NotSoZen YogaJen

Archive for the ‘Overcoming Obstacles’ Category

Me and my yoga mat after restorative yoga class

This is me after class, with my yoga mat over my shoulder.

On Thursday, my physical therapist cleared me for restorative yoga.

This has happened at least three times since the beginning of this year — my hip will start to feel a little better (I’ve had a hip injury for a year and a half and was diagnosed with a labral tear in my right hip last August), my physical therapist will say I can go to restorative yoga that week, and then before I can make it to a class, my hip will flare up again. So I have to take my PT exercise routine down a notch, slowly add back the more challenging exercises once my hip pain has calmed down, and make sure I’m OK doing those exercises consistently. Only then am I cleared again to go to yoga, at which point my hip flares up before I can make it to class.

On Thursday, my physical therapist said, again, that I could go to restorative yoga.

“Go tomorrow!” he said.

I’d been scanning yoga schedules for restorative classes so I’d be ready when this day came, and picked a Saturday evening class at a studio in Manhattan.

Technically, I haven’t been to a yoga class since last spring, when I tried a restorative class after having gotten a cortisone shot. But it feels like it’s been a lot longer because that one doesn’t even really count. It was labeled as a restorative class but it was pretty active, and focused on hip poses — they very thing I can’t do.

When I explained my injury to the teacher before class and said I might need some modifications, she hurriedly brushed me off, saying that I should be taking a private session instead, and she didn’t offer help or alternative poses during class. I could hardly do any of the poses, and was in pain afterwards.

I haven’t been to a yoga class since. And I haven’t been able to practice consistently, and without pain, since I got injured a year and a half ago.

This weekend I had a completely different experience.

Before class, I went up to the teacher and told her I had a labral tear and tendonosis in my right hip. I said that this was my first yoga class in a year, and I may have to modify things.

She told me that she had labral tears in both hips (!), and we talked a bit about this type of injury before class even started.

As opposed to the class I took last year, this restorative class actually was restorative, and involved a lot of props, holding simple poses, and relaxing. Throughout the class the teacher was very attentive, suggesting things I should or shouldn’t do, helping set up props to make my hips more stable, and making sure poses felt OK for me.

Being in a dark, candle-lit yoga studio, doing familiar poses, felt…joyful. And peaceful. Slowing down, taking deep breaths, chanting “Om,” being quiet and meditative and reflective.

But it was also a little sad. Remembering the way I used to practice yoga, the things I used to be able to do, the way I used to be able to move. And thinking about all the poses, like pigeon (which I loved) and headstand (which I hated), that I might never be able to do again. Being in that room was old and familiar, but also different and new.

Afterwards, I spoke to the teacher more and she was really helpful, sharing her experiences with her injuries and recovery process.

It was the perfect first yoga class for me to go back to — slow-paced and gentle, with a knowledgeable teacher who knew firsthand what I was going through.

Walking out onto the street, my yoga mat slung over my shoulder, I felt great. The class hadn’t exacerbated my pain, and it was something I could go back to. To begin my yoga practice again in this new way, that’s very different, but also kind of the same.

And an update since my last post in October

Shortly after I wrote that post, a coworker referred me to a physical therapist who specializes in hip pain whom I’ve been going to ever since, and building up my strengthening PT exercise routine. I was introduced to the foam roller. And I love it! I bought a giant ice pack.

After a few times, I stopped going to the basics Pilates class in the fall because my hip pain was often flared up. At the beginning of this year I was able to go back to Pilates and can make it to my weekly class pretty consistently now.

I’ve tried acupuncture which was recommended but it flared up my pain. I got two massages and one was fine and the other flared up my hip. Last September I tried going to a chiropractor who used Active Release Technique which also flared up my pain. So for the moment I’m staying away from soft tissue work and sticking to PT, Pilates, and now restorative yoga, too.

I read in a comment on this blog post that someone with a labral tear cut out wheat and sugar and felt better, and I was vaguely aware of having heard or read that gluten is inflammatory, so it makes sense that not eating it would help. A week ago I started an experiment of cutting back on gluten and sugar to see if that will make a difference.

At the beginning of last week I had two almost pain-free days where I could go through the day without an awareness of my hip. This felt amazing, and light. It reminded me how draining — physically, mentally, and emotionally — chronic pain is, and what a weight is lifted when it’s not there.

Towards the end of the week, the pain came back. Right now my hips hurt — I am definitely aware of them — and I still have some degree of pain more often than not. But I’m going to foam roll, do my PT routine, and ice while I watch The Big Bang Theory. This morning I went to my regular Pilates class. And last night I went to my first yoga class in a year.

Keep calm and do Pilates

Source: Parsley & Dill

In June, after having been diagnosed with hip bursitis earlier in the year, I had completed two months of physical therapy and gotten a cortisone shot, but my pain persisted and I still couldn’t do yoga.

What happened after that was, I got the second cortisone shot my doctored recommended, which was really the last one I could get, for awhile at least. And my pain got worse. I started having muscle spasms in both legs and pain in my right calf. Also, aside from bursitis, my physical therapist thought that there might be something wrong with my actual hip joint.

