This is my story about how yoga has played a major role in keeping my back healthy even though I was diagnosed with a severely debilitating back disease at a young age. Read on to see how I was introduced to yoga and how it has ultimately changed my life for the better.
When I was 18 I was diagnosed with degenerative disc disease. I was the youngest patient he had ever heard of being diagnosed-with a 36 year old being the next youngest. Yay me!
The orthopedic surgeon advised me to never gain weight (that causes undue stress on your spine). For days when the pain was unbearable (meaning that I literally couldn't walk) he said I should take ibuprofen (that stuff rips my insides apart and causes more pain than whatever I was trying to treat) and to lay down for one day to rest it. If it still hurt after that, I needed to get up and just deal with it.
I didn't really like any of that advice. I planned on some day having kids (no avoiding weight gain there) and I wasn't going to lay around and feel sorry for myself, and I certainly wasn't taking an anti inflammatory that tears me up from the inside out!
Introduction to Yoga
In eighth grade I had a teacher who taught us to close our eyes, tense up all our muscles, and mindfully release each as we deeply breathed. I also took a movement for musician class that introduced me to Yoga sun salutation flows. I was also a passenger in a car accident where the other driver hit right into my side. I had horrible whiplash and ended up in physical therapy. I noticed that a lot of the stretches and exercises they asked me to do were similar to the yoga moves I had been taught.
Thus began my life long love for yoga. If there was any way that I could do something to improve my awful back pain and to live a life where I didn't expect to lay around in bed all day when the pain was overwhelming, I was going to give it a chance.
Lifelong Yoga Practice
I have done yoga on and off since that time. Any time I started to notice my back pain getting to the unbearable point, I would start up a rigorous practice of stretching and strengthening all the muscles in my spine. I also learned to truly breathe deep and to allow space. I like to think that I am making room for my spirit to grow. After having my fourth child and spending successive years in physical therapy to try and help deal with car accident injuries (multiple by this point) and the inherent pain of my disease, I decided it was time to really buckle down and commit to doing yoga every. day. no. matter. what.
Imagine my surprise when I went to my annual physical check up and the nurse was completing all the standard measurements. She said that I was 5"4. I thought she must be new and that she had been sloppy in her measurements.
For as long as I could remember I have measured at exactly 5" 2 and 3/4. Two out of three of my sisters have also measured exactly this height since adulthood. I decided to go home and measure myself to see if it was actually possible that I had grown? After a few clumsy attempts with the measuring tape I concluded that I really had grown just over an inch.
A few months later we had a family reunion and I insisted that each of my sisters measured up against me to see if I truly had grown. Sure enough, I was taller than both of them, by about an inch!
Degenerative disc disease runs in my family and so far my mom has lost over four inches of height. I must say that I feel incredibly blessed and humbled that I was introduced to the foundations of yoga and received key exposure at a pivotal point in my life so that I could incorporate those practices into my daily living. It has truly been a growing experience on so many levels.
I have maintained an at home yoga practice for years. For tips on how I exercise with little kids around, click here.