How's your back?
That's what they say. Friends and yoga students and people who care about me. How's your back? Getting better? Back to normal yet? Nearly there? My answer is always the same. It's getting better, I'm free of pain and it's never going to be the same again. People look a bit perplexed when I say that but it's true. It's a good thing. Having a weakness in my back (significantly damaged L5/S1 vertebral disc) means I will never be able to push myself and conduct my life in the the way I used to before this injury. I will never be able to delude myself that I am perfect, invincible or immortal. That has been stripped away, and what a relief.
Every day my back talks to me, particularly in the morning when I wake up. Having slept through the night my body has relaxed and when I wake up there's always the question of how I'm going to move. Am I going to tighten my muscles into armour and rush into battle or is there a more moderate and better paced alternative. It's not just that my back is stiff (which it invariably is every morning). It's more of a powerful daily reminder. My back is speaking to me. It says slow down. Think about how you are going to move today. Look after yourself. You are only as strong as your weakest part. This can be frustrating and it doesn't sound very benign but it is a real gift to me. I am grateful to be reminded that I am broken and doing my best to hold myself together, just like everybody else, but in my own particular way. It comes as a huge relief to realise that I cannot hit the 100mph button upon waking. Part of me still wants to do that sometimes but my back has other ideas.
I am now in a new relationship with my body. My spine speaks loud and clear. I listen. I respond. I do something about it. Sometimes I try to ignore it. Then a whisper of pain washes through my body and I am reminded of how despairing it was to be in constant pain day after day and how wonderful it is to be pain free and how much I have learnt, and how crazy it would be to sacrifice this new way of being on the old altar of striving for perfection.
It has been just over a year since I began to feel something was going badly wrong in my body. I still have a lot of tension in my hamstrings. There are some solid muscles in my lower back that refuse to ease off. Now and again I feel flutters of the old pain. These are things that will improve over time and I am happy to work slowly. There's no rush. I'm grateful for what I've got right now.
Coming up in a future blog post: How did I recover and what made the difference? What worked for me?