me the Serenity to Accept the things I cannot change; Courage to Change the things I can; and Wisdom to Know the difference…
The above quote, taken from the well-known Serenity Prayer, holds wonderful sentiment and guidance, whether or not you believe in God in any of his incarnations. Today I give up. I surrender. And it’s about time.
I have spent twenty years fighting with my spine. I went to my first osteopath at age 15 and it helped a little. My second osteopath when I was 17 took a gentler approach and it helped considerably. At 22 I took up Tai Chi and this helped improve my posture and gave me some meditative techniques and relaxation skills. At 25 I started seeing a new osteopath – Patrick Carroll of the Wellbeing Clinic in Waterford, Ireland, who recommended yoga (I ignored him…see my earlier post about “important stuff”). At 26 I undertook a residential Alexander Technique workshop and I was pain-free for a full year, obviously the most successful approach so far. A few short years later and I found myself in trouble again. I could barely walk, so when physiotherapy failed me and I got tired of trying to hobble in and out to college on crutches (Trinity College Dublin is beautiful, but cobblestones and crutches do not go well together…who knew!) I finally took Patrick’s advice and took up yoga.
At 33 I began teaching yoga. I had learned to manage much of my own stiffness and pain through adapting my own practice, although I do greatly benefit from the occasional Tuina Therapy massage from Eoin of White Tiger Clinic whenever I’m home in Ireland to help the process, but still… there’s this one point in my spine that refuses to co-operate. This one point that stubbornly rejects the notion of “moving vertebra by vertebra” and left me feeling inadequate in my own practice, had me comparing myself to other students and teachers. Yes I’m aware of the irony here; yes, I’m a yoga teacher, yes I instruct my students to turn their focus inward, to not compare themselves to others, and yes I fully admit I still have a way to go on my yogic path. Patrick, my osteopath, said to me about a year ago, or maybe even two, that there may be some spinal fractures and wedged vertebrae, which could account for the fact that this one point in my back is not improving while the rest of my body is. He suggested that I get an x-ray to find out. At the time I thought I didn’t need to know, that it wouldn’t change anything, but a year on with still no improvement in that same spinal area I started thinking about an x-ray.
I mentioned in my last post that during my yoga teacher training I found that when I thought about something, it happened. Well, co-incidence or no, it happened again. As soon as I started thinking ‘x-ray’, I found myself at one of The Beauty Events evenings in Bristol and met Charlie and Matt from The Chiropractic Centre in Clifton, who were offering discounted chiropractic assessments (and x-rays) to the guests. Yet again, how could I not take it as a sign. I’ve loved the word ‘serendipity’ ever since the John Cusack film of the same name a few years ago, so I’ll use its derivative here: how serendipitous! …and yes, yoga teachers are allowed to have crushes on movie stars such as the lovely John, especially after Gross Point Blanke, but I digress…
Last week I had my x-ray, a great cup of tea and that fuzzy feeling that goes along with knowing that a portion of my fee goes to a very worthwhile charity, Cherish Uganda (nice one Matt and Charlie). Yesterday I saw the results. I have to admit I was shocked and quite upset. Three fused vertebrae, plus another with wedge fracturing. This is worse than I had imagined. In fact, me being me, I had thought I was being over-dramatic in even considering the possibility of wedge fractures. The thought of vertebrae already being fused had never entered my mind. This was in fact what I have been hoping to avoid. I’m teaching yoga classes for osteoporosis and restorative yoga with a focus on preventing such issues. Oh irony! And not the Alanis Morissette kind. Matt believes it’s congenital, i.e. I was born this way. This makes sense; the first severe back pain I experienced was during my teenage years – all those growth spurts must have put a lot of strain on the muscles around those stubborn, immobile vertebrae. “Must have”, she says, as if I don’t remember well the spasms and difficulties in breathing. Ah, memories!
So, now what? Well, I allowed myself some wallow-time yesterday. Some oh-poor-me, how-can-I-teach-yoga-when-a-simple-forward-bend-is-still-so-inaccessible-to-me time. And then a funny thing happened. I knew I wouldn’t let myself wallow for long, but I didn’t expect the enormous, over-whelming sense of gratitute that followed. It has swallowed me whole! I can now fully accept my own limitations. I can stop trying to do something that I simply cannot do. I will still do my variations on forward-bends, and I will still improve on them as the rest of me adapts and accepts and releases. I will no longer compare myself to those who can fold themselves in two. We are truly all built differently. Finally I have learned how to apply this to myself. I have always taught it to my students, but somehow I felt that I should be able to do better, somehow “we’re all built differently” shouldn’t apply to me. Shoulda, woulda, coulda…meh! Is! Are! – these are the words we need to allow settle into the psyche.
This sense of gratitude that I feel, however, is much, much greater than simply accepting my spinal fate… this problem with my spine is what has driven my life! I now am earning a living through yoga. I am living in a city I love, with a man I love, meeting wonderful people on my journey, building a business and loving every moment of self-discovery, appreciating every pain both emotional and physical as they each teach me something that I need to learn. My spinal defect, given to me from birth has presented me with this wonderful opportunity to learn about my body, my emotions, myself, through yoga and mindfulness. I have become a changed person through yoga and I love who I am becoming, maybe even, dare I say it, who I am!
The objective awareness of my osteopath a year ago, my self-awareness of body since then and the irrefutable proof I saw as I looked at my own spine via a black and white image on a back-lit screen, have finally brought me to surrender. Finally, I can accept what I cannot change. I will still use my yoga practice and my mindfulness to change what I can, to improve myself in areas I can (body, mind, emotions, soul), to prevent future spinal fractures that would exacerbate the problem and to share what I learn with others, but I will no longer question my own wisdom in body and mind that I cannot force a forward-bend, and if I truly live this belief then hopefully my students will follow my example and learn to trust their own inner awareness.
Acceptance. Acceptance is a beautiful thing. I am truly grateful for my life and my spine, in all its de-formed glory. Spine, I say, you have given me my life and I thank you with all my heart and soul.
A new Yoga for Osteoporosis course is starting again soon in Bristol. Contact me if you’d like to know more.