Episode 57 – Mind, Body, and Stories About Pain
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In this episode Rachel shares her experience with training with a Naprapath for 8 straight days and learning new, unconventional ways of moving her body. She talks about how she has built a story around her back pain and an old injury and the epiphany that the story around the pain actually may have led her to more of the same. She shares some of the out-of-the-box exercises she has done over the past week, ignoring everything she has learned about yogic alignment, moving out of her comfort zone and leaving the idea of comfort far, far behind.
[001:08] Hi, and welcome to another episode of From The Heart: Conversations with Yoga Girl. It is officially the latest moment I have ever sat down to record this podcast. It’s almost Thursday afternoon, and this podcast is released, um, usually around 12 a.m. Friday morning. So it’s cutting it pretty close. To everyone on my production team, I’m super sorry I’m so late. It’s just I’m in Spain and I’m having such a good time! It’s really hard to remember to go inside and pick up my equipment and sit down and record this show. Recording the podcast is definitely a little bit more of a challenge when we’re on the road and when we’re traveling than it is at home. Specifically because, one, we’re always out and about, we’re going places, doing things. We don’t have the routines that we have at home. But it’s also pretty challenging to find a quiet space. So if you here any sounds outside of my voice throughout this podcast, it’s probably because I’m at this hotel and there’s, like, things going on all around me. So, I’m doing my very best here to sit down and make a quiet space.
[002:19] Also, I have a little thing going on with my voice, I don’t know if you can tell. It’s been like a week of this, just a little bit of a hoarse throat. But I don’t think I’m getting sick, at least I hope not. I like to believe that I’m doing so much physical exercise these days that, like, my throat is just, like, working out together with the rest of my body. And that’s what I’m going to talk about today, the body and strength, and for me specifically, the body-mind connection, and how I’ve kind of viewed my body throughout the years, and the limits I’ve put on myself for absolutely no reason.
[003:00] So, if you have been following along for the past, let’s say week or two, we are in Spain right now, we are having a beautiful time, and I, as everybody sort of knows, have had a ton of back issues or back pain in the past couple of months. And when I think about it, and actually, I’ve had back pain on and off my entire life, and it wasn’t until I found yoga when I was 19 or 18 or so that I had my first big change within my body, or my first moments of relief. Which was such a beautiful thing, and it was a huge part of why I had this yoga epiphany, and I realized, oh my god, yoga is everything and I’m going to make this my life, not just a passion or a hobby or something that I do. This lifestyle that I want to live and breathe this and teach this and make it my life, every damn day.
[003:46] So, everyone who has had or is currently suffering from any sort of chronic pain, whether it’s back or neck or headaches or anything else. You know, so many people live a life where there’s pain present in our day-to-day. It’s such a challenging thing. Oh my god, it affects everything. I find it’s very, very hard to be in physical pain and just kind of carry on your day-to-day without feeling weighed down and without it becoming an emotional strain as well. Because it’s just exhausting to feel pain.
[004:18] For me, one of the things that’s always been a big challenge is not knowing where my pain comes from, where my pain stems from, because I’m okay with having a challenge or having an issue, but I want to know a little recipe of A to Z. Here is how I’m going to fix this, or here is how I’m going to make this better. And when it comes to my back pain, I’ve never really had that, which has been one of the most frustrating parts of this is that I feel like I have no control, and I’m not in the know of what is going on, what’s happening within my body.
[004:49] When I was a young teenager, so I have scoliosis. Fairly mild, it’s not super sever, but I’ve had it since I was a young teenager. I grew really fast, or I grew a lot in a really short period of time. And I have this little twist of my spine, a little curvature of my spine, and I have one hip that’s more elevated than the other, so when I was 13, 14, I started getting this overwhelming lower back pain. It was always my lower back. And I spent a lot of time with different specialists, and I went to this place called Stockholm Spine Center, which is this really prestigious Clinique … clinic. Clinique? That’s how you say it in Swedish. Oh my god, I’m mixing so many languages, I’m like forgetting. I’m speaking almost only Spanish here in Spain. I’m losing my Papiamento, which is our Aruban language, because I’m speaking so much Spanish, and then I’m speaking Swedish to the baby, I’m losing my English. Too many languages happening … But yeah, it’s the Swedish clinic, this very prestigious clinic where they actually do kind of severe and really innovative surgeries for people with back issues and spinal issues, scoliosis and things like that. So I almost went through this very invasive surgery because of the extent of the pain that I had.
[006:02] The interesting thing is that along the way, when I was in my teens, and I was kind of going from specialist to specialist, and I would have days where I couldn’t get out of bed, I had had days where I couldn’t bend over, I couldn’t tie my shoes, I couldn’t move. Just the back pain was so intense. And nowhere along the way did anybody tell me that I should move more. (laugh) Which now, you know, I work in movement, like the moment I found yoga I realized, wait, I spent my whole life and I never really had any core strength, I had nothing to support and hold my body up. My core was very weak. And also I didn’t have any space in the body, so I was really tight at the same time, and had a lot of tension and really tight hamstrings. No one along the way gave me any sort of prescription for movement! At all! Which I find now just really, really strange. They would prescribe me pain relief and pain medication and really quickly told me, okay, I’m going to need to have surgery for this issue, because my aunt has it and my grandma had it, and it’s just one of those things that they said would get worse and worse and worse as you age. So you better have this surgery now that you’re only 15, because then your body will adapt and you won’t be kind of messed up for the rest of your life, because you’ve had this surgery for scoliosis.
[007:17] So I almost went through with that. Then I think two years passed and I found yoga, and yoga changed my life. Immediately. It was really like an immediate thing where I found the yoga practice, I started making space where I was tight, I started building strength where I was weak. And not just the physical change that I experiences within my own body, but also just the body awareness. And I had none. The only awareness I had was like, “Oh my god, sometimes there’s pain and I can’t move!” But I was very unaware of how I was feeling in my body day-to-day. I didn’t know, you know, am I feeling good? What triggers this? I was very unconscious about the food I was eating, I wasn’t moving at all. I kind of wanted to just be the skinny person. I remember spending a lot of time obsessing about my weight, but I didn’t have any awareness of just health or well-being, at all.
