I’ve had many clients, friends and yoga students ask me how I healed my back. I usually kind of shake my head, sigh and say, “That’s a long story.” But we all want to hear positive stories of health and healing, to know that we are going through is not in isolation, that someone else has at least marched in the same direction through the thick jungle of life and who can say, “I did it, and so can you.” So here is my attempt to tell you about how I healed my back.
The term “healing” requires that there is something to heal from, and whenever I’m helping clients heal it’s important to understand the context that created injury or illness in the first place. One of the principles of energy medicine states that, “You alone can heal yourself,” which means that on some level I had a hand in creating the circumstances for my injury. Not that it was intentional, or psychosomatic, or at all pre-conceived. But if I believe that we create our own reality, then I believe that I had a hand in creating the reality that allowed me to become injured, just as I had a hand in creating the healing the occurred after.
This was the context:
Throughout my life, I struggled with who I want to be and who I “should” be. For those of you who have worked with me, you may recognize this as the proverbial struggle between the second and third chakras — the third chakra stores all of the parental and cultural programming and imprints, which often give us very stringent ideas about who we should be to be successful, accepted, validated, etc. The second chakra often houses the deepest desires and aspirations of our soul, and as we come to understand this about ourself, that sanctuary must battle for position against all of the screaming voices in the third chakra. Thus, in many, an internal battle begins that can last a lifetime. Luckily for me, most of the battle occurred during my late 20’s (during a period that astrologists often call the Saturn Return).
In December of 2008, I found myself alone in the house that my husband and I had just bought in San Diego. I had spent the last two weeks painting and prepping the house for his arrival. I had quit my job two weeks ago, said goodbye to my friends, and drove to San Diego alone to do the prep work while he attended a conference and packed up his office. My husband was hopeful I’d find a job quickly because he was worried about finances. I’d already given up so much for him that I felt resentful to be required to jump into work so quickly, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to go back to work in water quality. In a journal, I wrote, “I go between being happy and being depressed and wanting. I need to stay grounded more so that I can stay centered and focused and have amusement. . . I really feel like I want to use my healing gifts in a career. That would be amazing!”
As we got settled, I jumped into my usual activities — running, biking, climbing and surfing. I also started doing much more yoga and joined a yoga teacher training program. At the same time, I joined a clairvoyant training program — the culmination of years of preparatory practice and classes, and something I’d wanted to do for years. The night I signed up, my husband yelled at me for spending money on something he viewed as frivolous, crazy and stupid. A few days later I wrote, “I wish I could leave. I feel so unvalidated at home. All I do is try to be psychic and make art my husband doesn’t like. And clean occasionally. I value what I do, but he doesn’t. I just want to LEAVE.”
The further I dove into my healing arts, the less support I received from my marriage. But that place inside of me, that sanctuary buried within the layers of my aura, that place that houses the light and love of who I am had made itself known, if even in a small way, and I knew that I couldn’t back down. At the same time, I was newly married and trying to be the wife that I believed my husband deserved. I wasn’t ready to let that go, either. And so a period began in which my health deteriorated at the rate of instability in my marriage.
I had always had a history of back pain “episodes,” ever since I was 10 years old. In 5th grade, I did a stunt on the playground that kept me out of activities for several weeks and out of classes for a few days because I couldn’t sit for very long. Every couple of years I’d have this same pain, and I got it more often during graduate school, when my body was under more stress. While I was climbing with friends one night, I had the worst episode I’d ever had. I did what I normally did — rested, iced, gave it ibuprofen, then resumed regular activity after a week or so. Only this time, it didn’t get better.
I reinjured my low back several times that year, even after intense physical rehabilitation at a highly recommended facility. I couldn’t do my regular yoga practice. I couldn’t run. I couldn’t ride a bike. And as time went on, I had days where I couldn’t walk around the block. I had always been an active person — physical activity was the way that I relieved stress, created endorphins, felt good about myself and, indeed, where my self-esteem and a sense of self-worth was built. But my activities were gone, and with it, much of my self worth.
For the first time in my life, I had to learn how to be alone with myself without distraction. It was painful. And it was hard. For the first year or so, I focused on the pain and how unfair life was. I looked to experts to fix me and to make me better. My husband continued with his high level of physical activity. When I asked him to walk with me, he’d run instead and we’d meet back at the car. I was alone. And, at first, it was lonely.
My first break through in healing was when I looked to yoga for healing. I met a yoga-based physical therapist and started working with her. She reminded me that I was the only person who could heal me, and that although my condition was serious, it could be healed. I just had to stop giving my power away. She also reminded me that I could do yoga — just not the kind of yoga I was accustomed. I had been addicted to the very active forms of yoga — power yoga and vinyasa, mostly — at the expense of the deeper inner practice that yoga really is. She invited me to dig deeper into the internal practice while I recovered.
