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Sunday, October 22, 2006

getting adjusted

i've always had this on-again, off-again problem with my lower back. blame it on my hips that refuse to stay level. or my tendency to slouch. or even on the constant pounding from my long distance running. whatever it is, it doesn't take much for my creaky back to start flaring up. if i ignore it long enough, it turns into a cranky back. and if i abuse it like i've been doing the past few weeks, it eventually turns into an angry back, so angry that it refuses to let me forget that it's been pushed past its limits. so when it got to the point that the pain kept me from being able to sit comfortably during the day and sleep restfully at night, i knew it was time to seek professional help.

instead of heading towards one of my usual level 2/3 flow classes last wednesday, i took a detour and stopped at jiva yoga in the palisades to take larry payne's user friendly yoga class. after all, larry's the master when it comes to backs and creaky joints. in fact, he's recently been taking his prime of life yoga on the road; just this past weekend, he held a yoga therapy workshop at golden bridge yoga in hollywood on saturday and a knees, hips, and low back workshop at insight yoga in pasadena on sunday. he also continues to co-teach the yoga therapy RX certificate program at loyola marymount university in westchester. i needed therapy, and yoga therapy sounded like a great idea.

all throughout his class, i listened intently to what larry said. do this. don't do that. doing this will stretch on this body part. doing that could stress that body part. if i wanted to make my back happy again, i had to follow his advice.

fully aware that yoga alone wouldn't ease my back pain, i knew i had to visit a chiropractor. i asked larry for some referrals and he graciously gave me names of some excellent practitioners. unfortunately, neither their office schedules nor fee schedules meshed with mine, so i ended up doing something that i wouldn't suggest anyone else do: i found one on the internet.

so when i walked into the new chiropractor's office, it was like going on a match.com date. we had never met before and no one i knew had ever heard of her. the only reason why i had selected her over all the other unknowns was because she was affiliated with one of the chiropractors that larry had referred me to. not only that, but according to her website:

Dr. X has been a practicing Doctor of Chiropractic for over 18 years. A student of yoga, nutrition, reconstructive massage therapy, rehabilitative exercise and holistic health, Dr. X combines many areas of study for a “whole person” approach to health care.

since she listed yoga ahead of everything else, i figured that if anyone knew which yoga poses would cause my back pain to flare up, she would.

during that first visit, she evaluated the severity of my back problem then treated the affected area with massage, ultrasound, and traction. afterwards, she recommended thrice-weekly visits, at least until things were under control, and urged me to lay off the yoga for the next couple of weeks. when she realized that there was no way she'd be able to get me to go cold turkey for that long, she compromised and told me that i had to limit myself to gentle yoga, at least until my back calmed down. in other words, no extreme backbends nor extreme forward bends. no shoulderstands, no headstands (like i could do them that easily anyway). and if i wanted to do pigeon pose, i had to do it on my back, bringing my knees towards my chest, rather than sitting upright and bringing my chest to my knees. i was so depressed about having to tone down my yoga that i ended up skipping class altogether that evening.

the depression didn't last long; i bounced right back the next day. and so far, i've been good about following doctor's orders. i've been limiting myself to level 1/2 classes. i've also made it a point to tell my teachers about my back restrictions before class so they can point out any modifications i need to make during class. and i've been moving into poses more slowly so that i can stop and ease up whenever i start feeling any kind of strain on my back.

making all these adjustments to my practice is going to take some getting used to, but this temporary setback has hopefully taught me a lesson -- that i really need to listen to my body instead of insisting that my body listen to me. and the next time i forget, i'm sure my back will be right there to remind me :(