[008:09] So, yoga brought me that, which was just a beautiful, beautiful thing for a teenager to arrive at, “Okay, if I learn how to cultivate this listening within, and I start to become aware, and I live a present life in my body, it’s much easier for me to anticipate.” Like, okay wait, I do X, Y, Z, I do this type of stuff and it doesn’t feel good, or if I don’t move for a whole week, yeah, like at the end of the week I have a lot of pain. But if I don’t stretch in this way, or if I don’t breathe, also whenever I’m stressed or sad or angry, it triggers this back pain. So, just the awareness of figuring you, you know, how am I feeling in this moment? And how can I invite more awareness so that I can learn more about what brings me health, what brings me relief, and what brings on pain and tension. So, total game changer. And anyone who has found yoga or meditation at a young age, I feel like one of the first things that I really thought about is why aren’t we taught this in school? To me that was just sort of a mind-blowing thing. Especially for P.E. and physical education and things like that, we would do so much, like, I remember I think Sweden has probably a really good, wide range of things that they allow you to learn in school when it comes to body and physical education. There was nothing involving mindfulness, meditation, yoga, this kind of slowing down. But we would do every type of sport in the book. Like, everything. We would have a date for soccer, a date for American football, we’d go hiking, we’d go running, we’d do all of these things, but nothing in that sphere of just slowing down and listening with it. So, I kind of feel like it should be a mandatory thing.
[009:43] I’m realizing, even now, I mean I have Lea Luna, she’s only 13 months old, but whenever I sit down with her and I breathe deeply, and I kind of get very present and very quiet with her, it immediately reflects in her energy. Of course! Right away! Same goes with my dog and our animals. If I’m very hyper and frantic and excited, it translates into how their energy elevates, and kind of what they bring back my way. So, if I want them to settle down and to be calm, I have to first settle down and be calm. It’s such a great learning to have, and it’s something we can keep forever. So, yeah, anyone listening, I super invite you to, if you have kids, find a kids’ yoga class, kids’ mindfulness class, or start practicing these things at home on your own, because I do believe that the earlier we start, the easier it is to make this part of day-to-day life, not just this one thing we do once a week.
[010:34] Anyway, back to me and back to this story. So, I found yoga and it completely changed how I was feeling in my body, and this lower back pain that I had forever, it just completely went away. It took about a year. You know, immediately I had relief from the pain, but it took about a year or maybe almost two years until I had no pain anymore. I would just have less and less pain, and I would feel less and less tension through learning more and more about wellness and about how I was feeling. And also, you know, getting into my past and some patterns that I had, especially with stress and sadness and anger and things like that, I find that a lot of the pain that we carry physically in the body is very, very related, of course, to how we feel emotionally. I came from a very rough and sort of traumatic and chaotic background. The moment I found peace, it was also translated into this physical sense of well-being, which was a beautiful thing.
[011:27] Then, fast forward a couple of years, a lot of years, and I went from feeling almost like sort of a weak person, like I couldn’t do very much with my body, and I was always scared I was going to throw my back out no matter what happened. I built so much strength, I started feeling really empowered through my yoga practice. I learned how to invert and handstand and arm balance and all of these things. And I sort of took it all the way to the other extreme. So, being a person who scared of movement or scared of the intensity of this physical intensity of movement. I was scared to bend over. I couldn’t touch my toes when I started practicing yoga, and I didn’t like to bend over to touch my toes, because I was always nervous I was going to throw my back out, to someone who became obsessed with finding the deepest forward fold, and obsessed with pressing to handstand, and one-armed handstands, and this and that, and learn learn learn. The type of yoga practice I had at this time was at least two to three hours a day. I would do 50 or 100 chatarangas per practice, and navasanas and core work. I would get really obsessed with just doing one thing, and I would repeat it 100,000 times. Which, yeah, isn’t the most balanced way to practice. For me, it kind of took me to the other end of the spectrum. So, from not moving at all to moving … I don’t want to say moving too much, but moving, again, in sort of a mindless way, where I became very obsessed with the idea of learning a pose, or nailing a pose. I was also picking up my phone and shooting and filming things for Instagram, which I found is just a really, really challenging thing to invite into your life, as a whole. But when this was new for me, I just sort of dove in all the way.
[013:04] And what happened is I started getting a lot of upper back tension. So, instead of this lower back pain that I had, I started getting a lot of upper back tension, of course. I think back at my practice then, it was very very very upper back strength, kind of static related. If you’re going to spend an hour a day trying to press up to handstand, you probably need to change some stuff up and make sure you incorporate a whole lot more upper back opening, and back bending and heart opening, which I wasn’t doing at all. I was just kind of all in, all or nothing. I mean, I was like 22 or something. I was very young and not … yeah, I became not super mindful about my practice, so it took me from one end of the spectrum to the other one.
[013:50] Then somewhere around then I took a teacher training and, let me think here, I’m always mixing up the years. No, I must have been 21. 21 or 22. I took a teacher training and it was a very intense month, and somewhere after that I did a white water rafting tour somewhere in Costa Rica. It was this fun thing adventure that we were supposed to do, and strangely enough, this boat, this raft that we were in had a wooden seat, which is super, you know, unsafe for a wild white water rafting thing. We were in this really intense rapid, and we went into this huge bump, and I flew out of the boat, and I landed on the wooden seat, like, BAM. Like, super rough. The feeling was as if something had broken in my upper back. Literally, I thought I had broken my back. It was just a snap, but not the kind of snap that you would experience when you just throw your back out or something like that, or when you get pain. It was like a break, that’s the feeling I had. By far the most pain I had ever been in in my whole life. It took maybe six months of just intense healing work and acupuncture three times a week, and seeing different body workers, and just very gentle practice. It took a really long time just for me to not be in sever pain, because it was a legitimate injury. It wasn’t something that crept on, it was really a sharp injury in the moment.
[015:12] Since then, here is where, for me at least, the interesting part comes along. I became so nervous about triggering this part of the body. So, it’s this little spot, it’s around like T3, T4, so thoracic spine, around this area of the body, I became so nervous about triggering what, in my mind, became this injury. I had an injury there. I wouldn’t want to get an X-Ray, because I was terrified that an X-Ray would say that I had broken something, or that I had a herniated disc. I didn’t want a diagnosis, I just wanted to heal myself through yoga. I was also, again, very nervous and not very mindful about what had happened through my body.
