December 6, 2016

How I Healed myself when Doctors told me I’d Grow up to be Crippled.


Twenty years ago a doctor told me I would be nearly crippled by the age I am now.

Faced with a grim prognosis and waning flexibility, I turned to yoga and movement to change my path.

When I was six months old my dad was changing my diaper and noticed that one of my legs was longer than the other. Soon after I was diagnosed with Bilateral Congenital Hip Dysplasia—in other words, I had no hip sockets.

Here’s what was going on: my legs (femur bones) were pushed up past where my hip sockets should be, so the first step in treatment was traction to draw my legs down. The next stage was to create hip sockets: my legs were put in a splint and I wore a full body brace that tied up around my shoulders to keep my legs in a frog-like position. This allowed the top part of my femurs to press up into the hip area to form hip sockets. After a couple of months I was outfitted in a different brace that kept my legs in an open split.

When I was five years old my feet started to turn in; an Orthopedic surgeon predicted that I would have arthritis by age 16 and a hip replacement would follow.

I was quite active growing up; I functioned like any other kid and never noticed anything different about my body or my mobility. But in my mid 20s, I noticed stiffness in my right hip and I started to think about the predictions of arthritis and hip replacements. It scared me.

So I did something about it: I started to stretch. I would sit in a cross-legged seat and fold forward, breathe, count. It felt good so I did it every day.

In 2008 I was new to yoga but I enrolled in a 200-hour teacher training program. I noticed that I wasn’t as flexible as others: my hip mobility was limited and hip-opening postures like lizard and pigeon, which most people seemed to love, were pure torture for me.

I wondered if it had to do with the fascia tissue.

Are you familiar with The Fuzz Speech?

In the video, anatomist Gil Hedly presents two cadavers: the body of someone who had been active and the body of someone who hadn’t. It is shocking to see the difference. Gil talks about fascia, connective tissue that covers the whole body; fuzz or stiffness can set in if the fascia starts to bind together due to a lack of activity and movement. I remember watching the video in yoga teacher training and feeling both terrified and excited.

I heard the message loud and clear: move it or lose it.

And I was definitely inspired to move it.

As I explored my yoga practice that first year I began to see the power of moving and stretching: even five minutes a day was beneficial. I realized that I could take control and change my body. And that was incredibly empowering.

I don’t know what my hips and mobility would be like today if I wasn’t doing yoga, if I hadn’t started moving or if I had a job where I was sitting six to eight hours a day—it’s a scary thought.

Sitting is the new smoking.

Our sedentary lifestyles are killing us.

The message is clear: we have to be active, we have to get moving, we have to keep the fuzz at bay.

If you sit still for long periods throughout the day, here are a few things you can do to help:

Get up! Walk to the washroom, to the photocopier, or to your co-worker’s desk instead of sending an email or a text. Even a few minutes every hour is beneficial.

Enjoy gentle stretches while seated: roll your shoulders back, turn your head gently from side to side, reach your arms overhead, take a side bend. Move in a way that feels good and be sure to take deep breaths to feed your body and your brain.

Stay hydrated: keep a water bottle nearby and keep reaching for it. The liquid nourishment will help keep the body from seizing up.

Move before or after work: hit the yoga studio, the gym, go for a run, or engage in any other activity you enjoy. Staying active will help counteract the tightness caused by sitting. Walk or bike to and from work.

I don’t take anything I can do with my body for granted.

I’m grateful that I can walk for hours, move without pain and practice yoga. I wasn’t born able to do what I can do now—I trained my body to be able to move this way.

And I’ll tell you what I tell my yoga students when it comes to being active, getting moving, and overcoming physical challenges: if I can do it, you can do it.


Author: Melanie Caines

Image: courtesy of Leo Lo and Drew Xeron

Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock

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