This guest post comes to us from Strong is Our Sexy reader Kristina Klopp.
Prickly pins and needles, sharp shooting pain beginning in my hands, extending up my arm into my shoulder and neck. Debilitating headaches. I was forgetting things I should’ve remembered. It was becoming difficult to speak. It was as if my mouth couldn’t move fast enough for my brain.
Chronic pain invaded every inch of my body. From the time I woke up in the morning, until I lay down at night, pain stalked me. Everything hurt.
I went to my primary care physician seeking relief. After a series of X-rays, MRI scans and painful nerve testing, I was diagnosed with extreme spinal stenosis, degenerative disk disease and Ossification of the Posterior Longitudinal Ligament (OPLL) – a rare disease where the ligament parallel to your spinal cord begins to turn to bone.
During my exam by my neurosurgeon, I had to perform a variety of tasks. The scariest moment of my life was when my neurosurgeon asked me to walk across the room on my tiptoes and turn. I took three steps and fell.
I had gone from doing Zumba classes five to seven days a week, to falling after three steps on my tiptoes.
The damage to my neck had been happening for years. During that time, my body learned to compensate. But I had finally reached the point where I could no longer act as though everything was alright. It was far from alright. Left untreated, I probably would’ve wound up paralyzed, or worse.
I underwent a 6+ hour long surgery with 4 separate procedures to stabilize my neck and remove the bone spurs that were impinging my spinal cord. I woke up from my surgery with two titanium rods, 14 screws and a titanium plate holding five of my seven cervical vertebrae in place.
But it wasn’t over yet. After surgery, I developed a rare complication, C5 palsy in my right arm, which essentially “turned off” the nerve that moved my right arm. Discharged after a five-day stay in the hospital, I went home with constant pain that prescription narcotic medication couldn’t touch, and I couldn’t move my right arm, my dominant arm.
Between the pain and frustration of having to learn how to do everything with only my left hand, I sank deep into depression. I had to learn to lay on my bed to put my bra on with one arm. I had to buy a special rocker knife just to be able to cut my food. I had to wear draw string pants because I couldn’t use zippers. I had to learn how to go to the bathroom with only my left hand.
Mostly, I remember crying a lot during this time, then being frustrated that I had to try to blow my nose with only one hand.
Desperate for relief, I sought comfort on my yoga mat.
I had practiced yoga for a few years prior to my surgery. But it wasn’t until I was in this black hole that my mat became my medicine, my savior, my relief.
Six months after my surgery, still with no use of my right arm and my pain as bad as the day of my surgery, I began my yoga teacher training program at Elemental Om studio with 19 amazing yogis. We met every Tuesday night for four hours to practice yoga, study yoga, and learn Ayurveda and coaching techniques. We cleansed and did shadow work. We confronted our deep-seated habits and the emotional scars and beliefs that limited us.
This training exceeded the basic anatomy and asana instruction typical in most 200-hour-level yoga teacher training programs. Most importantly, we created a community of 19 like-minded people who were all suffering on some level and who learned to support each other.
Some days, I could barely make it to class because I was in so much pain. I would sit propped up with my back against the wall, tears streaming down my face, unable to participate in the asana instruction because my arm couldn’t move. I suffered from bouts of vertigo that made me physically ill for days at a time. It forced me to express my emotions, to admit my weakness and to allow others to help me.
And help me they did. The instructors and students were always there to support me, with words of encouragement, cards with personal notes, hugs, and healing energy.
You see, yoga is more than just a fitness regime to increase flexibility and lose weight. It’s not about wearing $100+ yoga pants and bending into a pretzel, or sweating your butt off in a room where the temperature is above 100 degrees. Yoga is a spiritual practice designed to turn you inside out, allowing you to transcend your physical limitations and heal your soul. While my body grew stronger from the asana practice, my heart grew stronger from the love and support of my yoga community.
Yoga taught me that I am a spiritual being in a physical body, that this body is a shell and that the real me isn’t my neck, or my non-working right arm or my poor overused, worn out left arm. The real me isn’t all of these thoughts I have or emotions I feel. The real me is removed from all of this. I have the ability to rise above all of this.
So I let it all go on my mat.
I let the tears flow. I scream. I smile. But mostly I breathe and move my right arm up and down, experiencing such profound joy in the ability to raise my right arm up above my head.
Eighteen months post-op, I am teaching yoga, helping others who are dealing with chronic pain and emotional trauma. Additionally, I’m working on arm balances, something I thought I’d never be able to do.
My mat is my home and my studio is my tribe. My chronic pain has become my medicine. My journey has opened my heart and allowed me to take chances I would never have taken previously, such as walking away from the corporate world that destroyed my soul. My pain has given me great insights to helping others who are suffering.
The numbness in my hands remains. The nerve damage was too severe for surgery to correct. But every time I get on my mat, whether to teach a class or for my own personal practice, I know that I can overcome anything. I know that the fear is all in my head. I know that my yogi family will always be here to support me. I know that everything I need is within me. I step into the next part of my journey confident, knowing that I can get through anything and knowing I don’t have to do it alone.
About Kristina: Trained at Elemental Om, in Montgomery, OH, I am a 200 hour certified yoga teacher, Ayurvedic specialist and coach. I have first-hand experience with pain management and creating yoga programs that are suited for students who have special needs due to injury, illness or other challenges. Using modalities such as yoga, meditation, nutrition and Ayurvedic supplements, I assist students in creating a lifestyle that promotes wellness, balance and peace of mind.