By far I was the youngest in the class of three, but we were all seeking the same healing.
With my foot halfway up a tilted block against a wall, toes turned inward, I was attempting to stand in Mountain Pose, Tadasana. Both my heels were aligned, my fingertips steadied against the wall.
“Now release your hands by your sides and stand in Tadasana,” said the spry, 60-something-year-old Yoga for Scoliosis teacher. By the light in her face, it was clear she probably had been practicing yoga since before I was born, and probably a couple more lifetimes besides.
I released my hands and nearly buckled forward, so great was the stretch in my right inner ankle crease. The three inches of space between my nose and the wall was dangerously close.
A curly mop of gray hair bobbed into my peripheral vision, sized up my profile and said simply, “Lengthen your tailbone down.” My ankle went from wadded tissue to crushed up aluminum can.
The teacher was giddy, “Oh that’s good! Very good.”
“I feel it intensely in my ankle,” I explained lamely.
“Interesting! That means you should work on your ankle flexibility.” She had spent the first part of the Yoga for Scoliosis class explaining how the roots of scoliosis need to be treated in our feet, our legs and our hips, even though the symptom manifests in our back.
Suddenly, my massage therapist was in my mind: Pain usually refers in a zigzag pattern in the body. Left back. Right ankle. I felt like somebody had given me the lock to my key.
“What a gift that we were both given today!” she gazed at me in that knowing way yoga teachers have when they realize they’ve been a piece in the puzzle of your healing.
I felt like laughing, because none of what I realized during that class should have surprised me. I felt like I had heard it all before… but only now I was paying attention.
Only as healthy as your roots
When it comes to your body’s aches and pains during yoga (or always), the problem is usually never where you think it is.
For me, physically, that’s a slight left curve in my lumbar spine, causing my left shoulder to hunch forward and the left side of my back to nearly always ache.
My pain is tolerable, or at least I tolerate it. It’s equivalent to the teenagers who trick-or-treated my house this Halloween and got glow sticks, disappointment evident as they dragged their pillowcases away.
But my scoliosis isn’t the problem. What’s exasperating the scoliosis is the issue and that includes the feet and ankles.
Just like trees, we are only as healthy as our roots.
The gift in your greatest problem
It’s time to focus on your roots, not your leaves or branches. I mean the deep-down stuckness of your greatest problem that needs to be waded through compassionately and slowly. It is your roots that once-in-a-while weave together a healing you never thought would come.
And maybe someone showed you the path, or had the lock to your key, or maybe nobody ever told you what you needed to hear.
Maybe, deep down, you just knew.
The universe constantly sends us clues to our own healing, especially if we’re dealing with a chronic issue such as pain, whether physical or mental. Your greatest problem (of the moment, because, let’s be honest, there can be a lot) holds within it a gift hidden just out of view.
This is why it’s so important to practice yoga and mindfulness. To meditate, even when we think we’re not doing it right. To pay attention to what’s rooting us to the ground. Physically, our feet. Mentally, our thoughts.
If we paid attention, we’d see that most of the time we have everything we need to mitigate the pain and to heal. We just haven’t dedicated the time to practice.
What a gift we’ve been given to know that we simply need to show up.
Try it: Tree Pose, Vrksasana
For me, the trick to tree is visualizing that my standing leg is encased in concrete: It’s not going anywhere. Once you firm up that foundation, anything that happens above is icing on the cake. However, we all have good and not-so-good balance days. The key to more good ones? Practice.
- Stand in Mountain Pose, Tadasana, with feet firmly planted. Shift your weight into your right foot. Bend the left knee and reach down to grasp the ankle, snugging the sole into the inner right thigh. Modification: If this isn’t accessible today, plant the foot into the side of the calf. For more stability, anchor your left big toe into the ground.
- Press the left foot into the leg and leg into the foot. Bring your hands to your hips and encourage your left knee to open to the side, while maintaining both hips level and facing forward.
- Bring your hands to Anjali Mudra (prayer position). Lengthen your tailbone down and lift the chest, side bodies long. Feel your right foot completely rooted into the ground and stable. Stay here for five to six deep breaths, gazing at a fixed point in front of you, or…
- Inhale your arms high, growing the branches of your tree. Soften the shoulders down the back, maintain navel in toward spine and spine the palms toward one another. Breathe smoothly before bringing the hands back down to the heart and then releasing the leg. Shake out the right ankle before practicing the left side.