In the midst of hard times unexpected blessings often appear, and they are all the sweeter because they bring light into the difficulties. After my fractured knee, its replacement and then fractured femur saga, resulting in ten weeks in hospital, I had to learn to walk again. It was months before I could return to swimming, so my only option was hydrotherapy, with Kevin my long time Orthopaedic Physiotherapist. I worked on my overall fitness after being immobile for so long, coercing my stiff knee to bend, building up the faded leg muscles that had been diminished from weeks of no use and learning how to walk as normally as possible. For the first few months, until I could drive myself, I was reliant on a community transport service and my three times a week didn’t feel enough. I made the most of those visits and worked hard in my one hour with plenty of walking, kicking and toning exercises.
One day after a couple of months when I entered the pool I realized I was deeply weary. While a sign of improvement, of becoming stronger, because I was able to be more active, I easily overdid it. I felt aches all over with many of tight spots, especially in my neck. Too tired to launch into my usual vigorous walking, instead I listened to what was needed, to stop. With my shoulders supported by the railing in my favourite corner at the shallow end, I closed my eyes and let my body hang. Ahhhh! I let out a big sigh. It felt so good just to rest and be suspended in the warm water, when everything felt like such an effort. After a while of blissful hanging, the sore bits were crying out, needing some relief. As I tuned into them, I responded with small twists of my torso, while stretching a leg, one way and then the other, gently and slowly. After so much physical hardship suddenly my body felt really good. The experience felt like a wonderful tonic, nourishing and revitalizing of both body and spirit, but at the same time difficult as I came face to face with uncomfortable spots which were not easily silenced. I was pleased later when I felt some relief in my recalcitrant neck, it wasn’t so sore. What a revelation, not only did it feel wonderful, it had already had a powerful effect. Here was a whole new level of self care.
I was excited when next in the pool, to explore further, and I took time to hang, twist, stretch, breathe and experiment with the possibilities before I progressed into the more serious exercising. As I slowly twisted my hips, there came a gentle satisfying clunk in my neck, and a little tension relieved, but not from any pressure pushing my neck, but as a by-product of the stretch of the hips. Then an extended stretch from my hips to my toes, awakening muscles long unnoticed, in my buttocks and down my legs, allowing new options for how I stand and move. It felt sensual and deeply respectful of the innate wisdom of my body to do these new movements.
What came out of this is what I call my own personal ‘hydro-yoga’, a slow release of tight spots that has had long term benefits. Prior to this, I was beginning to think that I was just going to have to get used to discomfort in my neck and more headaches. It was probably an aging thing. But after a few months of regular hydro-yoga, the ‘aging thing’ reversed and the pain eased. My neck is still tight, but I have been able to stave off most of the intense stuff, headaches are now rare, and so live more comfortably. I love that my hydro-yoga is not something I am reliant on anyone else to help me with. It is my own intimate exploration with my body, of subtle moves that have a big effect. It adds to my reservoir of engendering feeling positive about my body, loving it, tuning in. I continue to this day, and I have added more fun and joy with a waterproof mp3 player, so now I dance, groove and stretch to music. I would not have discovered this wonderful new therapy if I hadn’t had all the misfortune that landed me back at hydrotherapy, and it is a blessing in my life.
I call it a kind of yoga, with its long slow stretching and breathing, which reminds me of the yoga I attempted in my twenties. I was keen to try because it is a body-based spiritual path, to see if it could be helpful. My first attempts didn’t go well, I wasn’t able to do the positions properly and it felt too hard. I came out feeling excluded and frustrated at yet another limitation and mightily discouraged, so gave up.
I tried again about a year later with the encouragement of American Sandesh, who was teaching yoga in Fremantle. It was quite a different experience, which is a credit to his skill as a teacher. Instead of leaving me to try to work out how to do a position, and feeling like I was an extra burden, as the first teacher had, Sandesh said “Let me first see to the others and then I will come to you.” Then we worked out together how I could best adapt the posture for my capabilities, then he would keep checking back in. So the whole time he included me, and never made me feel I was a hassle, in fact he seemed happy to have me in the class. That inclusion made all the difference, encouraging me to persevere.
Mostly I could only manage a poor adaptation of a pose. I wondered if I was getting any benefit from only doing half the posture. Often I pushed too much trying to achieve a semblance of what everyone else was doing, and ended up in pain. I came out of the class keenly feeling the lesser ability of my body, and my issues of differentness and exclusion arose. I also felt some resentment at these fellow students taking for granted their flexibility, being able to do so easily what I could not. It upset me to confront again and again what I couldn’t do, and I often ended up feeling dejected and discouraged. One day I got to the stage of again feeling frustration at only being able to do a fraction of a posture, and how wrong it felt to try to push my body into positions it didn’t like, and compromise a pose so much there seemed little point doing it. I decided, despite Sandesh’s patient and sensitive teaching, that yoga was not my path. I didn’t need all the negatives associated with it. I gave it my best shot with a really good teacher, and if couldn’t do it with him, I couldn’t full stop, so was able to leave it with no regrets.
Twenty five years later I’ve evolved my own personal yoga in water that works for me. It’s not complicated or extensive in range, just simple slow twisting and stretching that helps loosen my tight muscles and tissues, and this has meant less pain and greater ease. It feels like a miracle, helping me reverse some effects of aging on my joints.
EXTRA NOTE I decided it was a good time to post this latest addition to my blog because on January 24 2018, Sandesh, now Sam Weinstein, passed away suddenly. After my classes with him he went on to run the Home of Yoga School and the Family Nurturing Centre with his wife Sydel. The profound effects they have had were obvious at his death celebration when hundreds of his community gathered to grieve his loss, and honour and celebrate him. One person can make a huge positive difference.