December 27, 2013

Things Yoga Taught Me Through my Disability. ~ Estela Lugo

I was diagnosed with Charcot Marie Tooth at the age of four; a progressive disease affecting the nerves in the hands and feet.

Many compare it to MS as it is less mainstream and well known. Because I am paralyzed from the knee down and can only walk or stand with the assistance of leg braces, yoga never entered my mind as a realistic possibility. But earlier this year, a good friend invited me along to a hot yoga class and something inside told me to take the plunge.

What I’ve learned in the past 9 months has completely changed the trajectory of my battle and turned despair to peace.

1.  How to look in a mirror (and not lose my mind)

I’m sure many can relate to this but, I’ve never been a fan of full length mirrors.

In fact, I avoid them as much as possible. Why should I get upset looking at my imperfections and awkward posture when I can just avoid it altogether? But yoga put me in front of a mirrored wall with nothing to hide behind.

With a helpful nudge from an old friend, I walked into my first class and plopped down in the back corner (next to the ballet bar). Nervously lacing up my sneakers, I looked around taking in the sea of colorful mats, bare toes, toned calves and curious glances. Despite my efforts to cover up a pair of bony legs and plastic braces, I knew my weaknesses would instantly be exposed with the first pose. I decided to make peace with that thought and embrace it. This was not easy.

I’ll admit I drove home from those first few classes in tears.

I felt frustrated and humiliated. Frustrated because I was unable to make many of the poses and humiliated because to me, my body looked broken and deformed.

Over the next few classes, I noticed that I was becoming less hesitant to make contact with my own eyes and more at ease with studying the alignment (and misalignment) of my body. I became more aware that any embarrassment or anxiety I had felt in the past was because I had chosen to, and that these feelings, were weights I did not have to carry.

My new meditating mind needed to be as light and clear as possible, so I let it go. When I wasn’t able to make a pose, I created my own modification. It didn’t matter as much anymore if I was the only one doing it “that way.”

The more I let go of my ego, the more peaceful I felt.

The wobbly body reflecting back at me was not “me” but rather the spirit, pushing and pulling all of my parts into place. It wasn’t until I could see this truer reflection of effort and an innate refusal to accept defeat, that I finally saw beauty.

2. How to close the attic door (it’s a crazy house up there!)

It didn’t take long to realize some of the main principles behind this beautiful practice: self-acceptance, breathing and staying in the present moment.

One instructor jokingly tells us, “Don’t go up into the attic of your mind, that’s where the psycho lives!” She encourages the class to turn off our self-doubting voices, to breathe and to be present in each movement. Yoga has allowed me, for the first time, to shut off the toxic voice inside who likes to play bully, blurting out things like: “You can’t do that, you’re going to fall, you’re going to get hurt, people are staring, you look stupid.” With each class that voice becomes softer, my mind more focused and my posture taller.

We’d never keep a friend around for very long if they constantly spoke to us like that, so why leave the attic door open?

 3. How to find comfort in the discomfort (Not all pain is bad)

 If you’re doing Yoga right, you’re feeling pain or at least what feels like pain.

I’ve been trying to study my own pain and have begun to recognize the “good” pain from the “Oh, shit, I think I’m gonna break something” pain. I’ve learned that whenever I anticipate discomfort, I instinctively hold my breath.

Yoga is about keeping your breath steady, even when you feel your knees buckling underneath you and your hip bone about to rip off your torso. The deep breaths are what help to alleviate the pain and discomfort. They keep you fluid and send much needed oxygen to the exact portion of your body that feels like it’s going to collapse.

The way I see pain is like this; I can either choose to feel the pain that comes along with pushing my body past its limits or I can fall victim to the inevitable pain caused by more frequent falls, injuries and (preventable) surgeries.

Thank you for sharing your time with me today. I hope this post has opened a few minds to the practice of yoga and its incredible lessons. If you haven’t already, I encourage you to step through those studio doors and find your true reflection. I encourage you to close your attic door for a while and take a deep breath.

What’s the worst that could happen?


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Assistant Editor: Gabriela Magana / Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: Courtesy of Author

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Estela Lugo