Lesson #0: My “Freak” Hips are Really My Teachers
For a long time, I’ve had an extreme imbalance in my pelvis and hips, and have encountered many life situations where it became apparent.
- “One of your legs is longer than the other,” said my college boyfriend’s sister in their parents living room, checking me out as she was studying to become a PT (1998).
- “Wow, come feel this!!” yelled one overly excited Pilates instructor to another with her hands on my hip bones (2000).
- “Do two stretches (of half wind-relieving pose) on one side and one on the other, every 10 minutes throughout your day,” said a neuromuscular massage therapist, with whom I obviously could not comply (2009-ish).
- Whenever I practiced yoga, eye of the needle pose on my left would be cake; on the right it was an eternal struggle to get any external rotation in my hip (and therefore always a challenge in protecting my knee). This became more apparent when I started teaching yoga and had to demonstrate postures (2012).
In 2014 I started seeing a chiropractor to adjust me on a regular basis so that when I sat on the edge of something and my legs dangled (which they often do because I’m short), I wouldn’t feel as though my right hip was hiked up and one foot almost 2 inches shorter than the other (2014).
Following a trip to New Zealand that had me doing more walking than yoga and over 25 hours of sitting in my 500-hour Yoga Therapy Teacher training one weekend, I developed sciatica and low back pain for the New Year. The numbness down one leg (it alternated sides) and the almost constant pressure in my low back kept me awake at night, to the point where the only rest I could get was a few hours on my Reiki (massage) table. This sent me on a quest to heal. And ASAP!
Lesson #1: How to Manage My Mind & Care for Myself with Less Movement
Over the next few weeks I had to come to terms with the fact that I could barely teach yoga, much less be as active as I’m used to. No ballet Barre class, no running, no weight-lifting. Sometimes I thought I might go crazy if I couldn’t get up and do something, so I started ChiWalking. It was a real mental and emotional challenge seeing that I could barely walk 30 minutes at a snail’s pace. How could I manage my crazy mind if I couldn’t exercise? If I couldn’t do the physical things I enjoyed the most? Depression knocked on my door.
And of course this is the real practice of yoga. So I explored. I Reiki’d myself. I tried being more gentle and compassionate to my body. (I even wrote it a letter.) I experimented more with cooking. I sat down and relaxed and rested more, even when only doing simple chores. I made tea and ate biscuits. I allowed myself to watch TV and read books. And, it was still hard.
Lesson #2: Don’t Throw Out the Baby with the Bath Water
During this time I was also pretty busy visiting different holistic professionals, including my chiropractor, and now a yoga / physical / massage therapist. The chiropractor helped the acute pain (as did more ice packs than I could count). The 3-in-1 therapist gave me yoga postures I could do therapeutically, which made me feel as though I could take a more active part in my own recovery (and helped me see what Yoga Therapy was like from a patient’s perspective).
My condition improved, but given all I was learning about the spine, I was still curious about whether an x-ray would show anything more serious. I visited with my PCP (who happens to also be an acupuncturist). He referred me for the x-ray and encouraged me to take Aleve for 5 days to relieve the inflammation in my sacroiliac joint.
I was happy about the x-ray, which showed nothing horrible, but allowed me to see that I’ve been walking around with mild scoliosis. Since I’d been following the side-plank scoliosis study, I knew there was something I could try there too. I wasn’t sold on the Aleve. I’m generally against taking OTCs because I believe they do more harm than good and cover up the root causes. Plus I have unpleasant reactions to some (like acetaminophen). But, I needed to get this issue under control, so despite the nausea for 5 days, I took half the dose my doctor prescribed and noticed a difference in my low back pressure.
Lesson #3: Physical Traumas Must be Processed on an Emotional Level
This is a big one.
In my attempts to understand and explain my issues–in other words, to answer the question “WHY!???”, I came up with many theories.