[015:50] So, I started telling myself this story of, “Okay, well I had an injury here because I had an accident.” Similarly to how when I was 15 or 16 I had a car accident and the car kind of flipped over, landed upside down, and I landed on my head. Again, I didn’t have a proper diagnosis from a doctor, but I started telling myself this story of “I have an injury because I was in a car accident.” And I told that story for years. And got over it through yoga, and then I had this other thing, and now I had another reason, another thing that my mind could attach to as “injury” right? There’s pain here.
[016:23] Eventually the pain went away, all the way, and started translating into kind of like normal life, where I could practice like normal. I stopped doing all this kind of intense press work and I slowed down in my practice and it brought me back into a more balanced space. But every six months or so, like maybe once a year, maybe twice a year, something would happen where I would throw my back out and this pain in my upper back would return. It would always, now after that accident, this white water rafting thing, it would be in the same place of my body.
[016:59] That happened maybe once, maybe twice, and after that I sort of built this story to myself, which is something that I’m realizing now, but I built this story to myself around this injury I had in my upper back, and how there are certain things that I just can’t do anymore. So, for instance, I’ll get really stressed or I’ll work really hard, or I’ll have a thousand retreats in a row or a big teacher training, something very intense and overwhelming where I’m working really hard, and I’ll start feeling this tension in my upper back. Instead of just labeling this as, “Oh, I have some tension in my upper back, maybe I should slow down, or maybe I need to be mindful here and change something,” I start getting this little bit of a panicky feeling, like, “Oh my god! Oh my god! Oh my god! My injury!” Right? The story of this injury that I have. Instead of going into this place of tension and exploring, okay, well what is it that sits here? What does my body actually need? Do I need more space? Do I need more strengthening? Can I get really into this part of my body and figure out what’s going on? I get completely terrified and I seal it off. So, I go like, “Oh my god, no, I have this injury now and it’s flaring up, or it’s talking to me again.” So I just stop with everything. Which isn’t actually the best way to go. This is also translating, for me, in a lot of ways, through the study of yoga and the study of this practice that I have done for so long now, and the idea that I was sort of brought up with in the yoga community of if something hurts you, you stop. If something bothers you, you stop, you walk away, you don’t go there. Which, of course, is a very sound piece of advice, especially if you’re leading trainings and you’re brining new teachers out into the world, you want people to teach yoga in a very mindful way. You don’t want any student to ever go into a place where they can move toward injury in their practice, of course not.
[018:52] But, what I had done, or what I think a lot of us are doing, is we’re taking it so far that we become even … almost terrified of going toward a place where there is any sort of pain. And we tell people, “The moment you encounter anything, if it’s sharp sensation or if it’s a lot, go away.” You know? Like, find the modification for the pose, soften the pose, or leave the pose. At least that’s what I’ve been teaching for a really long time. If it doesn’t feel good, you leave it. Of course there’s a difference between discomfort, which in yoga we look for, at least the way I teach it, we look for discomfort. We look for these parts of the body where there is tension, there’s tightness, maybe there’s a pattern of holding there or there’s a motion stuck, and you allow yourself to marinate in that, maybe even look for it, and then stay within the parameters of your … what feels alright. But whenever there’s a twinge or a pinch or any sort of pain, it’s like, okay, find a modification, walk away, change it, or leave the pose, or another variation of the pose.
[019:57] What I’ve been doing for so long is whenever I arrive at this upper back, any type of sensation, which for me isn’t just pain, but actually just sensation. I’ve been so scared to trigger this area of the body that I have deemed “injured” or that I have deemed weaker or that I have deemed not in balance, and then I just leave it completely, which has led to this very unhealthy movement pattern in my body. And it’s been a completely unconscious thing. Completely unconscious thing. It’s just been like, okay, I have pain there, I don’t want to trigger more of it, so when I feel something, I stop. Which means I move the rest of my body, but I leave this upper back area kind of stagnant and kind of passive all the time. Meaning that if I’m back-bending, I take my back-bends into other parts of the body. I try to make space in the parts where I’m stuck, but I’m so terrified of this pain that actually I don’t let myself go there very much, which means I don’t back bend very much at all, because I don’t want to back bend in my lower back or in my neck. So, my back bending practice has become just very, very, very minimal over the past couple of years. Same thing with any sort of strengthening, anything like that. If I feel it a lot in my upper back, I soften, I drop my knees, I change it, I do something else.
[021:14] I have been under the impression that this is healthy because I have this thing there and it’s probably going to be there forever. The epiphany that I’ve had now, and that I’m having continuously over these past couple of weeks is … I have spoken about this for like the last three or four podcast episodes have all been related to pain of some sort, because it’s what I’m moving through in my own life. I had one of those little flare-ups happen where my spine sort of felt like a snap and then I had two epiphanies. One was, okay, I’m just going to accept that this pain is here. The pain is here, I’m accepting it, I’m not going to fight it anymore, I’m not going to make it into this issue that I ponder and that I obsess over in my mind, I’m just going to accept it is what it is, this is the pain. Every three or four months it just happens, it is what it is.
[021:56] To the next week where I was practicing with Lara Heimann, one of my favorite teachers who came to Aruba to help me and give me some body work, because I was in more pain than usual. My epiphany that week was, okay, it is what it is, but it’s not cool. It’s not normal. I’m 29 years old, I’m a healthy person. To have this sort of pain, you know, debilitating pain flare up not once a year anymore, not twice a year anymore, but like three or four times a year. Every three or four months. It’s not normal, it’s too much. No. I’m going to figure out what’s happening, and I’m going to really spend some time to prioritize my pain and prioritize my body and go into it. Which I haven’t really done! And I’m kind of mind-blown by that, actually! Anyone who lives with any sort of pain knows just how challenging it is, how hard it is to get anything else done, to continue living your life in sort of normal way. Still, I put everything else above myself, you know? At the very top of my list of priorities, number one is always the baby. Her well-being, whatever she needs, it’s up there beyond everything else. Then somewhere, like second place, I want to say it’s always Dennis … It’s not always Dennis. Usually I put work or the businesses or things I have to do, and then I remember, like, “Oh shit, I have to prioritize my husband a little bit more,” and I bump him up to number two. But it’s a constant struggle of, yeah, my priorities between work and my marriage. Then after that I have all of these other things that I’m doing, and employees. I have like a thousand things on this list. And then at the very, very bottom, if there’s any time left in my day after I’ve done all the stuff that I normally do, then it’s like, “Ah! Maybe I should do something about this pain that I have. Maybe I should book a massage, or I should go get acupuncture, or I should go get a treatment, or I should do something.” But it’s at the very bottom of my list. And I’m wondering now, is it because I’m just used to de-prioritizing myself? Like, I put everyone else above myself. Or is it because I’m actually sort of terrified to explore what sits in this part of my body, like what is it that’s in this pain?
