While I was living in an ashram in Southern India, I spent much of my time sitting cross-legged: practicing pranayama, inmeditation, listening to lectures on Indian Philosophy and to Swamiji’s talks, and eating meals.
When I wasn’t sitting I was practicing asana, hiking the mountains of upper Kodaikanal, or foraging for fruit, though the monkeys always seemed to get there before I did.
One day while coming down the mountain, I lowered my left foot to meet the earth and with no apparent misstep, twist, or torque, I felt an excruciating pain in my left knee.
I couldn’t bend it and was forced to hobble down the rest of the way with what felt like a pegleg. I had to walk like that for days afterward. Eventually the severity of the pain began to dissolve, but it never completely went away.
Living With Pain
When I returned to the states, I didn’t have health insurance, and when it became mandatory to get insurance, I had the catastrophic kind. Definitely not one with benefits to see a physical therapist.
I haven’t been able to hike with any amount of elevation gain because on the descent it was always trouble, and I’d be laid up not being able to walk properly for a couple of days or more.
Over the last few years, I’ve seen a handful of different types of practitioners: a chiropractor, a physical therapist, and an acupuncturist who specialized in sports medicine. I did all of my homework, trying this, trouble shooting that:
- Was it my vastus medialis (one of the quadriceps muscles) not firing properly?
- Was it weakness in my gluteus medius?
- Tight tensor fascia latae?
At the end of an intense year, finally my physical therapist (whom I adore) recommended I get an MRI. There I was a couple weeks later, laying as still as possible, getting my knee scanned. If you’ve never gotten imaging like that, let me tell you, it’s really challenging to lay still, even for someone with a lot of mindfulness practice like myself!
When the results came back, everyone was surprised to see that I had fluid in my anterior tibia marrow. This can happen when there’s injury to the bone, but typically the body reabsorbs this fluid over the course of several months.
Why hadn’t mine? Well, we weren’t sure.
The following months were spent doing lymph massage, elevation, castor oil and essential oils, with alternating hot and cold applications. Every night, including almost every night while I was traveling and teaching in Thailand, I would spend a half hour or more with these therapies. I also did fascia massages one to two times a day while my students were practicing savasana. Now you know what I was up to at the end of class!
After a couple of months, my knee had recovered. I sat cross-legged for much of three days while I was in a yoga therapy training without pain. While I need to condition my body to do big hikes, I’m now able to go down stairs and down hill without discomfort.
I’m over the moon!
Our Body Knows
The reason I’m writing isn’t to detail the history of my left knee, though I wanted you to know the significance of this injury in my life. I’m writing because of something my physical therapist and I talked about, that helped me to shift my relationship with chronic injuries.
She told me that we all have our “spots” that flare up when there’s some sort of imbalance in the physical body, mentally or emotionally, and often these spots have been injured in the past.
But when they flare up, it doesn’t always equate with being re-injured. It could be that when there’s emotional stress or upset, we’ll experience pain in that all too familiar area. And what’s going on during these times is communication.
Our body is saying:
- “Hey, there’s something important to pay attention to!”, or
- “Something’s not quite right, it’s time to slow down and feel.”, or
- “We’re doing all we can, but we got a cold, and sensation is more present right now.”
Rather than viewing the discomfort as an annoyance, we can learn to listen with appreciation for what our body’s trying to say to us.
I seem to learn this lesson over and over again.
The inner voice that tells me to check in on a friend, only to learn that they’ve just gotten dumped. That gut feeling to slow down as I’m approaching an intersection, right before a racing truck blows his stop sign, nearly hitting me. The way that my heart feels when I just had a disagreement with my partner, which, I failed to navigate gracefully.
I know that my body and my heart are communicating with me all the time. And yours is as well.
I’m learning to listen more and more, and to allow myself to be guided by the wisdom that’s coursing throughout me.
The more I listen, the more clearly I can hear.
As guest posted on everydayintegrity.com, a lifestyle blog about personal spirituality founded by my yoga student, Jules Williams.