Remember that time when I went on and on about knowing when you’ve had enough of something? Well, guess what? Apparently I forgot to mention that too much of a good thing isn’t so good either. That’s okay though, my body made sure to remind me: I am a moron.
If you don’t remember what I’m talking about, click the link below. If you do or don’t care, skip it and keep reading.
When you wake up in the middle of the night with your arm completely numb from the elbow to your fingertips and it takes over half of a painful hour to get some semblance of feeling back, you pretty quickly catch on that something isn’t quite right in your world.
When you continue to wake up every night with the same problem, well, let’s just say you kind of have to pay attention.
When Google gives you scenarios ranging from permanent brain damage to amputation, you try to swallow your rising panic and go see a doctor ASAP.
So when the doctor tells you that you have carpal tunnel, must get an arm brace, avoid using your wrists and come back to see her in a month to assess if you need surgery, weeeellllll…. this doesn’t seem SO bad compared to what could have been, (according to Google), riiiight???
It’s only later that it sinks in: doing hours of nightly handstands and going overboard on all those fun inversions you love so much over the past few months probably played a big factor in you finding yourself temporarily wrist-less.
And you simply have to laugh at the irony of the girl who preached about knowing when to stop, yet didn’t realize she was doing exactly the opposite with her own yoga practice. Her YOGA practice, of all things. The practice that is ALL ABOUT BALANCE of this, and balance of that, inner balance, outer balance, balance of our actions, yin and yang, yadda yadda, you get the picture. The keyword here is balance, folks.
So, it’s quite ironic that it was my going overboard with arm BALANCES that caused a total imbalance in my body and in my yoga practice.
Pay attention, those of you who use smartphones, a keyboard, cook, or bend your wrists forwards or backwards repeatedly throughout your day: this could happen to you.
You don’t need to do handstands to start getting the symptoms of Carpal Tunnel; your digital life will probably start putting pressure on your wrists all on it’s own. In fact, it’s becoming so prevalent that it is estimated that 75 million people in the world are affected by this condition.
The simple explanation of Carpal Tunnel is that the median nerve (responsible for feeling in all your fingers except your pinky) gets squished as it passes through a “tunnel” in your wrist and can cause feelings of pain, numbness, and in more serious cases, an inability to move or use your hand. The squishing of the tunnel through which the median nerve passes is caused by repeated, unnatural bending of your wrist up or down, such as when we are texting or typing. For a more in-depth explanation of Carpal, go to this link: http://www.mycarpaltunnel.org/symptoms-causes/
Here are just some of the yoga poses I CAN’T do for I don’t know how long, since they put pressure on the wrists and can ultimately kill the nerves going down my arm into my fingertips.
Not only that, but simple things such as washing the dishes, opening a can of soup or turning a doorknob all HURT. When my wrists bend up or down, I get what feels like electric currents shooting downs my arm into my fingertips. Drawing is difficult, and so is typing or playing with my computer without my new wrist brace. You have to keep in mind that my job requires me to be on the computer, using my fingers to make things pretty ALL day long. This is a problem.
So, what’s a girl whose livelihood depends on using her computer, who loves to draw, loves yoga, and who has just started TEACHING yoga (yup, I DID) to do when she can’t use her wrists?
The work keyboard thing is not so bad; I don’t mind looking ridiculous while sitting far from my desk, using my keyboard with straight arms, brace and all, and having “hilarious” robo-cop and terminator jokes thrown my way by my super-mature work colleagues.
At night, I sleep with my left wrist in a rollerblading wrist protector and my right in a special brace in order to keep my wrists from bending. My boyfriend is getting a kick out of his new “handi-capable” girlfriend. If the braces stop the electric currents from running through my arms in the mornings, and prevent my arm going numb while I sleep, I can gladly handle the jokes made at my expense if it means that I can actually sleep at night.
My yoga practice is less evident, but nevertheless interesting. Even though I’m temporarily without wrists, I still want to maintain the intensity of my usual practice. I don’t want to do yin yoga six days a week, I’m simply not programmed that way. To my great surprise, my online searches for “yoga for carpal” yielded nothing but a few odd articles and videos about stretching your wrists (a no-no, according to my doctor) and a couple of useless Youtube videos.
They basically tell you to sleep for an hour, and call it yoga. Thanks, but no thanks.
Seeing that I’ve been instructed to keep my wrists straight to prevent nerve pinching, I see no good reason to give up my beloved vinyasas or my flow practice. So, I’ve began experimenting with forearm poses.
Instead of downward dog, I do dolphin. Plank is now forearm plank, side plank is side forearm plank and inversions are no longer happening on my hands, but (you guessed it!!) on my forearms. While I must stay away from all-time favorites such as wheel, upward dog and wild thing, I instead have an opportunity to work on my flexibility in different ways: inching closer to full camel, exploring deeper back bends, and merging my dancer’s pose with half-moons. What I’m finding from this new practice is unexpected.
First off, it’s more challenging that I would have expected.
My abs, legs and back are having to work in new ways to compensate for my missing hands and wrists.
Second, now that they’re out of the picture, there is more space to explore new challenges, and focus on parts of my practice that I had focused less on. Third, the sheer “newness” of it all is keeping me on my toes, both literally and figuratively. Working with new muscles, new sensations and new perspectives is forcing me to slow down and be more aware in my sequences. The novelty is bringing back the feeling of wonder we sometimes lose when we get used to our habitual routines.
And what about the teaching? I started teaching private and semi-private classes a few times a week. My students are relatively new to yoga, and therefore physical demonstrations on my part are an essential part of showing proper alignment, and moving through flows and sequences that are still unfamiliar to them. I asked myself if I should cancel the classes for the time being, but I decided to see what would happen if I taught without my wrists first. I was nervous, but there were some insights to be had from going through with it.
What I DID find was that it was more challenging. Instead of relying on giving cues based on my own movements, I had to choose my words much more carefully as I talked the students through the class. Because I couldn’t rely on my body to prompt my speech, I had to think about the words I chose and be as clear and concise as possible in order to keep their attention, avoid confusion and guide them smoothly through a fluid class. This, coupled with the full shift of my attention onto them, is actually helping me become a more present and attuned teacher. It also forces me to think quicker on my feet, no pun intended.
It’s ironic how much we take for granted, especially when it comes to our health and well-being. Ever notice how after going through an illness or a bout of severe physical pain or discomfort, it’s such an immense RELIEF when the pain subsides and you simply return to feeling “normal”? And when you have a health scare, only to find out that you will be okay, how simply sweet it feels just to know you can resume your life, flaws and all? Or when you find yourself unable to use a part of your body that you never thought twice about, how quickly you become aware, in everyday actions, how well that body part actually served you?
As we get older, illness and pain begin to increasingly infiltrate our inner circles.
Where previously these things were something that happened only to “others” much older and more removed from ourselves, we eventually have no choice but to join the ranks of the other mortals. Sometimes it takes a reminder as small as a sprained wrist or a broken finger, to tell us that we should be more careful with our bodies, and grateful that we are able to go on, even if we have to modify the way we do things. IF we should be so lucky.
Sometimes just the realization that you might have been much worse off is enough to make us take a step back and just be thankful for what we do have, even if it’s not perfect.
We spend so much time criticizing our bodies for being “too this”, “too that”, not enough “this”, and “not enough that”, when we should be thanking them every day for the things they are enabling us to do, the places they take us, and the experiences they are carrying us to. So, next time we want to criticize, berate, or abuse our bodies, let’s be a little nicer to them. They’re the only places we have to live.