One memory that came to me during this time was of an accident I had when I was about 12 years old. My family had just moved from the middle of nowhere to a little suburb with other children, and although I was the oldest kid on the block, I didn’t act it. After being taunted over the fact that I still rode a little pink Strawberry Shortcake bike (sans training wheels) my dad bought me a blue 3-speed, which would still be too large for me.
I didn’t understand how to use the breaks very well (I was used to just back-pedaling) and one day I was cruising down a steep blacktopped hill that was my friend’s driveway. I couldn’t stop, and I panicked and tried to leap off the bike on one side. Well, I missed, and the metal bar that ran down the center ended up squarely in my crotch. The pain was excruciating. I still don’t remember how I got home, and it wasn’t until I was in my 20s that my mother reminded me of the incident, which clarified why I didn’t bleed during my first sexual encounter. I hope the bike enjoyed the experience more than I did.
Given my current situation and what I’ve learned about trauma over the years, I started putting two and two together. Yes, this was physical trauma to my pelvis at an early age. How couldn’t it have affected me? What’s more, who ever took me to a doctor? Who ever reassured me when I was urinating blood? No one. Hmmm. I started opening up to my family about this, only to be dismissed. I was outraged. I was scared. I was sad. I was lonely. For the first time in my life, I really *felt* my emotions over this experience. And when three friends and healers agreed this had to play a role in what was happening to me now, I finally took care of and was able to release it.
Later when I was doing an assigned yoga therapy exercise on my right hip, I felt this completely irrational fear envelop my body. My mind was gently yelling in the background, “no, no, you can’t open up that way. You CAN’T!!” I was pretty surprised at this–after all it was me stretching myself. I replied, “that’s not true, of course I can,” and continued gently.
In my second 3-in-1 therapy session, I was told to completely let go of my leg, and I relayed my success in finally being able to float in a pool this past summer. (Never in my life have I been able to relax enough to do that.) The therapist told me about Watsu (Water-Shiatsu) and I thought: “this is exactly what I need to do.” Forced swim lessons twice, at least three people dropping or throwing me in water when I was young, scared, and trusted them…yeah, this would be healing. (Stay tuned!)
Lesson #4: Embrace Square One & Beginner’s Mind, Even in Your 40th Year
ChiWalking is interesting because it teaches you to walk properly, which is something one might assume we all do perfectly fine without training (kinda of like breathing, heh). You’re super conscious of your posture, your core, and how you move your limbs. Between this and the yoga therapy exercises (and my trainings in this field), I’m realizing more and more that some important muscles in my body really need attention.
Rectus and transversus abdominis, for example, aren’t used nearly enough to stabilize my pelvis when my hips move. Working hunched over a computer under stress for 15+ years created my head-forward posture, which means I need to strengthen the neck muscles that pull my head back and stretch the ones that push it forward. To address issues with my hips I need to stretch my hip flexors (specifically pectineus) more, and do some hip mobilization on my right. For the scoliosis, the side plank.
Whenever I sit, stand, or move now, I’m paying close attention to how I carry, hold, and transition parts of my body. I’m learning how to use it better throughout my daily life. Sometimes I feel like a baby. I’m asking questions and continuously adjusting. Better late than never!
Lesson #5: Gently Seek Out & Massage the Root Cause
Oh, and then…there’s the psoas.
The psoas is an important muscle physically, but also stores emotional trauma and has to be dealt with delicately. Mine is chronically, incredibly tight. Yesterday my 3-in-1 therapist gently massaged it for a little while, and I couldn’t believe how I felt. During, it was clearly very sensitive, all the way down into my groin. On the drive home I felt that my right and left sides were completely balanced. Later, all the muscles in my legs ached as if I’d run a marathon. When I slept (especially on my belly), I could just feel the presence of the muscle, letting me know it was there.
I have a hunch that the psoas is the key to unlocking many doors for me, both physically and mentally / emotionally. For the first time in my life i feel like healing my body and my heart might truly be possible.