yogaToday I did an arm balance in yoga.

Six months ago, this feat would not have been anything remarkable. I grew up doing gymnastics, and maintained my strength and balance so that I could still, at age 46, support myself on my arms in various poses and postures. I prided myself on my ability to do things the 20-somethings next to me were too weak or unpracticed to do. I posted pictures of myself on Facebook doing yoga. I even made it into the video my yoga studio produced.

Then, something happened. My rotator cuffs, which had been hurting on and off for years but not really cramping my style, started screaming loudly enough that I had to listen. I experienced days where I was unable to lift a glass, much less support my entire body weight on my arms. I knew something needed to change.

The first step in my process was somewhere between giving up and acceptance. The challenge was to accept the possibility that I might never do arm balances again, while at the same time not completely giving up on the possibility. This balance was much harder to achieve than a side crow pose. I realized that a big part of my identity was wrapped up in what I could do physically. And now I couldn’t do those things. Who was I now?

As human beings, we have a tendency to wrap up our identities in a lot of things: our jobs, our children, our relationships, our bodies, and more. The fact is, we are still ourselves when any of these other things change. But this truth is a difficult one to remember.

“I am not my arm balances.” “I am not my arm balances.” “I am not my arm balances.”

I repeated this mantra daily as I went to yoga classes and skipped my favorite poses. I repeated it as I kept my hands on my hips instead of stretching them out in Warrior Two. I repeated it as I went to “Therapeutic Yoga” class instead of my beloved Vinyasa Flow.

I shared with my yoga teachers, both old and new, that I was not able to do the things I used to do. I felt scared and sad telling them. I felt like I was admitting failure (does this sound familiar?). But soon I became a model of caring for myself and modifying poses to what my body needed. I cried through classes sometimes, but I kept going, and even got compliments from new teachers on my practice. Ha. All this time I thought they were complimenting me because I could do those fancy poses. But, as it turned out, I really was more than my arm balances.

Taking Action

Over these many months, while accepting my limitations, I also was doing everything I could figure out to do to heal my shoulders. I went to physical therapy and did my exercises regularly. If something hurt I didn’t do it. I asked strong-looking guys to lift my bag when I traveled on airplanes. I stopped swimming, which was my other love, and started working out on the elliptical machine. I spent time lifting light weights to strengthen my upper body in new ways. I discovered cold laser therapy and started going for weekly treatments. I put Arnica and Helichrysum oil on my shoulders. I got MRIs and visited with a surgeon who told me (thankfully) that he did not see a need for surgery. He gave me new exercises that my physical therapist had not provided. I started to heal.


As I have shared with more and more people about my pain and my process, I’ve heard that many others are going through similar shoulder challenges. Several of my yoga teachers have rotator cuff pain, as do some of the students in my classes. My mom and a few of my cousins have these issues too. I am excited to share with them what I’ve learned and what they can do to prevent further injury to themselves. So many people have this pain, and so few know what to do to strengthen themselves. Even physical therapists don’t know this stuff. I now want to share with anyone who will listen. Don’t keep doing what you’ve been doing, hoping things will change. I tried that, and I ended up unable to lift a glass of water.

To some of you, doing an arm balance might sound like something impossibly difficult that you might never achieve in your lifetime. Thankfully, you are not your arm balances, or your lack of arm balances, or whatever physical feats you can or can’t do. You are not your job or your relationship. You are your inner strength and being. And you can build outer strength that might make new things possible.

Today, I went to yoga class and did an arm balance. I am still not my arm balances, but it sure feels good to have gotten myself here.

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