[025:33] So, all of that is now changing, or has changed. So, through this intense six weeks of pain that I’ve had just recently, through Lara coming to Aruba to really help and support me, and she helped me figure a lot of things out. What it actually took was me saying like, “Hey, I need help. Okay? I cannot do this on my own anymore.” Since giving birth this pain has escalated so much. It’s not just a once a year thing anymore, like, I could live with that. But it’s coming up again and again and again, and then when that pain arrives, it doesn’t really ever all the way go away. So since giving birth something has definitely shifted within the body, and I need help! And I need to prioritize myself and put myself above everything else. That, for me, was a really scary thing to do. I’m really a little bit uncomfortable about, you know, kind of waving my hands and going like, “Hey hey hey, I need to be number one now. I need everyone’s attention, I need everyone to just stop and like, you know, help me!” (laugh) I don’t generally like, like, I like to be the fixer. I like to be the one that looks at other people … I like to go, “Okay, well how can I support you?” It’s just sort of a natural personality trait that I have.
[026:43] So doing this was for me kind of scary, venturing out of my comfort zone, but felt really, really good. I figured so many things out with Lara. And decided, okay, we’re going to Spain, we’re going to be in Spain for two weeks. I want to continue this. I don’t want to just dive in from this to going on vacation and going back into these old patterns. I’m going to change something. And it means I need to go way beyond my comfort zone and try something totally brand new. Totally brand new. So, if you followed me a little bit on social media and Instagram over the past week, you probably have seen that I have been training with this guy named Jonas, who is a naprapath. So, it’s not a naturopath. A lot people been saying I’m spelling it wrong, it’s called a naturopath. No, that’s something completely different. It’s naprapathic medicine. And it’s actually very, very unknown in the U.S. and in the rest of the world. In Sweden and Norway it’s huge. Like it’s bigger than chiro and osteopaths. It’s a really, really big practice. It’s derived from osteopathy and chiropractic medicine (I’m reading off of Google right now). Naprapathic medicine is a holistic approach to wellness that focuses on connective tissue disorders. Damaged connective tissue, including muscles, tendons, and ligaments can cause pain to slowly build and spread throughout the body. It kind of combines Chinese medicine, and there’s some acupuncture in there, and there’s some kind of based in chiropractic medicine, but it’s a much gentler approach, and it’s also 100% based in movement. So it’s not just, you know, you go to a chiropractor, they’ll crack your back and you leave. It’s actually a full body diagnosis. So, looking in, where is the imbalance within the body that’s leading to this pain, not just looking at the location of the pain. And how can we use movement, maybe paired with some gentle adjustments, perhaps, but usually movement to fix and heal this issue?
[028:36] So, Jonas is the guy that I see when I’m in Sweden. I’m not very often in Sweden, so I’ll go and I’ll get treatments with him, and then he always gives me homework and things I have to do at home, and I never do them. I never do them, I just, I never do them. I have my yoga practice, I just do you. And according to him, and this is the things that he’s told me now forever, and I just haven’t been listened to it. “Okay, well you’re doing yoga your way, and you have this thing going on in your body, and the pain keeps coming back. You need to change something. You need to invite something new, maybe remove something, you need to look at this with a different perspective. It can’t just be the same practice that you’ve had since you were 18, 19 years old, because your body is different right now.”
[029:15] But I have been very lazy in my yoga practice for a long time, and also I am very busy. I am not really giving myself the time and space of those two to three hours a day anymore. You know? If I have an hour a day to practice yoga, that’s what I get. Some days it’s 20, 30 minutes, when the baby naps. And it’s also, I like to say this all the time, changing the sentence of “I don’t have time for that,” and say what it actually means, which is, “That is not a priority for me,” and that’s how I’ve been treating myself since I had the baby. I’ve constantly told myself, “I don’t have time for myself. I don’t have time for me. I don’t have time for healing. I don’t have time for a long practice.” But the truth is, me, I am not a priority right now. I’m not prioritizing that. Because, yeah, I have time for a lot of other things. I’m doing a lot. There’s 24 hours to a day. I’m super busy all the time. Apparently, you know, I have time to do a bunch of stuff, but I don’t have time for myself just means that I’m not prioritizing myself. And how does that equation work? Also, for our businesses and everything we do, like, everything hangs on me. So if I fail or if my body fails and I’m not feeling well, everything else is going to fail too. So, I’ve been way off in my priorities since this past year, for sure.
[030:32] All of these homework’s and things that Jonas has been giving me over the past year, I haven’t done them. Maybe they’ll stick for like a week, and then I’m like, “No, this is not really clicking for me,” and then usually my pain is gone by then. So it’s only when I’m in this intense or acute pain that I’m like, “Oh my god, I have to fix something and do something! What’s going on?!” And then the pain goes away and I’m like, “Eh, I’m fine.” Then yeah, a couple of months later it comes back and I’m like, “Oh my god, Jonas, help me!” But I haven’t been actually changing or doing something.
[030:59] What I decided to do was something completely radical, and I flew Jonas in to Spain to work with me for 8 days in Spain. Like a sort of boot camp. Not boot camp in like the most intense workouts ever. Just like a boot camp in terms of healing and getting to the bottom of what’s going on in my body, right here, right now. We booked it, and I was kind of like, “Okay.” He’s like, “No, you’re going to have to work really, really hard. I’m not coming in flying all the way from Sweden, spending all of this time, if you’re not dedicated and you have to be ready to work and to really, really, really do something here. Because I’m going to introduce some really unconventional stuff and some things that you’ve never seen, and it’s going to be very different than what you’re used to, but you have to go all in. And I was like, “Okay, I’m all in.”
