Crow Walking

One of my secret weapons before the hip replacement was a version of

Waves in Motion During Sunrise at Carlin Park

No relation to the article, just a beautiful photo. Waves in Motion During Sunrise at Carlin Park (Photo credit: Captain Kimo)

“windshield wipers” that I learned in Pre-Natal certification from Jacci Reynolds.

Begin with your sitting bones pressing into the surface beneath you, feet in front of you a little wider than hip width, knees pointed to the ceiling, supporting yourself on your hands, behind your hips. Rather than allowing the chest to collapse back and the shoulders to shrug up, keep your sternum lifted and your neck long. On an exhale, drop the right knee in toward your left hip. Inhale, knee up. Exhale left knee drops in. Inhale up.

Don’t do this if you already have a posteriorly placed hip appliance. I used this for pre-surgical hip pain with reduced range of motion, and Crow walking helped tremendously to maintain my range of motion despite pain and degeneration leading up to the surgery. This motion introduces a subtle twist, prompts core activation and by coordinating the movement with the breath allowed me to explore non-weight-bearing motions that wouldn’t have been accessible on my feet due to lack of cartilage. The motion gently stretches muscles and keeps the joint lubricated while allowing for planes of motion usually too painful to engage in the situation I was in.

In prenatal application, Crow walking is a great help for warming up and cooling down, a great beginning hip opener, and begins to create sensation and connection to the pelvic floor.

Hip Replacement, Recovery and the yoga of healing

This page will be the very opposite of cool, so if that’s the sort of yoga you’re

 

English: Hip replacement using cementless impl...

English: Hip replacement using cementless implants. 16 days post-surgery. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

seeking, I’m going to save you some time and encourage you to surf on. No hard feelings.

Hip replacements involve walkers and drains and quite often severe limitations, and having had one just prior to my 43rd birthday, I can tell you they feel the subterranean opposite of cool.

But like so many other things in life, the  truth is that while the process is tedious, the problem solved painful and deeply limiting, and the daily recovery mundane and filled with potential frustration, the result and even the path leading to it are cooler than cool, the stratospheric pinnacle of awesomeness.

During the process – the bits leading up to the surgery (a right total hip replacement), the pain and shame and self-blame (I know, what a crock, right?), the fear of all the what-ifs leading into a surgery (a paramedic knows far too much about what might go wrong and how ugly it might be), the recovery (avec le walker, complete with yellow tennis balls), the limitation and then the daunting task of regaining new optimal functioning, I wanted to write, I considered writing, I wrote in my head and in my journal, but I didn’t cross the threshold of public sharing, my blog. Part acceding to shame monsters and part simple self-protection during a time of deep vulnerability, I kept this part to myself – mostly. I did publish a reflection on imperfection and what it means for teachers, probably more revelatory than I’d like, but there all the same. And a few bits and pieces.

Now I’d like to share what I learned about disability, surgery, recovery, hips and yoga in the process.  The overarching message my soul was sending me had to do with challenges and their meaning, ability and self-concept and how stories can heal or hurt depending on how stuck inside us they get.

Here are some facts: I was born with a mild birth defect of my hip joints that made them susceptible to injury, even after the best treatment available in the late 60’s and early 70’s in the US. As a result, in combination with a desperate need for self-mastery born of other unhappy events, I sustained two (yes, I learn slowly) stress fractures of the femoral shaft and neck setting me up for degenerative joint disease. Docs at the time of the first injury told me to stop running (it was my religion at the time) and that I would need a hip replacement by the time I was 30. Figuring I might as well as smoke it while I got it, I kept running and weight lifting like the competitive madwoman I can be, hence the second injury.

Over the past 5 years the pain in my hip from lack of cartilage and bones grinding one another down had led to a pronounced limp, postural imbalance and worst of all, inability to hike or walk very far. Miserable in this one respect, I kept hopping out of ambulances (gingerly, impact was a bitch), practicing and teaching  yoga and avoiding the hip replacement. Maybe I could heal myself. Maybe I could make it one more year. Maybe I couldn’t get pregnant after a hip replacement (turns out, easier because less inflammation in the body). Maybe… I was scared. Scared to go forward, scared to stay put, couldn’t go back. Back to what?

Turns out, I had no idea what it felt like to have a properly working joint. When we moved temoprarily to Silicon Valley for Dear Hubs’ career, my plan was to write and teach. My plan was side-tracked when I was put in contact with a surgeon who was not only wise and kind, but performs the procedure in a way that obviates hip precautions. That’s right: no limitation post recovery. Think about that.

It didn’t take me long to think about it. Having worked hip dislocations enough as a paramedic that I could do it in my sleep, I knew all too well what awaited me in terms not only of limitation, but of consequence regardless of how careful I might be. Some of my patients’ hips dislocated when they stepped from a sidewalk to the grass. A procedure that avoided this? Sign me up!

That didn’t take away the fear prior to surgery: I’d also transported people whose joint appliances had gone wrong somehow – there are myriad ways, as it turns out. I knew of hip sockets gone empty and bodies confined to bed for lack of skeletal support when the implant had to be removed. I had witnessed the surgery when intubating in the OR and knew they would saw off the top of my leg bone, bore it to make way for a 7 inch metal spike and screw a cup into my pelvis. None of that sounded fun.

The anterior approach that Dr. Kliman in Palto Alto used left me feeling like I’d been kicked in the upper quad for about 9 months, but also means they don’t sever a single muscle or disrupt the joint capsule. Translation? Essentially the same risk of dislocation that I had before. I could do yoga, ski, dance, hike, cross my legs and anything else I wanted with abandon. Once I’d recovered.