I called my doctor to tell him about my worsening symptoms. He was very friendly and upbeat, assuring me that nothing was wrong.

“Youshouldhaveafinehip,” he said.

“What?” I asked. I was taking notes, and didn’t want to miss anything important.

“You. Should. Have. A. Fine. Hip,” he said, overly enunciating every syllable.

I felt like I’d been punched in the stomach. The way he’d switched on a dime from warm and cheerful to cold and condescending made me feel like a little kid who was getting reprimanded. So I responded how I always do when someone speaks to me harshly and I feel immense discomfort: with excessive cheerfulness.

“Great, thanks!” I squeaked. “Have a great weekend!”

The next step was to get an MRI but in the meantime my doctor prescribed pain medication for me — at the highest possible dose. I’m very sensitive to medication and also have depression and anxiety, so I quickly experienced disturbing side effects. I felt spacey, disconnected, and checked-out, in addition to really sad and extremely anxious to the point of panic.

After a few days on the medication and feeling like I was jumping out of my skin, I had a meltdown at the pharmacy counter late one night asking through tears if I could stop taking it immediately or had to do it gradually.

“Stop!” the pharmacist said, handing me a tissue.

My gut, which felt like it had been punched after my last conversation with my doctor, was telling me to go to a different doctor. But I felt scared and people-please-y.

Maybe I should at least go back for one more visit and get the MRI through him, I thought.

The primary reason I didn’t want to go back to him was the way he’d talked to me that one time, which didn’t even seem logical. Maybe I was too sensitive or just overreacting.

But then I started to think about how he’d prescribed a pain medication at the highest dose allowed when I’m a fairly petite person who’s highly sensitive to medication. And then I started to think about how after four months of treatment including two cortisone shots, my injury wasn’t getting any better at all. I still felt nervous about not going to him anymore, though.

If I wasn’t trying to please someone else, what would I do? I asked myself.

The answer came loud and clear: Go to a different doctor.

So that’s what I did.

My new doctor didn’t think I had hip bursitis, the condition I’d been diagnosed and treated for over the past four months. She thought I had a labral tear in my hip, and prescribed an MRI.

Early on in my injury, I thought I had a lip labrum tear based on a conversation with my neighbor who had the same thing — her symptoms sounded exactly like my symptoms. At the beginning of this year, when I was experiencing these symptoms, Lady Gaga had a labrum tear in her hip and had to get surgery. My fear, going into my first doctor’s visit in April, had been that I would have a hip labrum tear and would have to get an MRI and surgery, and I was so relieved when I was diagnosed with hip bursitis and did not have to get an MRI.

I’d heard scary stories about MRIs — the enclosed space! The loud noise! — so by the time I got to the hospital for my appointment, I was terrified.

“Are you claustrophobic?” the pre-MRI questionnaire asked. I panicked. I didn’t know if I was claustrophobic. I had anxiety that could be pretty severe at times and didn’t want to discover I was claustrophobic while I was in there.

My MRI technician put me at ease though, talking to me through headphones throughout the session to let me know what was going on. Pretending I was in Savasana pose, I put one hand on my heart and the other on my belly and breathed. The noise was loud but repetitive and oddly soothing, and I fell into a calm, meditative state. By the time it was over I was almost asleep and totally relaxed.

The results of my MRI confirmed what my new doctor had suspected — I had a labral tear in my hip, and no bursitis at all.

A labral tear never heals, but there are things that can be done to manage or hopefully cease the pain, like stretching and strengthening.

After a very extended yoga hiatus and barely being able to do any physical activity all year, at my appointment where I got my MRI results, my doctor cleared me for Pilates right away (!).

Excited to get back to a class of any kind, I found a small Pilates studio a few blocks from where I live that offers a super-beginner level class. That Sunday, I put on yoga pants and a tank top, and sat down on a mat — similar to my familiar yoga mat — at the studio.

There were only four people in class, and before it started I talked to the instructor about my injury.

“I knew about Jen,” the teacher said, standing at the front of the room, “but are there any other injuries I should know about?”

Everyone raised their hands. There was a shoulder injury, a painful lower back, a knee thing.

So this is what it’s come to? I thought, laughing to myself. I used to do advanced yoga and now I’m in Pilates for injured people.

Although I stopped going to physical therapy a few months ago when my injury wasn’t improving, I’ll go back soon and incorporate that into my rehabilitation routine along with Pilates. Hopefully physical therapy will have more of an impact once it’s treating the correct condition.

For now, I feel happiness from my new Sunday afternoon Pilates ritual with a wonderful teacher who remembers what my injury is from week to week, tells me when I shouldn’t do a pose, and offers adjustments and modifications. And with my new — correct — diagnosis, I’m starting all over from the beginning, taking gentle, mindful baby steps on the slow road to recovery.

Me not doing yoga

Two months of PT and one cortisone shot and I still can’t do yoga!