[031:45] The interesting thing that happens, though, since we have vacation here, and I was also here for Olivia’s bachelorette party, which was last weekend, my best friend’s bachelorette, so there was a lot of things going on. I had to actually, in the middle of the pain when I booked this at home, before we flew, I told Dennis, I’m like, “Hey, I made this decision, I know this is supposed to be our vacation and we have this vacation in Spain, but I am going to bring in Jonas, and we’re going to work to help heal my back.” And he’s like, “Okay, that’s great! That’s such a great idea.” I was like, “Yeah, it’s going to be about five to six hours a day.” And he’s like, “What? Five to six hours a day? What do you mean? What are you going to do for that long? We’re supposed to be on vacation! What about me? What about the baby? What are we going to do?” I had to be like, “You know what, this is really unusual, I just need you to support me right now. I need you to not look at all the negatives. Yeah, it’s going to take like half the day away from what we normally do, I just need you to support me and really go all in.” And he was like, you know, it was something for him to really digest, like, this was going to ruin our whole vacation. Then he was like, “Okay, I get it, this is your back pain and it’s really important, so let’s go.”
[032:54] So we get to Spain, really horrible trip there, if you heard my last podcast, really intense. When we started, so the first day of these eight days, I wasn’t in acute pain anymore, because Lara helped me a lot. I had two vertebrae out of place, one that might have been out of place forever, I don’t know for how long. So after that I definitely felt a lot better. But I still had a lot of tension, and I still had a lot of pain. So, we would start every day, we would do three hours in the morning, and he wanted three hours in the afternoon, but I made it two hours so I had some time to be with Dennis and the baby. Three hours in the morning. So we would start with some gentle adjustments, some miofascial work, and some, not massage in any way, because it doesn’t feel good, but just kind of digging into muscles that are tight or that need a little bit of support and release.
[033:46] Then we would start with these exercises, and I’ve shown some of them through Instagram, and people are wondering what the hell is going on (laugh). But when we started I could barely put any weight on especially my right hand, because my pain was a little bit more on the right side. So in the neck and upper back. I could barely put weight in my right hand. I was super careful about any of these things that we were doing. What we were doing, it’s a wide range of … I really, I’m going to bring Jonas on the podcast one day when we have time. Maybe when we’re in Sweden in June so we can get deeper into this stuff. We would do everything from … so when we started, we’ve been doing a lot of hanging. He brought these rings that we tied to the balcony, and I’ve been just hanging for seven minutes a day. Which sounds, just a passive hanging, it sounds really easy, really simple. It’s the hardest, hardest thing. So thirty seconds at a time, then thirty second break, then thirty seconds of hanging, and then thirty second break, for seven minutes. So I do eight rounds in the morning and six rounds in the afternoon. It’s so hard. Oh my god.
[034:47] Then we’ve done some just really kind of gentle back bending, but not at all in the way we do them in yoga, like not at all the way I was taught. So I had to just throw all of my ideas about proper alignment and everything out the window, because the way that he does all of this, it’s totally different. At the beginning I was conscious of it, I was like, “Wait wait wait. We don’t do it this way. You need to have your hands shoulder width apart, your feet this way, from your sacrum to your heals, blah blah blah blah blah.” He was like, “Okay, I get this idea of perfect alignment and yoga,” but he was like, “You have to learn to move in all ranges of motion. In all ways. You need to be able to move in every different way and do a backbend with this alignment and then with this alignment and with this alignment, and still be fine, and still not injure yourself. If you don’t teach your body to move in all sorts of different ways, you’re going to be in this kind of liable sensitive way, where if you end up in a place where you’re not, if you end up out of this ‘perfect yoga alignment’ your’e going to get injured.” I was like, “What do you mean?” He’s like, “For instance,” so in yoga and the way that I’ve been taught for the past decade, we don’t throw our head all of the way back, like you see … and I understand where this comes from, of course, especially when we have new students and they’re kind of throwing themselves into the practice. If the vinyasa is done a little bit mindlessly, you can get into this very deep … where you almost compress the vertebra of the cervical spine and you throw your head back in upward dog, and it becomes this exaggeration of a back bend, but just of the upper spine. So, the way I teach it always is the crown of the head is an extension of the spine, and you want the curve to continue in this very soft way. So the deeper the backbend, the deeper the bend in the cervical spine as well, the more you lift your gaze. But if you’re in this kind of gentle back bend, yeah, don’t throw your head back. No. So I teach this in a very specific way.
[036:47] What Jonas had me doing the first day were these neck stretches where you move your head laterally left, right, and then front and back, and then when you tilt your head all the way back, all the way back, as far as you can, without intense pain, all the way back and let it be there. And then we do all these breathing exercises and pranayama and things with the head like tilted all the way back. I’m like, “Jonas, I had been taught that this is not how we do it. No, you don’t throw your head back all the way this way. It’s just not good. You’re going to get injured this way.” Then he said, “Well, if you spend your entire life never, ever looking all the way up, never bringing your head all the way back, you always are within the perimeters of this kind of boxed in idea of alignment, there’s going to be a moment in your life where accidentally your head ends up beyond that, and then you’re going to get injured because you’ve never been there before. You have no range of motion there. There’s no space there, there’s no flexibility there. There’s no strength in the right places. You’re going to be in like a very gentle little car accident, or you’re going to look up abruptly, or something is going to happen and you’re out of alignment, and yeah, then injury happens, because your body is not used to being there. So you need to teach your body and train your body to be everywhere and to move in every way, and then you can stay within the alignment of your yoga practice when you’re on the mat, but you also do these other types of exercises so that you can move it all ways, so that when you end up in that space where you look all the way up or you throw your head back without meaning to, then yeah, injury doesn’t happen.” And I was like, quiet, and digesting what he says. It just goes against so much of my own training.
[040:04] I’m speaking this now, there’s people now that, you know, any yoga teacher listening, there is so many different teachings when it comes to alignment and the body and anatomy. There’s a hundred thousand different ways to do every single pose. I’m just talking from a very kind of general way of the way that I’ve been taught by the teachers I’ve had over the past ten years. There might be people listening out there like, “Of course, this is super obvious,” and there might be people listening going, “Wait, this is not good.” So, what I want to really get at is that I have been very locked in this box of what it means to move “correctly.” Little air quotes here. “Correctly.” This idea that Jonas has introduced to me over the week in that I need to be able to move in every way in and out of yogic alignment, and I should be fine doing all of those things, and not be injured, and not feel any sort of pain.
