Saturday, April 10, 2010

Limping out of Yoga

When I get up in the morning, I limp into the bathroom. When I’m done there, I sit on my mound of blankets with a pillow on top to meditate. In my yoga class, we call this the Princess and the Pea position. Those of us with injured hips sit this way because sitting any lower is painful after a minute or two.

These are not things I can easily show a physical therapist. After I’ve biked 3 miles to the PT center, I’m no longer limping. My hip feels lubricated. And my therapist doesn’t want to watch me meditate. His job is to make me strong, give me exercises. So, my therapist never sees me limp, and when I’m in pain from the exercises, that’s normal. New exercises are often painful.

I feel the way my computer clients must feel when they call me over because their display isn’t right but when I get there, everything is fine. If they can’t show me what isn’t right, I can’t fix it.

Today on the way to yoga class, I saw a tattooed man in his 20's rushing toward the elevator. I put out my hand to hold the door for him. “Thank you, Miss,” he said. “Miss!” I suppose that’s better than “Granny!” What ever happened to “Ma’m”? He was also going to the gym, but not to the yoga class.

Maybe he was going to the later class. I don’t do Ashtanga or even Vinyasa yoga. I do Iyengar, and stretch yoga with props so I can modify the poses and get the stretches and strengthening without hurting myself. Yes, I’m in pain when I limp, but I’m usually not limping when I’ve been up for a while and walked my dog, and ridden my bike downtown.

My stretch yoga teacher had never seen me limp. But today we did hip work. Warrior 1, Warrior 2, Triangle pose, sitting crosslegged, forward bends with one foot bottom pressing against the other knee, lunges.

Warrior 1 is a stride position in which I place my front foot facing the direction I’m going and my back foot is angled at about 30 degrees. My pelvis is supposed to face the direction of my front foot. Then I’m supposed to lunge forward. That pelvis rotation is difficult, thanks to my ouchy left hip, but I can get pretty close.

Then there’s Warrior 2. Feet in the same positions, but this time the body faces completely to the side. There is no way my ouchy left hip is going to let me rotate that far, and turn my thighs and keep my balance. But I try. I’m supposed to get my feet 4 to 4 and a half feet apart. I consider it a victory if I get them 3 feet apart. Then there’s the lunge to the side, trying to keep the legs straight up and down, rather than knees akimbo.

I work at this. When I’m home, I grab the bottom of the bannister to support myself and I squiggle my feet as far apart as I can. I can do 3 and a half feet, holding onto the bannister. That's a lot of squiggling. My left hip rises up, and I have to patiently work it down. It can take minutes to get my feet that far apart. This is a huge improvement. Right after the accident I had to struggle to get my feet 2 feet apart.

Triangle is another sideways impossibility. The teacher hinges from her hips and puts her hand on the floor. I hinge from mine and put my hand on my thigh. At least I’m hinging. That, too, used to be impossible.

After a session like this, I’m sore!

I have the fantasy that all this stretching will eventually pay off in a more comfortable and more flexible body. I have the progress to prove it, but each improvement has its accompanying soreness. At the end of class, when it was time to put our mats, blankets, blocks and straps away, I was limping. After all that hip work, I wasn’t surprised.

Limping after stretching my hips is nothing new for me. But the teacher hadn’t seen it before. She was more upset than I was. It’s strange for her to have a student like me who has obviously done yoga for years, who can do a good sturdy version of anything that does not involve flexibility or strength in the left hip. And then, put that left hip into flexion, and suddenly, I’m a weak-old-lady-in-pain.

There is an upside to this. By feeling what I cannot do with my left hip, I have a much better appreciation for what to stretch and where to relax when I do the same poses with my right hip. I still hope that my left hip will continue to become stronger and more flexible over time and practice. It’s only been 9 months since the accident. Several people have told me it takes about 2 years to get body parts working normally again. And I don’t just want normal. I want flexible and strong. Even if I have to limp along the way.


  1. Thanks for asking. My left leg is now almost as strong as the right. Lunges are my only real remaining area of weakness. MY PT gave me exercises to work on this. Now I've got low back problems, so I have a whole new set of exercises. Remaining mobile while aging is work!