Special Torture (or how to grin and bear it)

It all started with yoga…

August 11, 2012 / by admin

For most of my life I have been lazy and out of shape. It’s just my thing. Also, I have a genetic condition that affects my lungs’ ability to oxygenate my blood. Again, just sort of my thing. I can only assume that the whole lack of oxygen situation probably played a pretty big roll in the not wanting to run around business, but for most of my life this cause and effect didn’t really bother me.  Exercise? Bah, who needs it? But then in my early thirties something happened. A shift of some sort from some unknown origin. Maybe I was bored with inaction. Maybe I was a little jealous of all the folks I knew that did stay in shape. Maybe it just finally dawned on me that actually everyone needs it. And everyone included me.

It all started with yoga. I had several friends who proselytized the benefits of yoga. It would help with my forever aching back, my never ending stress, my migraines, even my depression and anxiety. Maybe so, I would reply, but for a long time it was that anxiety that kept me from even trying. Hell, it kept me from trying most of everything. My anxiety kept me from learning how to drive, dropped me out of college, prevented me from having meaningful romantic relationships, and generally made me avoid a lot of stuff I actually wanted to do. It certainly wasn’t going to help me to put on sweat pants, go to a new place, and do something I had never done before in from of a room of strangers. And exercise at that. No, that was not really going to happen. Though somehow, someway the seed was planted. When I finally decided to throw caution to the wind and join the Y, the first thing I tired was the yoga class. My rational for joining the Y in the first place, was that it would not just be me and a bunch of jocks and janes who where younger, thinner and faster. It would be real people. Every age. Every weight. Every skin color. Every everything. And I was right – the Y is a magical, diverse place and the yoga class they offered twice a week was by no means an exception. I took one class and was hooked. That surprises me even now honestly. In those early days I was not sure what I was getting into, how far reaching the affects of my yoga practice would be come – that I would ever have a “yoga practice”. I just knew it was taught by Nikki.  She was kind, hilarious, down to earth, and she made me feel welcome from day one. For three years I went to her class religiously and I am still amazed by her ability to make newcomers welcome and to tailor her classes to the needs of her various students. Nikki was my first and will always be my favorite yoga instructor. That is of course how it should be and I am enormously grateful for it.

When a new yoga studio opened 3 blocks from my home, I was thrilled, but it was there that I learned how much I did not know about yoga. I had my first class taught by a different teacher. It was a vinyasa class and man, had I been sheltered. Nikki’s gentle, variable hatha class worked wonders on my self esteem and my ability to reach past my toes, but it maybe did not do as much to prepare me for the larger world outside of the charming, for-beginners yoga the Y offered.  Suddenly yoga class was an hour and a half,  hot and sweaty and HARD. It was not just about flexibility any more, but about strength. Serious strength and holy crap, that was an eye opener.  But strangely I was undaunted.  It took a lot of squirming and a shit ton of bravery, but I settled in. There were things I would never get good at and things I surely hated (mostly back bends on both fronts), but I gained confidence and found 100 other things that I did love to do with my body.  I got stronger, my breath got deeper and my heart opened. I got good. Which is weird, because I had never considered myself good at much of anything. I mean in terms or physical activity. I explored different teachers, different styles and studios, did yoga in the park, with friends, even at (gasp) at parties. Ha.

And yoga was my gateway exercise for sure.  Using my body stopped beng scary and started feeling really, really good. The Y was still here. I stared swimming, and using weight machines. I took my first pilates class. I started going to bootcamp for fuck’s sake.  Biking became something I did more then just to get from point A to point B. I stared taking, long glorious rides. Oh and then there were the walks. I got a pedometer and started going for 5 miles a day. I’ve even been known to jog. Another gasp.

Not that I want to give the impression that this all happened over night. I have been engaged in various combinations of all of these activities with varying amounts of enthusiasm for over 5 years.  In my mind’s eye, I can imagine a world where that progression simply continues and I get better at ALL of these things.    I become a person that can do wheel and handstands, a person that can jog a 5k, a person that can exercise every day and just revel in how great it feels to move my body and stay heathy while I am doing it. But I fucked it up. I pushed too hard and broke.

In November of 2010 I decided to do yoga every day for the month of December. It was going to be a holiday present to myself and the best way I could think of beginning the new year. It all started out well enough, but midway through the month I started noticing this weird pain in the back of my right leg. I have always been super flexible in my hamstrings so I was surprised, but by the same token, not that worried. I was probably just over stretching. I started to go easier on my forward folds. By Christmas (the only day I took off), I was beginning to get worried. It did not seem to matter how kind I was on my hamstrings, the pain was becoming constant and something awful was happening in my lower back. Something that got so bad, that by the 31th I was laid up in bed wondering how I was going to manage to get out of the house for New Years eve. And that pain has never really gone away.

Turns out I am (probably) one of the lucky members of the population that has piriformis syndrom. My sciatic nerve (most likely) runs through my piriformis muscle rather then behind it. Too much yoga shortened and tightened this muscle and now it compresses my sciatic nerve causing pain in my back, my buttocks,  and all through my right leg. Hilariously, on most days, I have a literal pain in my ass. Yup.  From that month to this day, almost all exercise I engage in causes flare ups in this pain. Even every day activity, like house cleaning or the mile walk to the grocery store can cause hours worth of pain. Walking five miles or going to a yoga class can result in 3 to 4 days worth of pain. If I ignore the warning signs and exercise everyday, I am in near constant pain. Mind you, I am no stranger to chronic discomfort. 33 years of migraines has gotten me pretty used to that. Though, a year and a half of migraines and sciatic pain has been a bit much. I take pain medication almost daily.

I am still working on what this all means. I feel like I should be able to fix this, but it’s been hard to figure out how. I don’t have any money to throw at the problem, so a lot of helpful stuff is out of reach. Mainly, I can’t afford the $50 copay to see a physical therapist.  I did see one for a few months last year, but I swear it was making it worse, so I have been reluctant to try again. Acupuncture helps a lot to relieve the pain as it is happening, but months of treatment did not help stop the trouble. Maybe I just can’t afford to go as often as I need. I recently had a one on one session with a highly skilled yoga instructor. She showed me a lot, I mean really revolutionary stuff. She even gave me the first real insight into how 30 days of yoga injured me so deeply in the first place. She sent me home with some brillant knowledge and what amounts to daily PT. That was 3 weeks ago and everything was going well until I had a 4 day flare up followed by crap load of infertility stress. My initial enthusiasm for her ideas and instruction was lost in less than a week. And now, like so many times before, I am floundering.  On most days I am just so tired and demoralized that I don’t even want to try. Doing the slow, constant, unrelenting work I suspect I need to do to correct this problem, holds almost no appeal. Imagine that. Mostly, I just wish I could have it like I did in the old days – when I could go to a yoga class or walk five miles without having days worth of pain as my only reward. God, I miss yoga SO much. I miss not being in pain too, but that’s a more remote memory.

I know I just need to start where I am, but where is that?  My biggest issue is going to be when and more importantly where this process of healing begins. More on that soon I hope.


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