When we last left off, I’d just been diagnosed with hip bursitis. Finally knowing what was wrong with me after having been in pain for six months, I felt relieved, hopeful, and optimistic.

This was two months ago. I’d gone to the doctor, he told me I had hip bursitis, and said I had some choices:

1) I could get a cortisone shot right away
2) I could go to physical therapy
3) I could go to physical therapy for a month and if my hip didn’t feel better after that, then I could get a cortisone shot

He inserted the caveat that most people aren’t responsive to physical therapy for this condition, but it was up to me what I wanted to do. Also, he said that sometimes one cortisone shot completely relieves the pain, but sometimes a second one is necessary. However, two is really the max you can get and if that doesn’t work then you’re just barking up the wrong tree (pose) and need to start looking into if something else is wrong.

Regardless, it seemed totally possible that through some course of treatment, I would be able to be pain-free, regain my full range of motion which had been severely limited by the bursitis, and go back to yoga, resuming my normal practice.

Not wanting to jump right to the cortisone shot without trying other alternatives, I opted for physical therapy for a month, after which I would evaluate how I felt and decide if I wanted to get a shot.

After not being able to practice yoga consistently for months, the moving and stretching in PT felt great. It started out as very gentle strengthening and stretching exercises. Also, being stretched out by the physical therapist, I discovered that having someone else stretch you is like the greatest thing ever — you get to enjoy the juicy stretching sensation without having to exert any effort whatsoever to hold it there.

I thought it would go on like this forever — a gentle stretch here, an easy bridge pose there — but soon, things got harder. Through PT is was revealed that although I’ve been doing yoga for 15 years, I have a very weak core. Having a weak core means I can’t properly hold myself up, so things compress and put undo pressure on my hip. PT then went from gentle stretching to hardcore core workouts, with long holds in forearm plank becoming a staple of my routine.

But after one month of stretching, strengthening, and core work, my hip was not showing big signs of improvement — some days it felt better, some days it felt worse, but it always felt painful. At my follow-up doctor appointment, I decided to hold off on the cortisone shot for one more month. I figured that it had taken my body a long time to develop this injury, and I wasn’t going to fix all my misalignment and build up all that strength in just one month.

After the second month though, I still felt daily pain and decided to give the shot a shot. My doctor cautioned that it might feel worse for one or two days, but then would feel better.

Humph, that was it? I thought when I got home after getting my shot, thinking I was in the clear. It really didn’t hurt much at all.

The next morning, I woke up in excruciating pain, worse than any I had ever experienced throughout the entire duration of this injury. Grateful that the doctor had warned me, I knew not to freak out and that I was having a totally normal reaction to it and that this too shall pass.

On Day One, every step I took was painful. Not only was I limping, but I had to hold onto desks, tables, and chairs in order to sit down or stand up, take stairs one at a time, and ask someone to let me sit in a seat on the crowded rush hour subway because it hurt too much to stand.

Day Two was noticeably better but still noticeably painful.

But on Day Three, I felt NO PAIN. For the first time in almost nine months, I was pain-free! Having this injury, I’ve come to automatically limit my range of motion to avoid painful positions, so I was cautious and didn’t try to do anything that I thought might hurt, like sitting cross-legged or bending my right knee in too much. Even with my limited range of motion, I still got the sense that all the pain was gone, which was amazing after having become accustomed to daily pain for so long.

At my final physical therapy session, I reported the exciting news — no pain! — and they gave me program of exercises to continue on my own at home, and a t-shirt as my PT graduation gift.

A week later I started to feel some soreness — not the sharp pain I’d had before, just a little tenderness. It wasn’t bad though, and I’d been given the OK to go back to yoga, so I picked a gentle-looking class that was partially restorative that I wanted to take, and eagerly anticipated my return to yoga.

That day I ran into my neighbor who’s a massage therapist at a physical therapy facility. I’ve been giving him updates about my bursitis, and told him about my plan to go back to yoga.

He suggested that I try Pilates instead, and told me about the studio he went to that he loved. A former yogi, after having done Pilates at the studio for a while he said he took a yoga class there that a classmate recommended.

“You know what I thought of it?” he asked. “Barbaric!”

Unrolling my mat for the first time in months at the restorative class that night, I thought that yoga and I would have a joyful reunion, skipping towards each other with open arms. I thought I’d take things slow, pay attention to how I felt, and back off and modify a few poses if they hurt. I thought I’d be able to do almost everything, and possibly even be able to sit in a cross-legged seat at the beginning and end of class.

This was not what happened.

Almost everything hurt. I had to modify a ton, back off a lot, flat-out not even do some poses at all. And this was a restorative class.

Trying to make it through class, feeling sharp, shooting pain if I moved too much this way or bent too much that way, I wanted to cry. I’d hoped that I’d be able to — maybe slowly but eventually — go back to my beloved yoga practice as I knew it. I thought that the cortisone shot would be the solution, would bring the healing that would allow me to return to my pre-pain ways.

