by Bel Janela
I get contacted quite a bit by people who heard I might be able to help them with their back problems. Because of my own story it’s an area of yoga therapeutics that I put some focus on. And today I want to share my story with you.
I used to be a Hip Hop dancer and I taught fitness classes for many years. Dancing was my biggest passion. Jazz dance, Ballet, Contemporary, Street dance and of course Hip Hop. I loved it all and would dance for hours every day. Eventually I blew my back out for the first time. My lower back was on fire adding to my already existing scoliosis in my lumber spine. Some weeks and quite a few visits to a physiotherapist later I was apparently fine and dancing again.
But from that time onwards my back would play up every now and then and after a couple of years during a rehearsal my lower back blew out again. That is my vertebrae sort of got jammed. This time it was even more painful. I needed more intense therapeutic sessions and to top it some painkilling injections. Of course, I went right back into dancing after feeling better. But it wasn’t the same any more. I had constant lower back pain. Sometimes so much that I couldn’t dance at all and eventually I had to stop. At that time I convinced myself that it would be better to just focus on my acting career anyways.
This is the time, when I found yoga. In that initial phase I absolutely fell in love with the more strenuous practices like power yoga, vinyasa flow, jivamukti yoga. And of course I also fell in love with all the benefits of yoga. But the truth is my lower back was still on fire and sometimes after a yoga class I could hardly move or walk. I just convinced myself that my body needed to adjust and get used to the different way of moving a yoga practice would present. After all yoga was supposed to be good and healthy for you. Well, at that time I most likely already suffered of badly herniated disks in my lumbar spine, but I just wanted to ignore it and only believe that through yoga I could get well and overcome everything. Well, and that might even be true to some extent, I honestly believe that yoga is very healing and an excellent system to align the body in more healthy ways. But sometimes it has to be more specific, more adapted to individual needs. Only I didn’t want to see that. In a way I was being very arrogant, like no one tell me what I need, please. So I kept on with my strong athletic yoga practice.
Until the day I collapsed.
I remember exactly when it happened. I was in a hotel room in Vienna and sitting on a chair putting my boots on. After zipping them up I wanted to get up. Bang!! There was this killer sharp pain down my right buttocks. Tears rolled out of my eyes that’s how much it hurt. My first thought was “that’s your sciatica, don’t worry girl it’ll pass”. Only it didn’t. After that it just got worse and worse and worse. I couldn’t move at all. I honestly don’t remember getting back home to Berlin, where I was living at the time. But I did and I went to see an orthopaedic. After X-raying and MRI-ing every inch of my back the diagnosis was clear, L5 S1 were very badly herniated. The only solution would be to perform a surgery and fuse those vertebrae. The exams also had revealed a rare condition of my S1 actually being flexible, meaning it is not connected to S2 as it normally is, which only contributed to more instability in that area of my body. Oh great, now I am not only in pain like crazy, I am an alien!! Fantastic. After talking to my Mom, I found out that she has the same condition, it’s a family thing. Now is that good? Or even worse? By that point I don’t care as the constant pain I am in numbs my ability to think too much. Everything revolves around how to get through and around the pain. I can’t walk, I can’t sit, I can’t stand up, I can’t lie down, I can’t move, I can’t get out of bed, I can’t get into bed. I can’t even turn my head to the side to look the other way, literally and metaphorically. Everything hurts so much it makes me cry all day. For many days. Weeks. Months.
But despite all the pain I knew one thing for sure:
I do not want surgery!!
End of Story!
My orthopaedic heard me and prescribed therapeutical gymnastics/physiotherapy. But at that time I had already done my first short yoga therapeutics teacher training. Not that I was an expert or anything, but I had learned quite a few exercises that helped relieve back pain and I rather trusted those, then in the therapeutical gymnastic. Careless and irresponsible or not, I skipped the prescription and went for the yoga therapeutics. As I hardly had any money at the time I did everything myself. Although I barely could execute any of those exercises due to the extreme pain I was in, I tried little movements and variations and variations of variations. I broke them down again and again until I found a way to execute them softly, finding a tiny bit of comfort. I would do them again and again, how ever often I could. Additionally I went for a weekly craniosacral therapy, that was all I could afford. The orthopaedic had given me a TENS device (TENS =Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation), which I would apply twice a day on my lower back.
Every morning I woke up crying, every evening I cried myself into sleep. But I constantly did my yoga therapeutics, carefully and soft, but determined. Very slowly, I am talking months done the road, I started to feel a bit better and after a few months there were occasional moments free of pain. My flexibility and mobility were still gone, but with the help of those therapeutic yogic exercises, the TENS and craniosacral therapy little by little I could move a bit more with less pain. After about a year I was able to do very gentle yoga classes again. I had to adjust and change a few positions and use lots of props and support but I was making progress. I continued and never stopped and never gave up. All I know is that the pain slowly decreased and I did not need the surgery in the end. The doctor couldn’t believe it.
It took a while (about 2 years) and a lot of effort, tears and despair, but I got there. Today I do all kinds of practices again. My beloved flowy yoga practices, functional calisthenics training, cardio and my aerial silk training that I am so passionately in love with. I basically never ever have back pain, to the contrary my back feels as strong as never before. I can do things I never were able to do before. Today I push the limits, but I will always respect them and never go too far again. I regained my flexibility, not to the point I was before, I am especially limited with backbends. But does that really matter? Is it really important if I touch my toes to the back of my head in Natarajasana or Eka Pada Rajakapotasana? I don’t think so.
As I was going through all of my back problems, I signed up for a few yoga therapeutics teacher trainings. I wanted to learn more about the body and the way postural yoga can actually help us heal in more natural ways. And most importantly I wanted to be able to help others the way I managed to help myself.
I would not recommend for you to follow up on my radical path, but having said that, Yoga therapeutics might be a solution for you too. Please, always make sure to check back with your physician/health professional. You might be able to feel better just by doing yoga therapeutical sessions, or it might be better to do a combination of more traditionally western healing methods and the yoga. In any case, please never give up and work with professionals you trust in.
But always listen to yourself first !!
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