[040:54] So, we’ve been doing, for instance, we’ve been doing wheels, and I’ve done maybe two full wheels since I had the baby. First it was post partum stuff, then it’s just been this back pain, my upper back hasn’t felt good at all, so I just haven’t been practicing it at all. We’ve done, these past eight days, I want to say like 100 or 200 or 300, I don’t even know, every day, it’s just repetition and repetition of different variations of bridge and wheel. One of the first ones that we have, I’m on my toes, my knees are tilted out, squeezing my butt, I’m doing all of these things that I would never teach, that I would practice myself. And I’m like, “Dude, is this supposed to be this way?” And he’s like, “You should be able to hold wheel with this alignment, you should be able to hold wheel in yogic alignment, you should be able hold wheel engaging your core, you should be able to hold wheel with a totally soft belly. You should be able to hold wheel in all forms of alignment and not have any pain. That’s what we’re working towards now is for you to have strength in all ways and space in all ways, so that you can practice in all ways, and not be in pain.” I’m just like, “Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god.”
[042:07] I’ve been doing so many things now totally unconventionally, and what’s been even more mind-blowing than my body, because a lot of stuff has happened and come up in my body this week, of course, has been this realization of the idea that I’ve held onto, this very structured, rigid idea of “this is what my body can and cannot do.” It has been a total … it’s completely helped me back in so many ways, I can’t even believe it. So, for me, throwing all of these rigid ideas out the window this week, which I totally have, I’ve been like, okay, I’m going to skip everything that I’ve learned, everything that I’ve known, and I’m just going to do this Jonas’ way, because I need to get out of my comfort zone and see what’s going on.
[042:46] What it looks like has been happening with my body, which has been such a relief to kind of get a grasp on is I have had for the past decade, I guess, since I was 18, 19, since I was practicing very dynamically, very intensely, I’ve had this very solid connection to my core, and it’s been sort of automatic. I haven’t had to fight for it, I haven’t had to work for it, I’ve just been one of those people that has a very strong center. Meaning that when I practice, and I was able to do so many things, I’d practice every day for hours and do advanced poses and all of these things, and my core sort of held me together all the times, even though I was lacking a lot of space in my upper back, my neck. I was weak in a lot of muscles. That sort, like, it was okay. I could roll with that because my core was so strong that it helped me.
[043:34] And then I had a baby. Anybody that’s had a baby knows having a baby means that your core completely separates and you make space for this baby in the middle of the belly, and I lost that strong centered connection. I still have core strength, my core is still there, everything is fine and kind of back to normal, but that strong center is gone, in a way. That means, since having the baby, when I move, especially when I move on my yoga mat, the things that I was able to do before, I can still do a lot of it now, I just do a lot of it a little bit gentler and I don’t go all the way in, all of that. But since I don’t have that strong center holding me anymore, I’m taking out a lot of these movements in certain parts of my upper back and the neck. So, I’m kind of dispersing my energy, the energy that used to be centered around my core is now going out into my limbs, into my neck, and I have been over and hyper mobile in certain parts of my spine.
[044:29] For instance, we start every session in the morning with just a few very gentle exercises so we can see, okay, when I move my head left, right, up, down, all of these ways, where am I taking that movement out in the spine? Almost all of the movement is centered around this very specific part of my neck. So, I am super, super, super mobile there. Which means anytime I do anything on the mat I feel like I can go deep, I can back bend, but I’m really just doing all of the movement around this tiny little part of my spine that becomes hyper mobile, it becomes it’s really, I have no strength around that area at all, and then eventually it gets exhausted and tired because I’m taking it out in this part of my spine too much, and then I get this little impingement of nerves there, and my body just freezes up and goes, “No. No more.” And that’s the feeling I have when I “throw my back out.”
[045:16] So what we’ve been doing now is through these exercises building strength around these parts where I’m just too mobile, and then making space in ever other part of my body, specifically the spine. Doing that has meant just taking everything I know, throwing it out the window and trying something completely new, and being really, really open to new things.
[045:35] So one of the things that we’ve been doing, for instance, he was like, “Don’t you think it’s interesting that you can hold a handstand forever, but you can’t do one single pull-up?” I’m like, “Pull-up? Are you kidding me? A pull-up? How am I going to do pull-ups? I’m not a pull-up person. I’m not like a gym person, like a Cross …” The idea of a pull-up to me is just so foreign and insane and wild. What I’ve learned through this week is that a lot of what we do in yoga is very static, and so much of it revolves just pressing our bodyweight off of the floor. We do no hanging. There’s nothing to hang from in yoga. We do no pulling, we do no climbing. So all of these movements, and also for the rotation and the mobility of the shoulders, our bodies are meant to move in all of these different ways, and yoga is very limited in that yeah, we don’t build strength in those areas, at all. So yeah, it is sort of strange. I can hold a handstand forever, but I can’t do one single pull-up. So we’ve been working on that a lot. The mobility of my scapula and my shoulder blades, we’ve done so much around that. We started on the first day, I could barely put any weight on my hands in the specific types of movements, where I was building up, building up, building up. And on the eighth day I’m holding a wheel pose that sort of resembles my wheel like five years ago, and I feel really good in my wheel. And I feel really good with my off alignment, I call it, with the alignment that we’ve been doing this week where the knees go out, I can be on my toes, whatever. I feel good there. I feel good in the yogic alignment too. I feel good in these back bends in all of the ways that I enter them, which is just really odd and really strange to me. We’ve been practicing these pull-ups and also these rowing exercises where you pull forward, and some of this is like the hardest thing I’ve ever done, ever, and it’s so unconventional and it’s so strange. We’ve been chasing each other across the lawn and crawling and climbing and doing really weird squats. Oh my god, it’s been so interesting, it’s been just so so interesting.
