The cryptic title to my post refers to the location of a ruptured disc in my spine; at the sacrum and the fifth lumbar vertebra. At the beginning of 2000 I was diagnosed with Degenerative Disc Disease (DDD), a common diagnosis for the breakdown and thinning of the discs in the vertebral column, the spine. An MRI in those early years would show that 3 discs were classified as bulging, the 3 at the very bottom of the spine.
I was 30 years old. In the next two years I’d lose both my biological father and my step-father of nearly 25 years. In addition to my new diagnosis of DDD, the results from the lab work of a recent physical showed that my cholesterol was 290. My weight was a little higher.
My step-dad died of complications of cirrhosis of the liver, he’d been a functional alcoholic and smoker the whole time I’d known him. My father died of a massive coronary brought on my a deadly mix of alcohol and prescription pain meditation, he’d also been an alcoholic most of my life.
Needless to say, this was all an enormous wake up call. I had no idea what to do, but I had to do something. I began with my cholesterol. Inspired by reading about food industry I’d decided to stop eating meat, it felt unethical and I knew it was a big source of the cholesterol and saturated fat in my diet. It helped a little, but I ultimately began eating a lot more dairy products, so my cholesterol dipped, then climbed back to the 190s.
I was losing weight at this point (late 2002), but even swimming was hurting my back! I’d read several articles about back pain and yoga. I talked to the instructor of an upcoming class at my local community center and signed up for a class beginning the first Sunday in January 2003. I had no idea what to expect at all, only a remembrance of how awful the gymnastics parts of physical education had been in school growing up.
I was there at my community center with all those other New Year’s Resolution folks and it was hard, so very hard at first. Every pose requiring strength left me feeling weak, I dreaded the words, “Warrior 2”, being said in class. I dreaded, “Down Dog”, nearly as much. To do a seated forward fold my teacher sat me on top of two blankets, with a chair across my extended legs, and I’d reach my hands just onto the chair. That was as far forward as I could bend without sharp pain.
After class, however, I felt better. The more I went to class, the better I began feeling. After a few weeks I also had something that was priceless, I had movements and postures that I knew how to do and knew would help my back.
For three years, from my diagnosis at the beginning of 2000 to January 2003, I’d been the Patient-Who-Never-Improved. I finally stopped going to physical therapy appointments because they made me feel ashamed of my lack of progress. Suddenly I was doing something. I was going to a class with regular people and I was learning things that I could do, myself. It was enormously empowering, I suddenly had the power to help myself.
This experience planted the seeds of my becoming a yoga teacher. If I could feel so deeply demoralized by my chronic pain and then feel so fully empowered to help myself heal, well I wanted to share that with others. It is certainly why I’ve kept up my learning, ultimately completing my certification in Integrated Movement Therapy this summer. For me, yoga has been deeply transformative and I truly believe there is yoga available to people of expressions and abilities, it is my passion and privilege to share it.
The longer I practice, my own personal yoga practice and teaching, and work with private clients the more amazed and grateful I am. The seeds planted by the success I found with my chronic back pain have become the fruits of practice that continue to sustain me as I heal from my deeply traumatic childhood.
I will never have photos on Instagram showing me doing a complicated arm balance on top of a concrete wall. That’s not the kind of yogi I am, nor do I need to be.