Lessons in Love

I've noticed aches and pains come and go over the past three years of my yoga practice, and I truly believe that these pains have been my best and most humbling teachers. As well as my lessons in love.

When I was 16 I was thrown off a horse and landed with my arm behind my back. I didn't cry, but looking at the deformed shape of my wrist I knew something was terribly wrong. I was rushed to the ER and had my wrist rebroken and pinned back into place. Ever since, I've had wrist pain that would travel from my weaker left wrist to my overcompensating right wrist. Years later, yoga was actually what helped me strengthen my wrist to finally be able to bear weight again.

Of course bearing weight was not enough, I wanted to handstand. All the time. But like I've said before there is a reason why handstand is not the first yoga pose we should learn, and I didn't realize it then. I never took much time for the fundamentals, they didn't excite me the way more advanced poses did.

Fast forward a little over two years into my "yoga" practice (more like contortion and hand balance practice) and I began to struggle with pain in my right wrist. At first it was easy to ignore, I could still handstand and in my mind that was all that mattered. I kept telling myself the pain would go away, so I stuck to icing it and getting chiropractic adjustments. But by the end of December I was in too much pain to handstand most days, and by February my range of motion was becoming limited and I knew I needed to check my ego and seek help. My chiropractor had helped me work through various things in my body and suggested I get an MRI immediately.

Within 24 hours I was back in his office ready for him to tell me my results. I have no idea what I had prepared myself mentally for, but I will never forget the look in his eyes when he told me "I'm so sorry Irene, your wrist is broken and the bone has died from lack of blood supply. It's called Kienbock's Disease, and it is very serious." In my mind I thought, oh wow a broken wrist, no wonder why it hurt so badly. I'll just rest it for a few months and be on my merry way… He kept apologizing, saying everything would be okay. I just thought he was over reacting.

But as I began to research Kienbock's Disease I realized that if anything he was under reacting. My wrist bone was dead, and there was very little certainty of me being able to bear weight through my wrist ever again. I went to four different hand specialists, all of which wanted to do a drastic surgery to limit my mobility but hopefully lessen the pain. Two of them wanted to remove the entire row of bones in my wrist, leaving me with no choice but to fuse my wrist later down the road. I simply couldn't accept these options. So I prayed, and meditated, and knew I needed to be patient in finding my answer.

Everything began to shift. Where I used to think my purpose was to inspire people through my crazy poses, I realized it was never the handstand I was after. I was looking for something deeper, and I was limiting myself without knowing it. I kept asking what I was missing, and listening with my whole heart for answers. I realized over time that I wanted to be connected to the divine love of the Universe, and hear the voice for God so I could help spread light and love to everyone I could. To help people become guided by love.

Now I was practicing yoga. Most days I would go to class and do what I could, unashamed to take rest or watch and soak up the energy of the room. This is the life I have chosen and a broken wrist cannot take that away from me. I focused on grounding poses and daily meditation, with some fun poses thrown in to remind myself that I am not broken. Part of the reason I could keep a positive outlook was because I never stopped practicing, even though so much had changed I refused to quit on myself.

I kept asking, praying, that I could find a doctor with faith in my healing. And even though I wanted to give up I knew I couldn't, after all I am just starting to truly find myself. And in finding myself I found my doctor. She gave me two choices for surgery, and I felt lost making such a big decision. I went with my gut, but still in doubt I asked the universe for a sign to confirm my choice. The next day a young women tagged me in a photo of her arm balancing, having undergone surgery 10 years ago for Kienbock's Disease. When I asked her which surgery she had done, it was the exact same one I had picked. I felt so at peace.

As my doctor took me in for surgery she was absolutely radiant with faith, I could have cried. Because one of my forearm bones is a bit longer than it should be, she shortened it and took some of my live bone and grafted it to the dead bone. As I woke up from surgery, she appeared like an angel in a dream, visibly pleased at how the procedure went.

While I don't know what the future holds, I know it is bright. And although I am in a lot of pain and recovery will be a long process, luckily I have learned to be patient. A lot of that patience came from learning how to handstand. As a teacher I have grown so much from this experience, and as a student, too. Now I practice yoga to heal myself, and to connect to the divine love within each of us. If I could do it all over again I wouldn't change a thing. While some days are harder than others, I've never felt more alive and at peace than I do now. 

One day I hope to feel the freedom of handstanding again, but no matter what I will continue to shine the light that has been so graciously shared with me. Whatever you may be going through I pray you find the strength to keep going, to ask the questions that will lead you to yourself, and maybe even to God. 



Backbending vs. Heart Opening

Over the past three years my yoga practice has had many ebbs and flows.. but one of the most distinct has been my relationship with backbends. 

When I first stepped on a yoga mat, my lower back was naturally very flexible (read: my core was weak) which made some "impressive" looking flexibility poses accessible to me quickly. This was exciting, it fed my ego to be considered good at yoga. So, I did a lot of backbends without building a foundation in strength or core awareness. My handstands were sloppy because I would immediately fall into a backbend, and this makes sense because I spent my time back bending instead of strengthening my core. Within a few months my lower back hurt so badly I had to give up backbends altogether for a few months. This was frustrating to say the least. 