At this point, I had finished up my clairvoyant training program and was trading weekly healings with a friend. Although she had never met my husband, she noted his energy like a grey fog that interfered with my body’s ability to heal itself. I continued to receive readings and healings from friends and colleagues and to practice grounding, clearing and centering.
Specific Healing Modalities
When I finally received a proper diagnosis (which took a full year), it was severe hypermobility of the sacral iliac join and pelvic. Basically, my SI joints and pelvis would swing out of position all the time — while I was sleeping, walking, sitting, you name it. The sacrum connects into the pelvis with a rough connection — the bony joint isn’t smooth, but more like two jagged rocks rubbing against each other. Each time my sacrum moved, and each time I had to put it back into place, the grinding created inflammation, pain and eventually little sacs of scar tissue that accumulated around my SI joints. I was in near constant pain and discomfort.
I began working with a manual therapist, who was helping me train my muscles to keep my spine in the correct location. Our goal was to create stability and then strengthen within that stable position. It was slow going, but we were persistent. At the same time, I was in a yoga teacher training program. One day, we had our workshop on Ayurveda presented by Eleni Tsikrikas, and I was immediately hooked. I had also developed vertigo along with the pain and asked her if she could help me. Another part of my healing path was set into motion.
Along with the manual therapy to create stability, I was also given a vata-pacifying diet to calm my nervous system and quiet vata dosha, which is responsible for movement in the body. When out of balance, vata can create too much movement, which was exactly what it was doing in my physical body. Vata was also responsible for my vertigo. My new diet included eating only warm, moist foods with plenty of oils and ghee, along with warm, spiced herbal teas. I cut out all stimulants including caffeine and alcohol, and focused on the concept of stability within my life.
After another year of manual therapy and Ayurveda, I was gradually getting better, but something was missing. My pelvis wouldn’t hold stability for more than a few days, and my manual therapist suspected something internally moving my pelvis out of position. She called in a visceral manipulation therapist. Years later, I found that there is a connection between high sensitivity (which I have) and connective tissue disorders. My new visceral manipulation therapist was certain that my connective tissue or fascia was somehow keeping my pelvis and sacrum out of alignment. As she worked with me, I felt an immense release in a subtle way — a feeling I had never had before, that was felt deeply within my body. With her hands, she traced the lines of my fascia to a scar on the top of my head from where I fell and cracked open my head when I was two. Over several sessions, she worked out the connective tissue scaring. Afterwards, my body was able to accept the manual therapy and maintain stability.
As my therapists got to know me better, they each separately realized the lack of support in my marriage and questioned me about it. They were not forceful nor pushy, but guided me to find my own answers. One day, I was seated in meditation and was looking at my future. I received two pictures; the first was of me on my current path or trajectory. I had a feeling of being pressed closely to the ground, as if I wouldn’t ever experience my desired amount of spiritual growth. I was walking or crawling into a dark tunnel, and bright energies that once belonged to me were getting stuck on the sides of the cave and being left behind. It was a dark, lonely road.
The second vision was of me if I broke free. I saw myself seated in meditation, hands held to the sky, with colorful vibrations of energy all around me. With this second vision came a very strong impression that part of my purpose on the planet was to be in a situation in which I could create without limitation. I knew that this second vision meant that my marriage must end, but I wasn’t ready just yet.
I took a trip to India, where I faced several of my fears about not being good enough. Through honest inquiry, processing and prayer, I released enough fear that I could face my life when I returned a month later. Making one difficult decision after the next, I dissolved my marriage, said goodbye to my old life, and moved into a house on the beach where I spent the next sixth months trying to get my feet underneath me.
I continued to strengthen my body, each day taking walks along the beach or practicing yoga outside by the water. I continued to create stability by becoming the main stabilizing force in my own life. I made a decision to move to Seattle, where I started teaching one yoga class a week, sure that I would find the job I needed to create financial stability. I made friends, got those jobs, and settled into a routine in which self-care was a priority.
I started seeing a chiropractor, and the combination of that, plus new strength-building exercises propelled me into a path of health. The biggest factor in my recovery, however, was accepting myself for who I was and then surrounding myself with people who saw me for exactly who I was — not who they thought I should be. When I was brave enough to selectively choose who I surrounded myself with, my life became much more stable.
Today, five years after the initial trauma of being so injured, I am pain free. I must maintain stability in my life by keeping proper daily routines, eating well and doing maintenance exercises for my back, but most of all, I must continue to be the stabilizing force in my own life by believing in myself and loving me for who I am today.