Sitting cross-legged with my knees bent up to my chest instead of resting comfortably on the ground, my eyes welled up. Poses that were easy for the rest of the students were impossible for me, and every position was a reminder of things I used to be able to do but couldn’t do anymore.

Jen Garam coffee yoga

Look how comfortable I look! I can’t sit like this anymore. But I can still drink iced coffee…

When I got home that night I texted my neighbor, “Took a restorative yoga class tonight: Barbaric.”

After two months of physical therapy exercises which were simple, precise, and alignment-focused, yoga, even a restorative class, seemed too fast-paced and full of coarse, all-over-the-place movements. It hurt during class, and left me afterwards with pain I still feel a few days later.

Despite what I’d hoped for, I hadn’t found the solution, experienced the fix. I had to go back to the drawing board.

I feel so disappointed that my pain isn’t gone, that I can’t yet return to life — and yoga — as usual. But I still feel hopeful that one day I will be able to be pain-free; it just might take longer and look different than I’d initially thought.

Even though I graduated from physical therapy last week, I’m going to call to make another appointment this week. I’m going to get the second cortisone shot that I hoped I wouldn’t need. I’m going to be as diligent as I can with doing my ongoing physical therapy exercises at home. I’m going to take yoga off the table for the foreseeable future to prioritize healing my hip bursitis. And once this post-yoga class pain in my hip calms down, I’m going to check out that Pilates studio that my neighbor recommended.

It makes me sad to think of giving up yoga, for now at least, as it’s brought me so much healing, serenity, and happiness for the past 15 years, and been such a big part of my identity. But being in so much pain, I didn’t even enjoy the class I took the other day, and I know that right now, my body needs something else. So for the time being, I just might become NotSoZen PilatesJen.

leg injury


I’ve had injuries before where I couldn’t do yoga. There was my back pain, my tweaked out arms and neck, and my broken toe. But none of these things seemed that serious, and the most I’ve ever had to stay away from yoga was a little over a month.

This is worse.

In September, my right hip and leg started hurting after a restorative yoga class. This class consisted of lounging around for long periods of time, propped up on various bolsters and blocks, so it was baffling how I got hurt during it. I meditate daily, and after this class I noticed that it started to hurt to sit cross-legged in meditation, so I took a short break from yoga and mediating, and then went back to both after about a week.

Over the next few months, several things happened to make my injury worse:

  • One Saturday night in November, I double booked myself and made two plans. I was tired and cranky and couldn’t decide which plan I wanted to do, so I canceled one, and then I changed my mind and canceled the other one, and then I tried to get my first plan back but it was too late. So I wound up home alone with no plans, and in frustration I plunked down hard on my wooden kitchen chair. I felt something snap in my right hip, and it hurt. Then I had canned soup for dinner. That night sucked. The next day the pain was still bad, and I was limping. I was so mad at myself! If only I’d gone out for one of my plans! If only I hadn’t been so cranky! If only I hadn’t plunked so hard! And I took a break from yoga and meditating again.
  • In December, I was showing off — not warmed up at all — how I could touch my toes. I made it half-way there when I felt pain in my right leg, and again, took another yoga/meditation break.
  • On New Year’s Eve Day I went to yoga. I took precautions. I talked to the teacher before class and told him about my injury. I didn’t sit cross-legged at the beginning of class. I sat in Virasana. On a block. But, not wanting to be limited, not wanting to be injured, I tried to do Compass pose. And hobbled out of class.

At this point, I could have gone to a doctor. Except I didn’t have health insurance then and having no idea how serious my injury was, I was afraid that walking in a doctor’s office would bankrupt me. So I decided to manage it myself by taking a longer break from yoga — six weeks off — and hoping it was just a pulled muscle or something and that that would take care of it.

After six weeks off yoga, a number of things happened to make my injury worse:

  • The day before I went back to yoga, I went sledding. Sitting cross-legged on the sled brought back the pain in my leg and hip. And it turned out that I didn’t even like sledding, although I did like the hot chocolate afterwards.
  • In pigeon pose in yoga class, the teacher adjusted me. Doing hip opening poses like pigeon is excruciating with this injury, but I’d figured out a way to make it not hurt that much by not opening my knee that wide. But on this day, the teacher came over and adjusted me, moving my knee wide and opening my hip way up. I told him I had a hip injury and didn’t want to go deep into the pose, but he moved my leg anyway saying that the way I was doing it would injure my knee, and then I’d have an injured knee and hip. This is where I got mad at the teacher, and even madder at myself. Because the teacher was a hot guy and one of those too-cool-for-school yoga teachers, and even though I know better, in the moment when he adjusted me I abandoned myself and let him, whereas if he had been a woman, or a not-so-hot guy, I would have stood my ground.

By this time I had health insurance again, and friends who were encouraging me to stop blowing this off and go to the doctor. So I made a doctor’s appointment but the earliest I could get in was in three weeks.

I suspected that my days of yoga were numbered and once I went to the doctor he was going to tell me that I couldn’t go anymore, so I just wanted to get in a few more classes. That weekend I went to yoga. I felt sort-of-OK-not-terrible afterwards.