Even in the weeks leading up to the replacement I was exercising about 2 hours a day, when you include dog walks, yoga and gym visits. Because the quadriceps muscles are stretched quite to their limits for joint access, the post surgery window requires nearly total rest so that the muscles can recover and regain their functional shape. Clearly you don’t want to be abed the entire time – the body would seize up. But my limit was around the block with a walker for nearly a month. Then two, three… up to five blocks. For a full three months, no yoga asana, no weights, no craziness, no abandon. Two miles were my max limit. And even swimming was verboten until the scar had fully healed. I was a basket case. And not a well-woven one.

When the three month mark hit, I was ecstatic… then deflated. Turns out, my hip had been so non-conformist from the very beginning that having an anatomically “correct” appliance in there was a wholly different experience. It was wonderful – riding bikes made sense for the very first time in my life! – and my muscles had to re-learn everything. Add to that a degradation in my sense of balance, an inability to lead up stairs with my right leg and feeling like I was learning to live again. I was re-weaving my basket.

As I write this, my surgery was 1 year, 1 week and 3 days ago. I’ve had my first year surveillance X-ray and all is hunky dory. I can lead up stairs with my right leg, my balance is restored, I can walk – I revel in walking and hiking – miles without pain.

I do not run, jog, do plyometrics (jumping exercises), carry a heavy pack or do anything that could wear my appliance out more quickly than regular living. I can do Sun Salutations with ease again (that just happened a couple of months ago) and understand so much more the yoga of pain, of limitation and of modification. I will never tell another yogi that what feels aligned in their own body is not aligned because it’s not symmetrical to my eye. I will never push a student’s limb into the place that looks right to me. I listen deeply to what my students tell me feels right in their bodies and invite them to explore alternatives, or sometimes to simply go deeper into where they are.

It turns out my limitation was a great gift, but one I had to struggle with mightily until I wore myself out enough to listen to what it was teaching. I still listen and am still learning from the experience. I enjoy more rest now than ever before in my life. I care less about deadlines, consequences and what other people think. I care more about the integrity of movement, work, meaning and expression and know that these win out every time.

I’ll write more about modifications, asana, practices and meditations that helped me and arose from this experience. They all come down to this: be still, even with pain. Pain really doesn’t entail suffering; we can make suffering without pain and skip suffering with pain. In the stillness, listen. Listen into sensation, past judgement (your own), past fear and trust what comes to you. Even when it seems simple. Too simple. Just follow the inner teacher.

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1 pose, 1 breath: What yoga practice looks like in times of hardship

Hip Replacements rock on

Hip Replacements rock on (Photo credit: Jerry W. Lewis)

Practice is just that. It’s not perfect, and often not pretty. It’s the opposite of a photo-shoot and exactly the same as showing up.

To be a practice, as opposed to a hobby, pastime or performance, the activity has to be undertaken by one person with enough regularity to create continuity over time, which is the only way to witness deep transformation. Regularity of this magnitude, nearly daily – shooting for daily – hoped for daily, means you will practice through hardship.

Practice is not about belief or knowledge. It is not about religion or virtue. It is about the essence of being human: being present; showing up. You might believe that this regularity will pay off in some way, and your knowledge will certainly grow. But practice is just about the rhythm, regularity, witness, same thing different day; same day, different thing-ness of consciousness.

When you practice, you show up during the hard times. This morning, I had the “best” practice I have in over a year. In that year I’ve two surgeries, one a hip replacement, a cross-country move, two dear friends die and a career change. The hip replacement wasn’t from lack of practice, healthy living or “proper” yoga. In fact, years of yoga and healthy diet extended the life of my natural hip 13 years beyond when doctors told me I’d need a replacement, due to the birth defect. But I’ve had many “yogis” suggest how I could “correct” my practice.

In Practice

In Practice (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here’s what I know about today’s practice: I had more ease, more flow and more outward grace than I’ve been blessed with in a bloody long while. It felt GREAT. And it may not have been as valuable as all the halting, minimalist, do-what’s-possible practices in the year leading up. During those times, my asana practice was often restorative, sometimes a single pose. My meditation was frequently while lying down, and for at least three months after the surgery, always laying down and not infrequently ending in zzzzzzzzzzz… Not exactly zendo worthy, but not not practice.

While we were moving, I always had my yoga mat with me, but it was just a tease, a Manduka hope, a promise and an expression of longing more than doing. The yoga I managed was at truck stops while stretching our three dogs (one dying) or in the two foot space at the foot of the hotel room bed.

While and after our dogs died, one agonizingly and messily, one so quickly I’d have missed it if I hadn’t seen so many people die and knew the sound, a heaviness surrounded my heart that reached out to my fingernails and prevented a proud, warrior like stance. There were many aborted practices, begun with every intent of wringing the sadness out, and dissolving into tears. There was crying in fierce pose (see what that does to your diaphragm!) and child’s pose (oddly, even harder).

But without the mostly showing up, occasional giving in and constant consciousness of whether-I-did-whether-I-didn’t and how it effected the state of my mind-body, today’s practice could not have happened. And today’s practice doesn’t matter. Not in and of itself. It matters because it’s part that year, of all the years and of what will be to come. The ease matters because it’s a palpable sigh of relief, and those are to be appreciated when they arrive. It matters that I showed up, but not how difficult or “advanced” my postures were. I propose that Warrior I with total presence is a more advanced posture during some times than any “Series IV” practice ever dreamt.

When your yoga class is part of your practice, each and every breath takes on new and different meaning. There will be advances, set-backs, goals met and goals changed. All of which will pale in comparison  to the feeling of showing up for yourself, because you no longer know how not to.