What crutches taught me about yoga

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I went to the opening of an art show last weekend. It was my one big outing for the day so I really soaked it in. I got there early, giving myself time to crutch across the parking lot and down the long hall to the gallery. I took my time looking at all the paintings, I chatted with other artists and guests, and I fielded many, many questions about my boot-and-crutches situation. Mostly, people want to know how it happened and how much longer I’ll have to use the supports. I’m off the crutches on Wednesday, if all goes well. And, Boring story really, I turned my ankle stepping off a curb… After a while, my working leg felt tired, so I sat down on a long bench to rest. One of the artists sat down next to me. He walks with a cane, and said he thought resting looked like a good idea. There was some camaraderie in his voice – the two of us with legs that wear out and walking aids.

We sat there and chatted for a long while. We talked about his painting, a bustling and vibrant New York City scene, set where the twin towers used to be. As we talked, his wife joined us on the bench. She’s an author (my daughter is a big fan) and our chat turned to historical fiction, an interest of mine and a passion of hers. The conversation slowed and very casually, my friend said something about not being so steady on his cane. He usually uses a walking aid in each hand (his friend thinks he looks like he is cross country skiing when he takes his morning walk) but in a crowd, he just brings his cane. It’s a little more subtle and easier to manage. Then he asked about my boot and crutches.

In the moment before I replied, I felt a wash of emotion come over me. Aaaah. I’m going to be off of my crutches and out of this boot before long, but my friend will not. For as smart as I think I am sometimes, this little insight got me. It changed how I responded to the question and it left me humbled. I noticed how easily I took my experience of crutches and a broken foot and then applied my take on the matter to a huge collection of people – elderly people who move slowly, people who have been in a boot, people who have had to use crutches, people who have needed care from someone due to illness or injury. A few days with a broken foot and I had it all figured out. But, come on, I don’t really know what that’s like for other people, just like I don’t really know what it’s like for the friend I made at the art show to be in need of his cane.

We all have our individual experience.

There’s the very important human understanding of empathy and compassion. It’s a gift and it’s very necessary to be able to relate to what someone else is going through. But there is a fine line between relating and making the assumption that because I can empathize, I understand.

The distinction is subtle but important and I’m lucky enough to see this in action every time I meet with my teacher or spend time with other practitioners in this Krishnamachayra tradition. It’s what I hope to offer my yoga therapy clients. When I meet with my teacher to talk about an ache in my shoulder or about resistance to something I need to do or change or whatever is on my mind at the time, I’m given the assurance and comfort of hearing that this stuff is normal/lots of people go through it, AND, at the same time, I receive a sense of deep respect for my individual experience. This is the foundation of yoga therapy. It’s why most people who work with a yoga therapist get an individualized personal practice specifically for them. It’s the reason that it’s important to be in ongoing contact with a teacher and to do your practice on your own.

I went to the doctor yesterday and I’m off the crutches and walking in the boot now. I’m sooooo glad to be done with crutches, and as tempting as it is to hate on them, I really can’t. A lot of precious things have come from this broken foot, including a better understanding of the yoga therapy work I’m here to do. Thanks crutches. Even if you’re not the best, I guess you aren’t the worst either.

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7 thoughts on “What crutches taught me about yoga

  1. spot on, this…i spent 6 months on crutches in london and found myself feeling rather sorry for myself quite a lot of the time. i had a similar (though far less comfortable) experience in which i thought (assumed) that the person with whom i was speaking was only temporarly on crutches, as was i…i don’t remember what i said to him (probably something like, how much longer? or something along those lines), but he was very annoyed with my assumption and i felt really stupid and sheepish. hehe. i like your individual experience in this case more than mine!

    1. 6 months. wow. You know, the first few days, I really struggled to get around on crutches and everything ached. I didn’t know how I was going to survive it and considered just heading to bed for a long while, but it’s amazing how quickly my muscles and the rest of me adjusted to the situation. A few days in and I was okay. By the end of 2 weeks, I wouldn’t say I was graceful, exactly, but I was doing okay. I bet by the end of your time on crutches, ann, you had some serious agility going on.

      and then there’s the sensitivity. Even if your encounter was a bit awkward, being out on the London town on crutches provides you with a different perspective and a very different experience. I bet for this one exchange, there were 100 other encounters that you were able to approach with a sensitivity and ease.

      1. oh, i was 15 kinds of awkward at first. for a while i took the trip from very south london to very north-east london by bus because i was too scared of trying to maneuver the tube (which added another hour to my journey both ways…litterally 5 hours of commuting those days). when i finally did build up the courage to take the underground again, i arrived at my stop, which had no elevator and i’d never taken an escalator with my crutches. i remember staring at them as each step rolled by, as all the passengers got off the train, each of them offering for me to go first, having to smile and gesture to each of them to go ahead, when in fact i was pissing myself and wanting desperately to burst into tears…there was no way i could figure out how to get on that thing! and i didn’t – at least not for a couple of weeks. i took the stairs. literally about 70-80 steps. because i couldn’t find the courage to get on that thing. once i did, it was a revelation. but i also struggled with the extraordinary number of people who didn’t give their seats up on the tube, or the woman who shouted at me as i waited for the bus one day that ‘this is a sideWALK – not a sideSTAND – so could you please stop taking up the whole path?!’ which in retrospect was a little funny because the english don’t even call it a sidewalk – they call it pavement! baf. i don’t wish that experience on anybody, but i guess i’m stronger for it.

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