But the next day I was in agonizing pain, and it was constant. I felt it with every step I took. When I stood up. When I sat down. While I was sitting. Walking up stairs. Going down stairs. And even though I’d been all this-is-no-big-deal about my injury for six months, all of a sudden I started to FREAK OUT.

This was my LEG. I need it to STAND ON. And it hurt ALL THE TIME. I was afraid I’d be in pain forever, that I’d never be able to do to yoga again, or to take a step without feeling a sharp pang in my leg.

I worried that I had a torn hip labrum like Lady Gaga (she does yoga, too!), and that I’d need an MRI and surgery, only I wouldn’t be able to afford a blinged-out wheelchair like Gaga’s.

I was freaking out, and I couldn’t do the thing which makes me not freak out, which was go to yoga. I panicked that I’d have to go on anti-anxiety meds, only I’m super-sensitive to medication and the one time I took it for a week I wound up not only not anxious, but sedated.

And then my doctor appointment arrived. I told him my symptoms, and he diagnosed me, which seemed kind of miraculous. That I didn’t have to worry and wonder and assume the worst anymore. That I could say, “This is what is wrong,” and he could say, “This is what you have.”

Which is hip bursitis. Something that does not require an MRI, or surgery, or a secondhand wheelchair. Something that can get better. Something where I can be free of pain, get my full range of motion back, and return to yoga.

I start a month of physical therapy next week and I’m so excited. I like/need to practice yoga about three times a week, and I haven’t be able to practice consistently since last fall. I’ve only gone to yoga a handful of times so far this year, between taking long, long breaks. As a result I often feel tired, achy, listless, foggy — and anxious!

I’m not meditating because sitting in my favorite meditation position is painful. Technically, I could still meditate and sit in any number of other positions, but meditating is kind of Pavlovian for me and I associate sitting cross-legged on a rolled-up blanket with the peace I then feel, so I’m being stubborn and not meditating at all.

Sitting cross-legged is also my favorite lounging around my apartment position, and my favorite watching TV position. Pulling my right leg in and crossing it is my writing position, and my talking on the phone position. I haven’t been able to do any of these things in months either.

After having been relatively inactive — and in pain — for so long, I’m excited to move and stretch in physical therapy. I’m excited for gentle exercise, being forced to take it easy and not push myself, which feels like it’s going to be really nurturing. I’m excited for healing my body and getting my writing and lounging and meditation positions back. And one day hopefully soon, getting my yoga back.

I was in yoga class a few weeks ago, uncomfortably situated in Hanumanasana (split pose), when the teacher said of its namesake deity, “Hanuman had super powers. But he forgot that he had them.”

Just like me! I thought. And as my hamstrings stretched and strained, I remembered that I, too, have super powers, though I generally live in a state of amnesia about them.  The main symptom of this kind of amnesia, is that I experience a large disconnect between who I am and how I feel about myself.  I forget things like I’m smart, pretty, funny, a good writer, a kind soul, a feisty spirit.  Basically, I forget that I have lots of positive qualities, and sometimes, I don’t remember that I have any at all.

Occasionally I find myself in situations where this inner/outer split becomes apparent.  I will be caught by surprise by the way someone relates to me as pretty or smart or talented.  I will think, for an instant, Is that me they are talking about?  And in these moments it is incredibly painful to see how wide and vast the divide is, and I wonder if I will ever be able to bridge that gap, to unite my inner experience with outer reality, to remember that I have super powers, and to get to enjoy using them.

For me, the Kryptonite is disappointments, fears, worries, and wounds.  But it can take as little as the hustle and bustle of day-to-day life to dull the shine of radiant super powers.

The story goes that a curse was placed on Hanuman, which caused him to be unable to remember his own ability unless he was reminded by another person.  And finally, someone does, saying to him:

You are as powerful as the wind;
You are intelligent, illustrious and an inventor.
There is nothing in this world that’s too difficult for you;
Whenever stuck, you are the one who can help.

What forgotten super powers do you possess?  May this be a reminder to remember…

I’m writing a blog on called Progress Not Perfection and this is my first post!

“I Was Diagnosed with OCD”

Please check it out!

I had a bad week last week.  Like, it was bad.  I was going through stuff.  And on top of that, I was getting hit with alternating waves of depression and anxiety.  All I wanted to do was have a nurturing, peaceful, quiet couple of days so I could deal with my stuff and heal.  I wanted to rest, relax, veg out watching DVDs, and be alone in the soothing sanctuary of my home.  But then, my plumbing started to fall apart.

Let me just say, that even when I have no stuff to deal with and I am calm and centered and at my very best, plumbing issues make me very anxious.  I find it extremely unsettling when foundational elements of life like plumbing aren’t functioning.  And then there’s my Post Traumatic Plumbing Stress Disorder.  Because this happened to my bathtub a few years ago, and the following year this happened to my toilet, and now every time there is the smallest sign of drain blockage or the first drip of a leak, I get flashbacks involving days of cleaning up black sludge, and am instantly filled with dread.

