Which would you like first?
I’ve had the same doctor for over a decade now, and she’s seen me through a lot. We’ve become friends, I’d say–which allows for a certain amount of candor on both parts.
So when I rolled in to Dr. Marcia Whalen‘s office with a list of complaints, I laid it all out (she’s also the head doctor for the U.S. Olympic Water Polo Team, by the way). Medial knee pain, both knees. Left shoulder. And a mystery lump next to my spine, first thoracic vertebra. So, she checked it out.
Now, Marcia knows all about Ashtanga. She’s pulled me back together after a lot of problems related to the practice, and also subscribes by my motto: “There’s nothing Ashtanga can’t break that Ashtanga can’t fix.” The results?
First, the back. The degeneration that started in my late 20s has reached an advanced stage in my spine, spreading up into the thoracic, and is probably the cause of the cyst. I most likely have a tear in the rotator cuff, and probably tears in the medial meniscus. Again.
But the spacing and length of my spine is normal. The cyst is present, but thanks to the practice and what I learned from Russ Pfeiffer, the pain is under control.
Now, what about the shoulder? The knees? Marcia said, point blank, “There are star players on the water polo team playing with torn rotator cuffs. They’d never dream of surgery. They’re accurate, effective players. Adapt and modify. Nobody operates at that level of practice without modifying.” I could hear it in her voice. You want to play? Learn new ways.
I thought of all the people that have helped me slowly gain control over my pain–including the very first orthopedic surgeon I saw, who told me to try yoga first (I still silently thank that man on a regular basis). I thought of how lucky I am to have the practice. But beyond that, how lucky I am to be able to afford to have the practice. My mother suffered with chronic pain her whole life, and had nothing to give her strength.
The good news? I will continue to practice. The bad news? The practice demands constant awareness, and even so will take its toll. It seems every Ashtangi I’ve met has a similar story. I know I’m not alone. The final piece of it all is that the study of Ashtanga itself is deep and rich enough to provide me refuge. Shelter. A place to look beyond the pain.
Posted by Bobbie