[047:46] Consensus is, I feel really, really good. There’s been so many moments where we’re in a really strange kind of exercise, and I start feeling some sort of pain and I start feeling some sort of attention, and I’m like, “Wait wait wait, I can’t do that, it doesn’t feel good.” And he’s like, “Okay, well what does that mean?” And I’m like, “Well, I feel it in my upper back.” And he’s like, “Okay, what do you feel?” I’m like, “Well I feel it.” He’s like, “Okay, you feel it. Do you feel a sensation in your upper back, what do you feel?” I’m like, “I feel it there, so then I stop.” He’s like, “Well if every time you’re like I feel it in my upper back, I feel it in this part, you walk away? You’re never going to go anywhere! You’re going to be stagnant and you’re going to stay in this sort of seized, sealed off place where this idea of injury is there, so you never, ever, ever go into it. You have to explore. Stay.” So it’s like, okay, I feel it. What does it mean? Is it sharp pain? Is it this? So I got to really sort of dive into this place and peel off layers of an area of my body that I have kept completely sealed off because of fear. So there’s not only this physical stagnation there, there’s also this emotional, fear-related stagnation where I don’t want to bring energy to this area because I’m scared something is going to happen. I’m scared it’s going to snap, I’m scared of the pain. And a lot of the things that we did, I was automatically, “Oh, I can’t do that.” He said, “What do you mean you can’t do that?” I’m like, “I can’t do that, it doesn’t work with my upper back.” He’s like, “Okay, have you tried lately?” I’m like, “No. But I just know.” And then inevitably he would convince me, I would do it, and then I’m in the shape, and I’m like … actually, it’s fine. I feel nothing. I don’t feel weird at all! We would have that conversation maybe a hundred times where I’m like, “I don’t think I can do that,” and he’s like, okay, convincing me, and then we try it, and then I’m in it, and it’s okay.
[049:26] So then the next time this similar type of thing would show up, I would be like, “Okay, I think I can try it, because last time it was okay.” And I would go into it again, and then I would stay a little bit longer, or I would go a little bit deeper. Inevitably, again and again and again and again, the epiphany I had every day is like, “I can do that. I can also do this. I can do this. I can do this. I can do ALL of this.” All of these things that I thought, like, in a million years, because of this tension that I’ve felt in my upper back, the idea of a pull-up, I’m like, come on. How am I going to do a pull-up? That sounds like the stupidest thing I could ever do. Yeah, I can do a pull-up. I actually can, and I can feel really good doing it too. It’s been just such an interesting thing, realizing that the story that I’ve told myself about my body, about this injury, about this pain, what my body can and cannot do, what my body should and shouldn’t do, and the idea of alignment, it’s kept me in this little prison of immobility. And it’s totally crazy! It’s totally insane! I feel really free in this idea of like, okay, I can do so much more than I think, and maybe what’s kept me in this injury, or what’s kept me in this pain, it’s just my mind. It’s actually not the body, at all. At all, at all, at all.
[051:59] There’s been other moments when, you know, in all of this work, so much work, oh my god every muscle of my body hurts right now. I have pain in different places, different ways, different places than I’ve ever felt in my life. Oh my god, it’s crazy. But there’s been so many moments where something has been so challenging, like really, so challenging that I’m like, “I can’t do it.” But I don’t like to quit. I’m not a quitter. I’m like, “I can’t do it.” He’s like, “Okay, well what is it?” So, for instance, hanging in the rings, and doing pull-ups, I haven’t done that ever, in my whole life. It hurts my hands so bad. I mean, I have calluses. It’s only been eight days. This is my ninth day, because I did one day of solo training yesterday. I have new calluses under each knuckle. So I’ve had so much pain in my hands. These calluses are just growing, and then we’re doing repetition after repetition after repetition of hanging or pulling and all of these things. There has been moments where my hands are on fire and I feel like they’re cut up or sliced up with knives, and I don’t feel the practice or the repetition anywhere else, it’s just my hands. I’m like, “Oh my god, okay, I just give up. I can’t … my hands! This is not normal. It shouldn’t feel like this in my hands. This is supposed to work my core or something else!” Then he’s like, “So, what, it’s pain?” I’m like, “Yeah, it’s pain.” He’s like, “Okay. So it’s pain.” (laugh) I’m like, “Yeah, it’s pain, so let’s do something else.” He’s like, “Okay, a little bit of pain is not going to kill you. You need to learn how to be uncomfortable. You need to learn how to feel discomfort. You need to learn how to accept a bit of pain. You’re going to do this exercise. Right now it’s your hands. You’re going to continue doing it every day for as long as it takes. Next week it’s going to be somewhere else. It’s going to be your shoulder, it’s going to be your ankle. These things, this type of moving your body in all sorts of ways is going to show you parts of the body that still need something built up, or that still needs something released. Your mind likes to get super attached to this idea of, ‘Oh my god, I can’t do it because my hands.’ The worst thing that happens is you’re going to lose a little bit of skin on your hands. So what?”
[053:57] And I’m just like mind-blown by this idea, because, you know, in yoga, we’re so gentle and we’re so careful, and if it doesn’t feel good, just walk away, just leave it, careful careful careful, self love and all of this stuff. But what if self love sometimes involves a little bit of pain? What if we need to actually take ourselves deeper than discomfort in pigeon pose? I’m not saying like, okay, you’re in pigeon pose and you feel intense shooting pains in your knee, yeah, probably get out of the pose. But, you know what I mean. I think I have been very comfortable all the way around, all the time. So, like, we were doing these wall climbs in and out of wheel pose, and there was a moment where I felt, “I can’t hold myself up!” And he’s like, “Okay, what’s the worst thing that can happen? You fall.” And I’m like, “Yeah, I fall! I don’t want to fall in wheel pose! I’m going to fall on my head.” He’s like, “Okay, and then what? First of all, you’re not going to fall, but this idea of falling is the worst thing that can happen, yeah, you’re going to fall, your hands are going to work, you’re going to lose a little bit of skin. Maybe you’ll bleed! Oh my god! Is that the end of the world? Get out of this cushy, comfortable, perfect place where everything is amazing.”
[055:11] This is sort of also a big eye-opener for me, because I really like to be comfortable, right? I really like to be comfortable. Something that Jonas does, he’s very much into like ice baths where he’ll cut a whole through the ice in the middle of winter in Sweden and sit in freezing water for like 10 or 15 minutes. Like, wilderness retreats where you have to make your own tools and hunt your own food. These things all sound like absolute torture nightmares to me, like completely. And he said something that was so interesting, he was like, “Well, if you practice ice baths or ice bathing a lot, the next time you’re having a beautiful summer evening and it gets a little bit chilly, you’re not going to feel that, you’re not going to complain because the temperature dropped two degrees. But if you’re always comfortable, you’re in your home and it gets a little cold, you turn the heat up a little bit, if it gets too warm you turn the A/C on. We’re so used to being just perfectly comfortable all the time that we lose this connection to the body, the body is meant to feel cold and regulate. It’s meant to feel warm and regulate. Keeping this connection of the body, just being able to shift and go with the flow of what comes our way, the natural elements and nature and weather. If we don’t practice taking ourselves out of this completely perfect comfort zone, a lot of things are going to be really hard. So when something actually challenging comes our way, yeah, we’re going to have a really, really hard time dealing with that.”