Fast forward two years and I'm telling a similar story, because I didn't learn my lesson the first go around. 

In September I started taking contortion classes and deciding that I wanted to see how far I could push my flexibility. And I did just that, I pushed it. I practiced way too many deep backbends, and even though I had been working on upper back flexibility the sheer amount was too much on my lower back. I've spent the past three months with undeniable lower back pain and just as much fear to go along with it. 

I've had to relearn backbends. How to backbend opening my chest and my shoulders, creating length and space so that I have room to go back without compression. This was so humbling, because suddenly I couldn't express any depth in my poses and many poses were painful. Soon I began to expect the pain, and I almost stopped doing any type of back bending for fear of permanent damage. When I did try to backbend again everything was closed and tight. It felt like I had lost my backbend, and I felt defeat. But I didn't give up. I changed my self talk, reminding myself how open and capable I am, how strong I've become. I went into NYC to take my favorite teachers class (Jared McCann) - knowing he has an uncanny way to open my heart. And like magic, I'm "fixed." For now, at least. 

One of the most simple backbends that changed my practice was half moon pose (standing backbend). I went from going back so far that I could touch the ground to barely looking like I was back bending at all. But my entire body was shaking because it was so difficult to use my core and initiate the movement from my shoulders. This blew my mind, backbends had never felt like this before. 

After three months of practicing like this I have a whole new awareness of my body. Yes, I still want to be able to put my butt to my head. But I no longer want to bend my back, I want my core to be so strong that it supports opening my heart to the fullest. 

What I've learned:

Strong abdominals and core awareness lead to a safer practice. Having a weak core and trying to deepen your backbends will eventually lead to trouble. 

Backbends are not about back bending, they are about front opening. You have to open your shoulders, chest, and hip flexors. 

There are times to respect your body, and times to challenge the shapes it wants to make. If you focus too much on your strengths, your weaknesses will remind you. 

Most importantly, we have to find the lesson in our experiences. There is far more to learn from the pain and the struggle than from the ease of success. And remember, it is ALL in your mind. 

For the love of elephants

I've been getting a lot of questions about my latest tattoo, and I am ready to share the significance. 

To me, the beauty of the elephant is buried deep below the surface. There are few creatures on this earth that express themselves the way elephants do. Their love, compassion, grief, and even anger parallels human emotions. 

As a highly emotional being, I have been through rather tumultuous times in my life where I thought I hated my parents and most of the people around me. I did things that I am less than proud of, and willingly admit that I was a terrible daughter. No matter what I did, my parents figured out the best way to support me and love me, all while letting me find myself. They never gave up on me, even when I had completely lost faith in myself. 

Whenever I watch a mother elephant and her calf, this is what I see. The thoughtfulness deep below the surface that cannot be expressed through words. The love that even death cannot remove. When I look at the elephant on my side I see the same thing, but in a different form. I see my parents and a love so deep that no adversity can challenge it. A silent commitment different than any verbal choice we will make.

My mom often reminds me that a tattoo is a lifelong commitment. And I am finally at a point in my life where I can embrace that. I know that as my body changes so will my tattoos, but learning to love myself regardless is a beautiful journey that I am ready to commit to. 

 

If you ever have specific questions about my journey please let me know so I can answer them. 

Much love,

Irene

Worth the weight

We live in a society where so much emphasis is placed on numbers. The numbers in our bank accounts, the numbers on our scales, the numbers of friends we have. When we place too much value on the numbers in our lives it is easy to feel discouraged and unworthy. 

My practice has been feeling heavy lately, so out of curiosity I stepped on the scale for the first time in a couple of months. 

153.4 pounds. 

Even when I considered myself "overweight" I never weighed this much. Ever. 

Once the shock wore off I began to laugh at myself. Why do I care so much about my weight? Does weighing a few pounds more or less have any effect on my worth as a person? Does a number on the scale mean I am beautiful or not? The overwhelming answer is NO, it doesn't. 

Personally speaking, I am the happiest when I eat mindfully and spend time reflecting on my yoga practice and in my daily life. Lately I haven't been eating as mindfully as I usually do, and the effect is clear on my body. Weighing myself was just the reality check I needed to look a little deeper. My relationship with food often is a direct reflection on how I am dealing with the emotional and situational turmoil of daily life. Even though I am so happy and grateful for all the opportunities that are present in my life, I have been neglecting myself on a deeper level. I have been so excited to travel and explore that I forgot to nourish myself with healthy and sustaining food.

While it is clear that the number on my scale doesn't matter, it has served as an ever so important reminder that I am happiest when I nourish myself from the inside out. When I feel worthy is when I share the most love with myself and those around me. Don't be afraid to break the cycle - love always leads to more love. When I love myself it is easier to eat mindfully, and when I eat mindfully it is easier to love myself.