I had two metal rods surgically implanted along my spine as a teenager. It turns out what I thought wasn’t for me–what possibly couldn’t be for me–was just what I needed.
By guest blogger Courtney O’Regan
People are intimidated by yoga. When I ask someone who hasn’t tried it what keeps them away, they typically answer with their insecurities: I’m not flexible. I have a bad knee. I can’t sit still for a long period of time. I haven’t worked in out in years. I’m too old.
When I first came to the mat at age twenty one, I hadn’t worked out in years, I didn’t like sitting still and I had two metal rods in my back. They had been in my back for seven years; the result of a spinal fusion to correct my scoliosis (curvature of the spine). But thanks to the encouragement of my Aunt Anne, who had suggested we try a class together, I tried to look at my conditions as reasons for trying yoga, as opposed to reasons for not trying.
My first class was a challenge. Surrounded by serious yogis at a well-known studio in Boston, I felt like I was floundering. I didn’t understand the Sanskrit terms that the teacher used for the poses. I was inhaling every time he said, “exhale.” And I couldn’t do all of the poses—some, due to my lack of experience, others because of the limitations that the metal rods imposed on my spinal mobility. It was humbling to see people who were older or heavier than me flowing through class with such grace while I struggled to keep up.
Humility was not enough to make me want to do yoga again. But the 10-class card I had pre-purchased was! I’d be damned if I were going to let the money go to waste! So I returned to class two days later. I noticed my muscles aching in that good way, as if they were thanking me for waking them up. So I took that as a positive.
I looked for other positives in yoga and found many. Several postures were similar to exercises I had done while in physical therapy after my spinal fusion. My orthopedic surgeon would be proud. He had encouraged a lifelong practice of back and core strengthening exercise. Yoga fit the bill. The practice also allowed me to develop mental clarity and serenity. Yoga is all about breathing, which helps us let go of our incessant internal chatter. I hadn’t realized what a headache my own thoughts, fears and worries were causing me until I learned how to let go of them. With my inner critic on mute I also discovered how to enjoy the journey of being a new yoga student.
It’s been 16 years since that first class and I continue to practice yoga as a student and a teacher. I love to tell my students about my personal journey with scoliosis and yoga. Most are stunned to discover that someone with my level of strength, flexibility, and mobility has two metal rods in her back. I find that the story is a great way to open a class. It allows new students to shed anxiety that they may be gripping onto by opening up a dialogue about everyone’s bodies, injuries and physical concerns. So much is required of us in yoga—focus, surrender, strength—I like to reinforce the importance of truth in yoga. To get the most out of a yoga class, students need to be honest about how their bodies are unique and allow that to enhance their practice.
Sometimes I think I have my strength, flexibility, and mobility because of my metal rods. The rods have always served as reminders to listen to my body and not force any poses too quickly. I have found gentle and gradual ways to approach certain poses. While not everybody has two metal rods, we all have something – a limit, an injury, a fear, or an excuse for not stepping barefoot into the yoga studio. I encourage people to listen to these thoughts and instead of letting them hold you back, let them propel you forward. Converting that “reason not to” into a “reason to” can help you find strength, willpower, or even a yoga pose that you never knew you had inside of you.
Courtney O’Regan teaches the 8:45 am Saturday class at the Prana Center. Bio here