Last week I was not calm, centered, or at my very best when my bathroom sink clogged.  The plumber fixed it.  I cleaned up the black sludge that was left behind.  I felt drained, but also, some sense of relief.  Like, OK, this week is bad, my sink clogged, but I dealt with it and it’s over.

That night, I turned on my kitchen sink, and it was now clogged.  So the plumber came back.  I cleaned.  I felt stretched too thin, having stuff and clogged plumbing and black sludge to contend with all in the same week, but it was Friday.  This week really sucked, but it was behind me.  The weekend was here.  I could finally rest and relax, and get back to my regular routine on Monday.

On Sunday I went to a wonderful brunch with a good friend.  I came home feeling even more relieved.  Every thing was fixed.  No more clogs.  No more messes.  No more scheduling plumbers to fix pipes, and days lost to work being done in my apartment and cleaning up.  Ahhh….

And then I heard a loud hissing sound coming from my bathroom.  I went in to investigate the noise and saw that the heating pipe was leaking water and shooting out steam.

This.  Was too much to deal with in one week.  And like my plumbing, I fell apart.

On Monday I didn’t get back to my regular routine.  Plumbers were back at my apartment again, and they fixed the pipe.  Then I trudged to the grocery store for the third time to buy more cleaning supplies, feeling like I was trapped in a time warp of never-ending plumbing malfunctions and bathroom cleaning (and let me just say, that I don’t enjoy cleaning my bathroom even when I am calm, centered, and at my very best).  It was cold and dark and gray out, and I made my annual self-diagnosis of Seasonal Affective Disorder.  Things could not continue like this.  It was time for drastic measures.  It was time for yoga.  It was time for Bikram.

I’m a Vinyasa girl, but Bikram yoga got me through a hard time earlier this year and the way things felt like they were piling up on me, I was craving it again.  So on Tuesday night, I walked through the cold Brooklyn streets to the Bikram studio in my neighborhood.  I stepped into the hot, dark room.  I sweat, a lot, and I had a few moments of nausea.  But there’s something about Bikram that kicks my butt so hard it literally knocks all the thoughts out of my head.  Which is helpful, when the thoughts are of the everything-sucks-and-it-will-never-get-better-downward-spiral variety.

After class my face was bright red and my skin was glowing.  My mind was empty(ish) and clear.  I felt like my body was being flooded with waves of energy, hope, and optimism.  I sipped Vita Coco, and reveled in my Bikram bliss.  I slept better than I had all week, and the next morning I woke up feeling rested at last, and already craving my next Bikram fix.

I’m not ready to abandon Vinyasa, but I think I might become a seasonal Bikram yogini.  Because there’s nothing like Bikram to get me through a hard time, a bad week, fucked-up plumbing, and the long, cold, dark New York winter…

When we last left off, I was doused in Ben Gay, practicing yoga in my mind because I was injured and couldn’t practice it with my body, and contentedly and peacefully learning the lesson from my forced yoga break.  Now?  Not so much.

It’s been over a month.  And during that time, my aches and pains have felt better, only to then feel worse again.  After my initial back tweak, I took a week off of yoga – four days until I was feeling better and a couple extra days thrown in for good measure.  And then, on the day that I had decided would be my glorious reentry into yoga, I tweaked my arm out doing something as strenuous and physically taxing as…reaching for my shirt that was draped over my chair.  So then I took another couple of days off, and was feeling better and planning for a morning yoga class.  Lying in bed that morning, happily thinking about the class I would soon be taking, I luxuriously stretched out my other arm and…tweaked it.  So then came another break.  And I wasn’t so excited about yoga-in-my-mind or my spiritual lesson anymore.  I just wanted to move!

Eventually, I went back to class.  I started with restorative classes and then inched my way into active Vinyasa classes, when one day, doing something as strenuous and physically taxing as…sitting, I tweaked out my right hamstring.

Finally, I made it back to my old vigorous Vinyasa practice.  But…it was different now.  I had to pay attention.  Because I had to avoid reactivating the pain on the right and left sides of my neck/back/shoulders/arms.  And now my right hamstring felt pulled, so I needed to prop up blocks for stretchy poses on that side.  And my left hamstring has been bothering me for years due to a pole dancing class injury, so I have to be careful in Triangle and Ardha Chandrasana poses on that side.  And, oh, my lower back has been hurting, too.

I have to be so aware in class now, and it’s annoying.  I can’t just fling myself willy-nilly into poses and feel the yummy juiciness of the unobstructed stretch like I could two months ago, when I was young and limber.  I can’t just space out and revel in the yoga bliss.  I have to vigilantly focus and constantly modify.  Was that a hint of tweak here?  A pulling sensation there?  Do I have to back off this pose, grab more props for that pose?  ANNOYING! I just want to move and flow and feel and bliss out!  I don’t want to have to think and worry in yoga!  I do enough of that in my life and off the mat, and yoga is supposed to help me escape from that!

