Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Jam Session 3

We finished our final Lulu Bandha's Yoga Jam Sessions this weekend, a gathering for yoga teachers to come together, practice, and talk about questions and challenges from 'the field.' At each gathering, I've noticed and been fortified by a growing group mission: to follow our inner guidance in every way so that we can be helpful to others and to ourselves. We are all trying our best to find "alignment" in everything we do, and it's exponentially easier with each other's support.

I got support from the group in a direct, unexpected way on Sunday, thanks to my neck issues. Kira had asked us each to bring a "very real, practical question" to our final Sunday session. I debated sharing a few questions on behalf of friends and family. But Luna asked about her neck, and before that Kira talked about yoga being a practice of intimacy, so I figured, why not get intimate and say what my real issue is--my neck.

My neck. With the long, lovely, 10-year-old scar down the back that, when it was still fresh, caused a little kid on the street to peer in close and exclaim to his mother, "¡QuĂ© larga!" This neck snaps, crackles and pops on the left side every single morning. There's a steady pain in the left side that crawls up behind my ear and has resided there off and on since soon-ish after surgery and flares up at its worst when I'm stressed. Another, older, even longer scar runs along the outside of my rib cage. And a third one cuts down around the crease where my right femur meets my pelvis.

That's the simplest version, the most obviously factual information available to me. So that's what I shared, my "very real, practical question." I needed support and ideas for taking care of my neck and preventing these scars from tightening the fabric of my connective tissue even further.

I have never.ever. mentioned my neck to any yoga teacher. I've gone to total strangers: chiropractors (maybe I just didn't click with the one I tried) and doctors (really? Advil is all you can come up with?). Arturo helped with his special blend of bodywork techniques. Craniosacral therapy with Sandy helped (she said she used a lot of the same movements she would on a person with rotator cuff problems). But I thought it was up to me to use yoga to help myself. And it is. But having yogi friends on board doesn't hurt at all.

There are a million reasons not to share problems like this. With such a record for being an invalid as a child, I've been determined since graduating high school to be healthy and normal and strong if I can help it. Plus, broadcasting that you have 3 less than aesthetic scars doesn't really seem advantageous to finding a good love life. Even now, I hear sneaky doubt creep in about whether I should have shared. Am I imagining this like a hypochondriac? Am I just not doing the right neck stretches? Worse, did I bring all these surgeries and health problems on myself? Will other yogis think I did?

I've managed to ignore, diminish, and compartmentalize my neck for a long time now. But once I said the problem out loud at Lulu's, that most indisputable fact, "My neck hurts all the time and disturbs me with excessive crackling every morning," everyone gathered around to look closer, listening carefully. I felt everyone's interest, empathy, and acceptance (mad yoga teacher skills) as they asked questions that led, like pulling on a string, to details about my surgeries, my dad's cancer, and eventually to my worst-case-scenario, fear of cancer. All that just sort of came out. After a few questions I couldn't really help it. It was easiest just to tell it like it is. All that information from this teeny little anesthetized strip of neck, revealed because of the acceptance of friends to whom I am so grateful for their openness and love.

Up til now I have done nothing about it. Not REALLY. I thought yoga would make it go away. Apparently you can't just show up and do some vinyasas and watch all your problems go away. You have to face them! HOLD them. As Kira said, "The first thing I would do if this were a private lesson would be to just hold her neck." Radical! We tried a gentle neck hold with partners, and I felt happily overwhelmed by the lack of tension in my neck, like I'd finally found the perfect pillow.

Now I'm looking for more ways to start to give my neck and left shoulder the attention they need. I've just spent a good chunk of the morning watching and doing some YouTube neck/shoulder yoga videos. Scrutinizing diagrams of neck/skull anatomy. Tracking what my mind does when I'm stressed. The language of my body is suddenly slightly more readable. My body is like a book that's telling me where I've been protecting myself, where I've been hiding, and how I can find a little more self-love, even for the tight spots.

Coincidentally, I think getting help like that was the most useful thing that could have happened this weekend as far as becoming a yoga teacher. I got to be on the receiving end of a whole group of yoga teachers using the tools of the trade: compassion, loving curiosity, and of course, creatively applied yoga techniques.


Lisa said...

man, oh man ash! wish i could have been there to support you as well. thank you for sharing such personal information. you are awesome!

Kira Ryder said...