Thursday, August 8, 2013

10 Months

Dontcha just hate it when a blogger goes MIA for almost a year and doesn't check in to let you know what's up? Yeah. Me too. ;-)

To my own defence, I have a very good excuse for not writing: This is an Astanga blog and I haven't been practising Astanga. Without getting too far into the nitty gritty details or a long sob story, I stopped practising because I was injured, seriously and chronically. If I didn't stop, I was looking at long-term damage or surgery. So I quit. That was in October.

I didn't quit cold turkey because, quite frankly, I think my head would have exploded. Instead, I eased out of the practice, or perhaps, the injury nudged me out. I was instructed to avoid anything that caused pain. Well, that was pretty much ALL of my practice, so I spent many mornings curled up on my mat sobbing - not so much because I was in physical pain, but out of sheer frustration. I didn't want to let go of this thing I loved so much.

It was December when I finally threw in the towel: I decided to take a break for one month. Have you ever broken up with somebody and felt like you suddenly had all this free time? Well, that's *exactly* how I felt about quitting Astanga. My life was suddenly empty and vast. I started sleeping in. I went out at night - I mean, *late* like 9 or 10! ;-) I took sock knitting classes and attended a weekly knitting social. I bought a sewing machine and taught myself to sew. I baked. I read piles of books. I visited museums.

The month off didn't help, though - in fact, the pain became worse. It was now affecting me in my day-to-day life and work. January saw me walking around with my arm in a sling. Yeah, that was Big Fun. Especially in the middle of a Canadian winter (ever try to button your coat over a slinged arm?). During the winter, I teach upwards of 20 yoga classes a week, which became reallllly interesting with my arm immobilized. My verbal teaching skills improved exponentially.

February arrived and the pain was now affecting my sleep. Apparently, as I sleep, I like to throw my arms over my head wildly like a nocturnal raver. I started strapping my arm to my body at night with ace bandages - without the intervention, I was reinjuring myself nightly. I was demoted to lighter duties at the Soup Kitchen because I couldn't lift milk or juice or coffee caraffes with my injured shoulder.

I got really depressed. I cheered myself up with M&Ms. Lots and lots of M&Ms. Did you know that you can buy a bag for 69 cents at the dollar store? I was going through a pack a day. While I ate M&Ms, I sat around and watched DVDs (I'm now a fan of Nurse Jackie and totally got sucked into Homeland too). I gained a bunch of weight. My Mighty Man Arms started shrinking. I felt like I was disappearing. I stopped reading Astanga blogs; they felt irrelevant to this new life of mine.

Ironcically, I was still practising in a *very* limited fashion, a few times a week. Once you establish a daily practice, it's really hard to let it go entirely. I was doing what I could, usually an hour or less. I could do the standing poses with my arm in the sling. I could do anything on the floor that didn't involve arms (admittedly, there's not much).

I focused on core work and practised micro-actions that don't require any heavy lifting (I spent at least two months focused on finding my shoulderblades in Shalabhasana and Cobra). There was nothing wrong with my legs, so I started working out on an elliptical machine. As the weather warmed in March and April, I started taking long walks. I resumed my meditation practice.

April came and my arm was out of the sling, but my range was still limited, I was still in pain. I invented heavily modified sun salutations and did the seated poses of Primary Series with my arms hanging modestly at my sides. My backbends were all Shalabhasana-esque.

Then, May. As the weather warmed, I began to feel better - there was less pain. But I was not hopeful, merely resigned. I decided that I would probably never get my practice back and that was just fine. I embraced my new life. I learned to knit lace and started a shawl. I went to hockey games. I picked up my guitar again.

June arrived and I planned my summer around live music, hikes in the park and visits to the beach. To be perfectly honest, I've had a marvelous summer and I didn't miss daily practice. I was having so much fun, I forgot all about Astanga. I embraced my life as a non-ashtangi.

I stopped eating M&Ms and lost the extra weight. I bought a Fitbit and became quasi-obsessed with walking a certain number of steps per day. My shoulder started feeling better, so I added some very light vinyasa to my daily (but very light) yoga practice. I started attending beginner-level vinyasa classes at my shala, modifying almost everything but enjoying dipping my toe into the warm water of community.

And then, it happened: I received official clearance to return to my practice. I was stunned. I hadn't really expected to ever practise vinyasa-style yoga ever again; I had completely surrendered.

"What can I do?" I asked, a bit flustered.

"Anything you like!" was the answer. "Be aware of any pain. If you feel discomfort, ice it. You'll definitely feel muscular soreness, but if it feels deeper than that, back off." I'm cured! I went home and did half-Primary that day. The next day, I did it again. I practised for a week.

Then yesterday, for the first time in over 10 months, I returned to the Mysore room and did a full practice. There was no pain - it felt like magic! A year is a long time while you're experiencing it, but in retrospect, the time fades away. I felt like someone had waved a magic wand over my head and cured me overnight.

I was flabbergasted by how much I could do! How much? Pretty much *everything*. I got all the binds in the Marichyasanas, including D (this is a huge deal for me because the injury radically altered my range in binds). I did leg-behind-head (with a bit of prep) for Supta Kurmasana and got that bind too. I even practised the Intermediate Series up to Laghu Vajrasana.

The biggest surprise was Laghu Vajrasana. I've always struggled with this pose, but now it's super-easy for me. I was able to go to the floor, hold for five breath cycles and come up effortlessly. But Navasana? I can't believe how hard this pose is for me now! It was the toughest part.

I'm taking a day of rest tomorrow to see how my body reacts to the practice (taking a late moon day) and if it feels okay, I'm back to it on Friday. That is, if I can get out of bed! I might need some Epsom salts. I'll have to dig around in my brain to remember which aisle they're in at the drug store. It's been awhile.

Anyway... Hi! How are *you* doing?! :-D

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