I've been a member of my local studio since June now. My membership got off to a rocky start; a few days after I joined, I carried something too heavy and threw my back out. I couldn't even get an emergency massage because I'd dropped my massage plan in order to afford the yoga membership. Then, eager to get back to the mat and prove that I hadn't made a terrible decision by joining the studio, I took a class before I was sufficiently healed. I ended up having one of the longer and more terrifying back pain extravaganzas in a life that has had its fair share of back pain extravaganzas. (Incidentally, I wrote the first draft of this essay for the Christian Century while on strong painkillers. This made for a rather convoluted first draft that took forever and a day to fix. Lesson learned.)
But the acute crisis healed, with rest and a course of chiropractic care. I went back, chastened, with a renewed awareness that yoga was not going to heal my back problems in a day, a week, a month. I went back humbled and ginger, and afraid of what could happen if I upward-facing-dogged the wrong way. But I went back, and I went back, and I went back.
And now this is my back.
I have spent roughly two decades hating my back, so forgive the gratuitous selfie, okay?
It's changed. I can see it. I can feel it. My problematically weak core is getting stronger. Things that I thought I could never do - chaturanga without dropping to my knees, side plank, bird of paradise - I can do. I'm still cautious about pushing myself. As I continue to practice I continue to build not only my muscles, but also my awareness about what I should and should not attempt. With my particular spine, I'll likely never do a handstand or wheel pose or any other deep back bend. But I am tentatively beginning to hope that if I keep this up, I might not end up in anguish for days on end, frantically counting down to my next dose of painkillers and muscle relaxants.
Yoga has had an immeasurable effect on my spiritual life; I'll get to writing about that sooner or later. But just as we live and move and have our being within God, we also live and move and have our being within bodies. And I cannot adequately express how exhilarating it is to consider the possibility that I might actually have found something that will deliver me from this particular pain that has been a part of my life for so very long.
Knock on wood.