Two years ago, I tried to lift an extremely heavy box into my cart at Lowe’s. In my heart of hearts, I knew it was a stupid idea, but I was in a hurry, and didn’t want to ask anyone for help. “I’m strong,” I thought, “I’ll be fine!”
As soon as I started to lift, I felt everything in my back seize. The world around me came to a screeching halt, and I just stayed there, stuck in a squat, until someone walked by and offered to help.
For days, I could barely move, and I didn’t know what to do. I felt frustrated that my usual yoga and movement practices didn’t help, and embarrassed that I, a yoga teacher who had devoted my life to helping others move mindfully, had injured myself in such a silly way. I should have known better!
It took several weeks for me to admit that I needed professional help, and when I finally went to my PT, he diagnosed me with a bulging disk. Then, he prescribed something that sounded very scary at the time: lower-lumbar spinal extension exercises.
Just as I was opening my mouth to say, “Hold on, you know my spine is fused, right? I can’t actually do that!” he said one more thing:
“Now, I know your spine is mostly fused,” he said, “and I don’t want you going any further than feels safe - but I want you to try it. If it hurts, I just come out of it and we’ll try something else; if it doesn't hurt, but just feels a little bit scary, I encourage you to stay with it.”
It was only because he said this last part that I decided to try it. It was because he reminded me that I had agency,because he gave me permission to try and say, “No, this isn’t working,” that I felt safe to explore.
Prior to this day, I had not tried lumbar spinal extension in nearly 10 years. But on this day, I decided to trust him, and (maybe even more important) to trust myself and my body’s cues.
As I began to come into spinal extension - super gently and super slowly - I paid attention to what I actually felt in my body. Not what I assumed I would feel, or what I hoped I would feel, but what I *actually* felt, in the moment.
And, as it turned out, gentle, slow, mindful lower-lumbar spinal extension felt SO GOOD! I could envision, and even *feel* my grumpy little disk moving back into alignment. I was so excited I almost cried!
This episode has stayed with me, not just because the therapy worked, but because the therapist was so willing to work with me, exactly as I was. Despite his training and expertise, he treated me as an individual, not “a typical person with a bulging disk/ fused spine.”
This is exactly the kind of approach I try to take with my students.
So many of us suffer from low back pain, chronic spinal conditions, or degenerative spinal disease. And even if we have the same diagnosis as someone else, *we* are not all the same. My hope in every class and workshop I teach is to convey that yes, there are certain things that are *generally* helpful (like spinal extensions for bulging lumbar disks), but that everyone must feel and decide for themselves what feels right for them.
In this Saturday’s Yoga for Back Care, I will share some general foundational principles of posture and alignment, especially as it relates to the lumbar spine. We will take a deeper look at the many layers of core muscles, and the role hip mobility plays in low back health.
Most of all, I hope to provide a space for us to feel, to experiment, and to learn from each other.
If you have a spine, especially a sensitive one, I’d love to see you there!
Sat, Dec 2
$15-$35 sliding scale
(Subscribers get in free!)