Life Upside Down
A little more than two years ago I took on one of the biggest challenges of my life. As someone who had practiced yoga for about 9 years, I decided I wanted to take the plunge and become a yoga instructor. The impact yoga had on my life is something very hard to put into words.
As I hopped on a train to the airport, the 36 hour travel schedule was already a pretty big challenge for me. I flew from Japan to Peru and this training was going to last about month. I was going to be the reason my son had to stop breastfeeding, I was going to miss our daughter's graduation from her yochien and first day of school on base, I had never been away from our kids for this long, I was leaving my husband to handle our family while I was away - the mom and wife guilt was real! However, there was something in my gut telling me I had to do this. This was the next step for me to follow in my path.
I had no idea what the upcoming month was going to do to my health. My emotional well-being, mental and physical strength, inner voice/critic and my beliefs were ALL going to be challenged. I realized my 9 years of yoga practice was basic. I was just going through the motions, or asanas. I wasn't pushing myself, I wasn't setting goals or even trying to drop my ego at the door of the yoga studio. I thought I knew what yoga was, in 9 years, I had only scratched the surface.
I learned more about yoga philosophy in a month than I had in almost a decade. I challenged my physical and emotional body more in a month than I ever had in my entire life. I knew it was going to be physically hard, I signed up for a Yoga Teacher Training based on Ashtanga and handstand practices. I had no idea what hard was. As I was surrounded by other students who had no issue doing a handstand, I was humiliated to be the only one who needed a wall the entire month - and even with that, I struggled to find the correct form and posture even using the wall. I struggled to find the strength to hold myself up for more than a few seconds. Many times I thought I was in over my head. I wondered what the hell I was thinking being there. Then something happened, I realized I was in the exact place I needed to be. I had many lessons to learn that month. My practice CHANGED. I went deeper inside myself, to a place I was always too scared to go. I did things I never thought I could, but I also was too afraid to try until then. In one month, so much changed, so much growth happened. I came back a better yogi, wife, mother and friend. I started to challenge myself more, working on my inversion practice. I was in a beautiful place in my life! I was so grateful to share my practice and love for yoga with the students who came to my classes.
Flash forward to September 2018. I was faced with the most intense and excruciating pain in my neck and right shoulder. My inversion practice came to a screeching halt. My arms would randomly go numb and I couldn't lift more than 5 pounds over my head, picking up our son was a challenge for my right arm and shoulder. Then a few months later, my right leg decided to join the pain party. I lost feeling on the outside edge of my right foot and there was a constant, painful dull ache in my right butt cheek. Soon I lost feeling in my right calf. Just as I was finally getting MRI's and neurological work done to see what was going on, we packed up and moved from Japan to Italy. Once we got to Italy, I had to start the entire process over again and it would take another 4 months before I was able to get a new MRI (because the doctors in Italy thought the image quality from my previous MRI was too poor to read). Once I got the new MRI results, I was reconfirmed - I had several herniated discs in my neck and one in my low back between L5 and S1. The disc just below when my first back surgery was nearly 20 years ago. The nerve testing showed a great loss in muscle responsiveness and strength in my right leg. They were still unsure what was going on in my neck and shoulder since it didn't appear the nerves were being pinched from discs in my cervical spine.
It has now almost been one year since my second back surgery. Fortunately the surgery fixed the pain in my low back and all of the feeling has come back to my calf and foot on my right leg.
So now you can see why this photo is such a big deal for me. As we finished lunch in Venice, we were walking through an alley and I decided it was the perfect backdrop to attempt my first hand stand (away from a wall) in YEARS! Without even doing a proper stretch or even warming up my wrists, which I normally will always do, I just dropped down into the middle of the alley, got my bearings and told my husband to be ready, I was going for it!! It felt so good to do this, I don't even think there are words for the incredible amount of happiness and joy I experienced in this moment. Without overthinking (which I am really good at doing), I truly lived in this moment. Then of course Zach wanted to try 🤣
If you have never had an inversion practice, you might not fully understand the feeling it creates in your body. Inversion poses are a very beneficial pose for anti-aging AND reducing your stress. One of the most obvious benefits is to take the weight off your feet, but there are some serious health benefits of being upside down.
❤️ Improves your circulation by bringing blood flow back towards the heart and your head
🧡 Reduces stress also from increasing circulation, which takes the weight off your joints and allowing the body to relax
💛 Improves core tone and strength by creating instability
💚 Allows the rebalancing of the internal organs and improves digestion
💙 Reverses the gravitational load on joints
💜 Boosts the lymphatic system (which doesn't have a pump) and can improve post workout recovery by reducing the lactic acid build up
💗 Strengthens arms, shoulders, core and back as well as the quads and glutes from the contraction and flexing
One of my favorite benefits is being able to have a goal that is challenging, which allows me to build my confidence – mastering inversion poses and seeing my progress is one thing that I live for!! This is partially why I fell into a spiral of depression when I found out my neck and low back had multiple herniated discs. As I discussed above, the pain was excruciating and I had to stop my inversion training immediately. Thankfully I found the inversion trainer/chair so it took the pressure off of my neck and I could continue to get the benefits of inversions. Prior to June 3rd, I had only been using that to practice inversions and keep my core conditioned.
At the beginning of June I decided to reconnect with my teachers from my training in Peru. In doing so, I also rekindled my Ashtanga practice and got the confidence to try to do inversions without my inversion chair. Little by little, my form got better, my strength increased, my wall holds got longer but until this walk in Venice, I never really thought I could do it without the wall. Right before this picture, I had my legs in a split with one foot touching one wall and the other touching the opposite wall, then I slowly closed my legs, spent a few seconds completely inverted and then began to pull down one leg to the pose captured in this photograph.
The main take away here, no matter where you are in life, you are right where you are supposed to be. Everything happens for a reason at that exact time.