Or actually…maybe…yoga is supposed to help me be present with what is actually going on.  Be mindful.  Be aware.  Slow down.  Pay attention…   And one day in class I realized this, and felt another spiritual lesson coming on.  An annoying lesson, that I don’t necessarily want to learn, that I don’t exactly feel excited about, but a lesson nonetheless.

I usually like my lessons to be quick and dirty, to just get it and move on.  Quickly.  And this lesson is taking way too long for my liking.  But another lesson is, you don’t always like your lessons, and you never really get to choose them or specify their duration.

Last week I finally, finally, built back up to my pre-tweaked practice, and went to five hardcore Vinyasa classes.  And I felt good.  Mentally clear.  Blissfully calm.  And on the fifth day, I woke up in the middle of the night with excruciating pain in my neck and arm from doing something as strenuous and physically taxing as…I don’t know, probably shifting an inch on my pillow.  In tears from the pain, I stumbled to my bathroom for an emergency application of Ben Gay, and gulped down an Aleve.  And the next day I bit the bullet and made my first physical therapy appointment.

At my appointment earlier this week, my physical therapist said those dreaded words:  “You should lay off yoga for a couple weeks.”  But I already did that!  And I just went back to it!  And I don’t want to take another break! my inner voice pleaded.  And then, I decided to clarify what she meant by that.

Me:  (hopefully)  Like, one week?

Her:  Like one or two weeks.

Me:  (internally)  Ugh.  So done with this lesson.  Just over it!

So now I’m on another yoga break.  And when I go back to class, I’ll probably have to pay attention to my body for awhile, to when I can push myself (optimistically), and when I have to back off (more likely).  And I have fantasies of a day when I will be tweak and pain-free, and able to enjoy flinging my body around willy-nilly in class and mindlessly blissing out.  And I tell myself that when that happens, I will not take one inch of my neck or shoulders or arms or back or hamstrings for granted.  But truthfully, the lesson I’ve learned is that most of the time, it takes a little something going wrong, to have appreciation for when things are going right.

What lessons are you learning in your life right now, in yoga, or otherwise?  How do you feel about the timing of your lessons, and how long they take?  What do you do when you feel like they are just taking too damn long?  Has anything happened that has forced you to slow down and pay attention?  What challenges does that present, and what do you get from it?


After having practiced yoga for over 12 years, this past Friday night I had a yogic breakthrough and got up into headstand without using the wall for the very first time.

To backtrack, for the first three years that I practiced yoga, I didn’t go to classes where headstand was taught.  I did yoga at the gym, and as a warm-up in the Modern Dance class I took in acting school, and there was not a headstand in sight.  And then, in 2001, I started going to yoga studios and headstands began popping up in classes.  But I heard someone say once that it took them five years to do headstand, so I totally let myself off the hook and figured I had some time.  And one day I was able to get up into headstand against the wall, and that felt good, so I hung out with that for a few years and thought that eventually I would be able to do it without the wall, and it would just kind of maybe happen on its own.

Then another five years went by, and I co-taught a workshop called Releasing Obstacles with yoga teacher Robin Pickering.  By this time I realized that I had a fear of going upside down without the wall nearby.  And that headstand wasn’t just going to happen for me if I never tried.  But since I was teaching the writing portion of this workshop, I figured I should suck it up and try to release an obstacle of my own.  So, in the middle of the room, without a wall, I came up into a headstand curl, which was my name for the pre-headstand egg shape, where you are balanced on your head and your legs are in the air with your knees tucked into your chest.  And I surprised myself by hanging out there, in that balance for the first time, without rolling over backwards or being afraid that I was going to roll over and therefore coming back down.  I just balanced.  Wiggling my toes.

And I figured, at that point, that my headstand was just around the corner.  After all, I had done the hard part of balancing on my head, and all I had left to do now was straighten my legs up and Ta Da!  There I’d be.

That was in 2006.  And my headstand did not follow shortly after that experience.  In fact, my fear got the best of me, and I lost my ability to even balance in that headstand curl without the wall.  I got to the point where I can stay up in headstand without leaning on the wall, but I need the wall to get up into it in the first place.

This Friday night in yoga class, the teacher had us go to the wall for headstand.  And I’d had a rough week, and kind of a crappy day, and something in me decided to move a little farther from the wall than usual, so that it would be there if I fell, but I wouldn’t necessarily have to rely on it on my way up.  And somehow, those extra inches made a difference, and I came up into the headstand curl without poising my big toe on the wall for support, and I hung out balancing in that little egg shape.  And then…I straightened my legs.  And I was up!  And staying up!  On my own!  The teacher then said we could come down and try it again, but I didn’t want to try again.  Because what if it was just a fluke that I couldn’t repeat?  But again, after a bad week, I felt like, what do I have to lose?  So I tried again, and I did it again!

After class, I told the teacher about my headstand breakthrough, and she said that clearly I am strong enough to do headstand physically, and that the barrier was a mental one.  I also used to be able to do Crow Pose seven years ago but I lost it, which is another example of having the physical ability to do something, but also having a mental block to it that overrides the physical ability.

