“Since we cannot change reality, let us change the eyes that see reality.”
– Nikos Kazantzakis
There was a letter in my mailbox from the insurance company. I grabbed it on my way to the yoga studio, eyeing the envelope as I drove. I knew the Long Term Disability (LTD) carrier was reviewing the validity of my claim, as I’d hit the one year anniversary of the two years’ medical leave I’d been granted. My guess was that the insurance carrier was about to kickstart the job retraining process, meaning that they had settled on the concept that I was too injured to return to my previous post. Technically there were three options before me: being medically cleared to return to my career, being trained for a new job that was less physically demanding and socially complex, or being declared totally disabled and put out to pasture. If it were up to me? Option #1. I’d loved my job. I wanted that life and those relationships back. Thus I was determined I’d do whatever it took to convince my doctor to clear me medically for that choice.
Of course, I wasn’t the only one who had a plan. Mike was capitalizing on every opportunity to modify my yoga practice. His goal was to convince me to scale back, and embrace yoga in a way that was respectful of my body’s needs. He knew that only by breaking down each pose, using props and modifications or posture swap outs, would I find baseline. The point at which I could assume each pose in pain free range of motion was the foundation of the exercise prescription I needed. His goal was to start stringing together entire classes where I had no pain whatsoever for 90 minutes. He knew that this was the only way my nervous system would begin to relax and ease off the pain signalling. But he was running full force into a wall of denial. No matter, he chipped away at my resistance, one modification, one prop, one suggestion at at time.
As of late, I’d begun to ask a few questions as I was sometimes puzzled by my symptoms. Why, I asked, does lying on the floor with my leg extended into the air in a hamstring stretch pull into my heels so badly? I was not bearing any weight on my heels yet this pose increased the burning pain. He’d stepped to the mat, and looked at my foot, his wheels turning. “You’re in the full expression of the posture,” he said. “Don’t point your toes. Instead keep your ankle in neutral.” I did as he suggested- and the relief was immediate.
“Does that feel better?”
“Yes, thank you.”
And so it began. I continued to practice yoga-in-a-hurry, but at each opportunity Mike shoved a prop under my feet or hands, enquired if it helped (which it always did). He left me each time, saying the same thing: “Great!” Ever so slightly, I began to feel better with each class, having been coaxed into making fewer unreasonable demands of my beleaguered body. We were not yet at baseline, but I was inching toward this thanks to Mike’s genial persistence. His affable grin hid a deep well of patience and a bit of stubbornness on his part.
Pulling into the parking lot by the studio, I again considered the envelope on the passenger seat. There was a gnawing doubt in my stomach that I’d ever recover enough to return to my career. If I wasn’t able to continue in the role? The fallout to my career, and my family, was unfathomable: loss of our home, loss of financial security and extended healthcare benefits. Not to mention the impact of a reduced pension, as there were no guarantees that the new career I’d be forced to launch would provide a pension plan, or equivalent income.
Taking a deep breath, I reached over and opened the letter. Its contents would redirect my life in the most shocking direction, testing my own resolve in ways I didn’t anticipate. In the coming months I would come to rely on the yoga studio and Mike’s expertise as a way to make sense of the chaos this letter unleashed.