[056:37] So the idea of accepting a little pain, okay, my skin is going to fall off of my hands. (laugh) It’s not awesome, but yeah, it’s not going to kill me, you know? And I’ll build up this strength. He was actually right. So, the poses or the shapes, the practices that we did the first day where I was like, “Oh my god, I can’t do this. My ankle.” I had my ankles in this one thing we did was just killing me. And now I do it today, and yeah, I don’t feel it in my ankles at all. I had forgotten what it felt like in my ankles. Now I feel it somewhere else. It’s just my body getting used to these new types of movements.
[057:10] Honestly, I really want to keep this up. I’m not going to continue five hours a day, no, because I just don’t have that time. But, I’m definitely going to keep this idea of moving my body in every way, right? So, learning how to venture out of this perfect structure of perfect alignment. And also when I teach it. I think, because I’ve been contemplating this a lot, because Dennis has been here, he said, “Well what about in teacher training? Are you going to tell people to do this and this and this and that they don’t have to care about alignment?” I’m like, no, of course not. You know? It’s the most important thing we teach is that we learn how to safely instruct beginners and new people in this practice to keep everybody safe. But I think I have been a little bit toooo manic, almost, about it. A little too careful about, you know, only allowing ourselves to move in in this certain, specific way. I think, honestly, I think my teaching is going to change a little bit after this week, too, because I’m going to let go of this rigid idea of what it has to look like. It’s most important that we trust our students to learn this for themselves. I can’t step in there and feel what they feel in our practice. So we can give tools, yeah, but we also don’t want to box ourselves in so that we can only move in this way, and if we move in another way, yeah, then it doesn’t work, or we feel pain, or we have injury all of the sudden.
[058:29] One of the other things that we’ve been doing is something called a “spinal wave.” Dennis posted this on his Instagram. It was one of the funniest Instagram stories of all time. I’m going to share it on mine, because it was just so hilarious. But spinal waves, in that you let every vertebra of the spine move individually, and it’s just something that we don’t do in yoga either, in the same sort of way. And I feel really inspired right now just to change things up completely and invite new forms movement into my life, into my practice, into my teaching. More than anything else, I feel confident about my back pain. I was asking on the last day, I was like, “Am I never going to have pain again?” You know? Because I haven’t had any pain throughout this week, and we’re doing so much, and I felt sore in every muscle, but no pain. He says, “Of course, yeah, it might come back, but if you stick with this and you keep movement going, movement is medicine.” That was the title of the last podcast, Movement as Medicine. Before we go running to the doctor, we go running to all of these people to fix us and to heal us, and more acupuncture, more massage, more of this and this and this, we need to move and learn how to heal ourselves, and that’s something that I’ve just completely haven’t done. At all. I haven’t. I haven’t felt empowered. I haven’t given myself the permission to put myself first and actually look into what is it that’s causing all of this tension, all of this tightness, all of this pain?
[060:00] So I’m really, really, really excited to keep this going. I’m going to show some the things that we’re doing through Instagram. Some of it looks like absolutely, it’s so fun. One of the things that we’re doing, maybe I can kind of end with that inspiration, because that would be awesome. What we’ve been doing at the end of every really, really, really challenging, of every challenging session is we shake. There’s a kundalini meditation that I love from Osho where you shake your entire body, and it just feels so amazing, so I am kind of used to shaking. But not, you know, every day. It’s not something I do every single day. There’s this idea that shaking is a primal thing, and it’s an anatomical, it’s a physiological function. So, we shake when we’re too cold. Every mammal will kind of shake things off, like I look at Ringo every time he’s asleep and stands up, he shakes it off. And we even have that saying, like, “Oh, just shake it off.” Like, you shake something off. We accumulate energy and we work and all of this stuff, and actually shaking can help us release anything that’s stuck in the body, and also lingering emotionally. And there’s a whole anatomical explanation to shaking, but of course I cannot repeat right now. So, standing up, you can put a timer on for ten or fifteen minutes, put a really good song on, whatever, close your eyes, stand with your feet hip width apart or a little bit wider, soften your knees, and just start shaking your entire body, and do that, and keep going. Do it for ten, fifteen minutes. Just shake shake shake shake shake. And when time is up, you just slow it down a little bit, and then eventually arrive back into stillness. So it’s sort of like a savasana, but in movement. It feels so damn good. I’m shaking every damn day now. It’s so so so so good.
[061:41] I feel really happy and excited that I have all of these new learning, and all of these new types of … new ways of moving! We’re in a hotel right now, and we screwed a bar up in the doorway so that I can hang every single day. Isn’t that amazing? Just the fact that I’m doing that, that’s not something that I would normally ever make an effort to do, but it just, it feels really good, so that’s where we’re at!
[062:07] I want to thank you for listening, and I would love you to, whatever pain you are sitting with, don’t be afraid to go there. Really, that’s been my big conclusion of this whole past two months. Don’t be afraid to go there. If you’re in chronic pain, or if you have pain that consistently comes back, the worst thing that can happen is that it comes back, right? And it kind of is coming back anyway. So exploring it, meaning go into that space and see if you can find way to bring movement into that area of the body in a safe way, in a way that actually works. Maybe there’s some layers of emotional pain that you can peel away first. Maybe there are stories that you’re telling yourself about this pain that you can start peeling off before you actually get to the core of the physical pain, right? There’s usually layers of other things around that. We have a lot more power than we thing, when it comes healing ourselves and getting into this space where we feel really good all the time. And also feeling okay with not feeling good all the time, when that comes our way. So, finding comfort in discomfort too.
[063:17] Let’s see where this takes us. Holy holy moly. Next time I record the podcast I’m going to definitely give an update on how I’m doing on my own. Because, yeah, it’s easy to do all of this stuff when you have someone right there by your side coaching you, guiding you. I have a lot of homework to do every single day. And I’m dedicated, for sure. So, I’m about to go hang. I have four minutes of hanging this morning, I’m going to go do that right now, and maybe you’ll join me for some hanging or some shaking, and I’ll see you next week.
[End of Episode]
Transferwise – transferwise.com/podcast
Parachute – parachutehome.com/yogagirl
Havenly – havenly.com/yogagirl
Third Love – thirdlove.com/heart