ChelseaHenderson@stylebook.com'

Evolution of a Yoga Practice

In December, I elected to have rotator cuff repair surgery to fix a torn supraspinatus (one of four rotator cuff muscles) and tendons so degenerated my doctor said they resembled those of a 70 year old. While surgery may have seemed extreme to those who’d seen me grin and bear the pain in the classes I taught and took, I decided it was worth the temporary setback in my physical practice to be able to flow in and out of downward facing dog with ease. My surgeon estimated a four-to-six month rehabilitation period before I’d regain full range of motion. I planned to take off the first month post-op from teaching, but wanted to get back to the classroom right away.

Then the universe intervened.

hospital selfie copy

Just after making a mental note to call Mind the Mat to discuss resuming my schedule, Snowzilla dropped 30 inches of snow. Six days after the storm, trying to get to a much-needed physical therapy appointment, I slipped on the ice and shattered my ankle. Four hours of surgery and five days in the hospital later, I was discharged and 100 percent immobilized on the right side. Being non-weight bearing through the shoulder meant no crutches, but I was non-weight bearing on the ankle as well, leaving the wheelchair as my only option. No stairs. No walking.

“Wow, I guess you can’t do yoga for a while,” people commented. While I mourned the loss of my physical practice and confinement to the (bathroom-less) first floor of my house, I relied heavily on and the other limbs of yoga, which include breath work and meditation.

PT exercises

When yoga teachers instruct you to find your breath, it’s not to sound new-age-y. Full deep breaths in and out can calm, ground, energize, and soothe. I focused on “finding my breath” through every tough examination in the hospital. I used my breath to calm the inner voices when panic crept in.

Meditation does not come easily to me, but taking time to eliminate the mind chatter gave me an alternative to thoughts of self-pity.  I practiced letting go, a skill that doesn’t come naturally to this grudge holder. I eventually came to a place of acceptance; what happened to me was a reminder to slow down and appreciate all I have. One of the greatest realizations is that I’m rich in friends. The outpouring of support, meals, visits, prayers, and healing vibes still overwhelms my heart.

walking again

It’s been three months of this modified practice and I just got the green light to start walking in the air cast. I had a hefty cry this morning because my gait feels clunky and my back aches from all the sitting. But then I unfurled my yoga mat, made my way to the floor, quieted the thinking mind, and let my body and spirit feel the pain and emotion without judgment. Eventually, I’ll make it back into down dog, but now, this is as much my yoga practice as the poses once were.

Standing on two feet!
Standing on two feet!

4 thoughts on “Evolution of a Yoga Practice

  1. Thanks to Chelsea for her post about her journey to standing. Last week I tripped while on my normal three mike morning walk. That one little misstep resulted in knee surgery and a medical directive to place no weight on my right leg for THREE months. An avid practitioner of yoga and Pilates, I too tapped into what I learned in those classes. You can breathe your way through almost anything, and meditation is your friend. If you are kind to your caregivers, they will be kind to you. My back is a little sore (seems mostly from the sitting), but my arms are strong enough to move my wheelchair, and my core is strong enough to allow me to move from chair to bed, chair to potty, and chair to couch without help. I can also lift my injured leg if I really focus on my core connections. Chelsea gives me hope I too will make it through and be back to classes in no time. I’m the meanwhile, I’m channeling Joseph Pilates and doing his mat workout from my bed as much as possible.

    1. I completely relate to what you are going through! Good for you for finding what you can do with what you have. We are so lucky that these conditions are temporary, and in the end, we will be stronger for having experienced them! Best of luck to you as you recover!

  2. You’ve really taken advantage of this opportunity life has given to you, Chelsea! I’m so grateful I’ve been able to witness your journey. You’re an inspiration!

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