And while it’s cool to say, “I can do headstand, yipppppeeeeee!” it’s not totally about adding another notch to my yoga repertoire.  For me it’s about the mental part, about overcoming fear, and how yoga helps me do that.  When I first started practicing yoga, I wasn’t very flexible or strong so there was a lot I couldn’t do.  But pretty quickly I started busting through barriers left and right and doing all these things I thought I couldn’t:  Coming up in forearm stand and handstand against the wall!  Balancing in Ardha Chandrasana!  Walking my hands up and down the wall into and out of Wheel Pose!  And I would get a rush each time, that I reprogrammed some limitation in my brain, and now it was a new ability, a new possibility.

But that rush hasn’t happened in years.  I hit a yogic plateau, and there were the things I could do and the things I couldn’t and they pretty much stayed the same.  I stayed the same, and kind of complacent with my yoga repertoire, and didn’t push myself out of my comfort zone to try anything new anymore.  Until Friday night.  And after a rough week and a crappy day of feeling pretty disempowered in my life, I remembered that yoga has the ability to remind you of your own inner power, to remind you that even when you think, I can’t.  There’s NO WAY! that quite often, YOU CAN.

My teacher and I were chatting about how it took me 12 years of yoga to do my first headstand, and she joked that it’s not like I don’t do yoga that much.  At this point I go to class five – six times a week, and though I haven’t always practiced that frequently, throughout the entire 12 years I have had a very consistent yoga practice.  So it’s not like it took me 12 years but I go to class once a year.  It took me 12 years and I go to class almost everyday.

And this made me think about patience, because man, that is some serious patience.  And I’m not known to have patience in all areas of my life like that.  I can be pretty impatient about how things aren’t progressing fast enough for me.  But this is another lesson I learn from yoga.  I am not particularly goal-oriented in my yoga practice as you can see, and I don’t think I have to master a pose in a certain about of time, nor do I think I suck if I can’t do certain poses.  I practice yoga mostly for the experience of it, and how it makes me feel, and the many benefits I get from going to a class, no matter what poses I can or can’t do that day.  So while, in most areas of my life, it is difficult for me to grasp the it’s the journey not the destination concept, in yoga, I get it.

This whole experience reawakened me to what it feels like to break through a limitation, and makes me excited to be un-complacent and un-plateau-y in my yoga practice again, and without pushing or striving, just be open to and aware of what other limitations I can break through, what other places I can turn a NO WAY! into an I CAN.  Maybe Crow Pose is up next.  And maybe after that, I can take it off the mat and into the rest of my life.

Tell me about your yoga breakthroughs!  How has yoga helped you overcome obstacles in your life and increase your belief in yourself and your sense of what’s possible?

In the aftermath of my panic attack last week, I was discussing it with my good friend.  Let’s call her “Jane.”  Jane is a beautiful, smart, successful writer and entrepreneur with an effervescent personality and a dry sense of humor (and no, this is not a thinly veiled device for lavishing compliments on myself, Jane is a real person who is not me, and just happens to not really be named Jane).  And Jane has anxiety.

Now, if you were to meet me or my friend Jane at a book reading or yoga class or hanging out in a coffee shop, you might think that we were cute, bubbly, chatty girls, excitedly engaged in our lives and filled with optimism.  You might not suspect that behind closed doors, we struggled with depression and battled anxiety.  You might think we had everything going for us, and not a care in the world.  You would have no reason to think otherwise.  Unless I happened to tell you about my most recent depressive episode or anxiety attack the first time I met you, which I generally wouldn’t do, although occasionally, I would.

But Jane and I, we have a secret.  Or, in my case, thanks to this blog and the miracle that is the Internet, a not-so-secret-anymore.  We have anxiety, that, on some days, threatens to overtake us.

We’re not recluses with matted hair and crazy eyes and nary a social skill, sporting the latest in straight jackets.  We are cute, bubbly, chatty women in our 30’s, who are (often) excitedly engaged in our lives and (sometimes) filled with optimism.  We are creative and ambitious and warm and friendly and enthusiastic and…anxious.

So we decided that it’s time to make anxiety trendy and sexy.  Enough with the stigma and the hiding and the shame.  Tons of trend-setting celebrities have an exciting array of anxiety disorders!  And if anxiety is good enough for Oprah, then it’s good enough for me and Jane.

And it’s sexy to rock your anxiety loud and proud, to be a full, complex, messy human being accessorizing with a whole juicy range of attributes, from sparkling to anxious, panicked to serene, and everything in between (OK, maybe serene is a bit of a stretch).  Besides, anxiety usually comes on when you are taking risks and breaking out of old limiting beliefs and behaviors, and it doesn’t get any hotter than that!

So now not only can we have a Xanax-sprinkled cupcake eating anxious club, but we can get stylish t-shirts, too, to declare our trendy anxiety to the world.  Mine will say, “I’m Bringing Sexy Back…One Anxiety Attack At A Time” or “Anxious is the new HOT!”  It will be hot pink, of course.  And bedazzled.  What will your t-shirt say?

Rock it, Baby!




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