by Ali Valdez
This is a blog I have wanted to write for weeks leading up to and through my recent surgery. Not exactly a taboo subject in today’s circles but nonetheless, it is hard as a yoga teacher to admit that yoga maybe can’t fix everything and why as a yogi I would go to such a Western medicine extreme. Here is my story.
Yesterday, I received a Facebook message from someone whom I have never met. With urgency, she asked that I please reach out, providing a number to call. Upon connection she broke down, grieving about acute pain of the cervical spine, the hopelessness of dealing with perpetual migraines and asked about my views on yoga vs the choice to have surgery. It was a heartbreaking call but I could really listen empathetically in a newfound way because of my recent experience.
As a yoga teacher who has almost always self-healed through yoga asana, meditation or alternative health measures, it sucks to have to svadyaya yourself into the satya of saying, “I wasn’t able to figure this one out on my own, or with my yoga.”
I have known several yogis who crawl into hiding, like a wounded cub, secretly having surgery and not wanting anyone to know for fear it reflects badly upon them or the claims of yoga as a healing modality and as a science will somehow lose its heft.
It is a sincere belief of mine that yoga can be a cure or, at a minimum, a beneficial regimen for all things ‘people-stuff’. Yoga embraces all phases of life: Baby, Kids, Teen, and Elderly and retrofitting for multiple ailments or terminal illnesses plaguing our modern society: Parkinsons, Alzheimers, Addiction and Cancer. These are indeed noble undertakings and perhaps a parallel path of healing and research on these diseases. I never look at any of them with an air of skepticism because I believe that yoga has all the elements for ending human suffering. I have personally experienced profound healing and miraculous rebounds from injury as a result of the sadhana.
Like a zealous, jubilant Monkee, “I’m a believer.”
Yet, I recently decided to have a major surgery after years of ‘therapeutic’ yoga proved ineffective and my discomfort increasingly escalated. The great yogi and father of Astanga yoga once said, “Practice and all is coming.”
Well for me, it didn’t.
Over the past several years, I have been experiencing heightened exaggeration of lordosis. My ‘shelf’ as it was playfully called made me J-Lo’s cousin, but as I was getting increasing compression in my L3-L5, I was also getting separation in structure and losing muscular integrity. The tilt in my pelvis from carrying a ten pound nugget and poor sleeping habits was the source of this displacement.
This was not a yoga injury, but it wasn’t going to go away with a yoga cure either.
The poses themselves were never causing me pain, not even extreme back bending. Yoga was the thing in my day that made everything in my lower back finally feel right. The most painful moments for me were being seated for long periods of time and the aspirational task of sleeping soundly.
Fast forward, I was now looking at three inches of muscular separation, a locked out back and constant correcting and readjusting of my pelvis every time I took a seat. I felt that something needed to be done proactively on my timeline, or something will have to be done out of extreme duress later. So I went and had surgery.
Bless my stars, yoga most likely prevented injury all these years. But within days of the operation, my back felt like it did ten years ago. Although I am in the midst of recovery and slowly getting back into the practice, I do not regret the momentary setback that probably earned me some mileage on the backend of life.
It is my hope that this article will encourage people to stay steadfast in their yoga, understanding that yoga is more than physical postures and forms in space. Each individual has a seat of intuition that empowers them to make the most responsible choices for their lives and ongoing vitality and wellbeing. Whatever path one chooses, may there be glorious back bending and a smooth road to recovery in their future.