“Soft kitty, warm kitty,
Little ball of fur.
Happy kitty, sleepy kitty,
Purr, purr, purr.”
-The Big Bang Theory
There was a bit of a hubbub coming from the office. I recognized that energy, and my internal antennae went up. Mike and his admin assistant, Heni, were crowded around the computer, reading something. They beckoned me into the office and then closed the door behind me. The email from my physiotherapist had arrived. Mike had suggested that I connect all my health care therapists together to keep everyone on the same page. My condition, he argued, was rare and extremely fussy. His concern was that unless the physiotherapist opened a line of communication with himself and my massage therapist, they could be working at cross purposes. The logic was hard to refute, so I facilitated the process of data sharing.
This information was the puzzle piece Mike needed and suddenly he knew what the problem was: the transition from lying supine on the mat, to standing up, was tearing into the nerve endings in my heels. To avoid sending pain signals ricocheting through my body, I would have to refrain from lying down on the floor at all.
And do yoga in a chair.
I looked from Mike, to Heni, to the chair I saw sitting beside my mat. The usual clutter of bolsters, pillows and various props was gone, replaced by that simple stacking chair. My heart sank. This looked and felt like an enormous step backwards to me. I choked back my objections that raged internally, and walked over to the yoga mat. In the background, I could hear Mike trying to frame this decision for me in the best light possible: baseline meant we needed to remove anything at all that triggered pain. For the time being, he said, I really needed to avoid the aggravation of transitioning from the floor, to give the tattered peripheral nerves in my heels a chance to relax. He spoke to my back while I considered my options.
Strangely, the refrain that I heard in my head was not “permanent, incurable, difficult to manage.” Instead, it was Mike’s rendition of the “Soft Kitty” song – something he used to cajole and charm his clients into cutting back. He knew only too well that laughter was disarming. Typically, he stood on his mat during class, imitating the character Sheldon from The Big Bang theory, as he sang the refrain out to those of us who were trying too hard. It was his way of coaxing us to embrace ahimsa, to practice satya, and give our bodies what they needed – a break from pain.
In this moment, I was hardly laughing though, as I knew I had come to a crossroads. Moving upward in recovery meant another downward shift in my expectations. My mind balked mightily at this – but for the first time, I actively shut down that voice.
And I sat down.
This decision was the flowering of a paradox in my life. Providing my body the tools it needed to reduce the physical pain meant, for a long while, that I would have to look grief square in the eye. Seeing my injuries clearly was costly. Each time I sat down in the chair, my heart ached with memories of the many losses I’d incurred. Back country camping with my husband and children? Gone. Long walks with my beloved pack of dogs? No longer. Swimming in the ocean on vacation? Nope. Canoeing? Hiking? Trips to the zoo and to amusement parks? Done. While these hobbies filled my soul, they would undo the gains made in the yoga studio by taxing my feet. As I learned how to do yoga in a chair, scenes from my previous life would float by in my mind, and an empty spot opened in my heart as I registered each loss.
But I kept sitting down in the weeks that followed, working at reducing the pain in my feet and accepting the losses that seemed to keep piling up.
The payoff was just around the corner, though. With time, I would begin to see that the Soft Kitty Chair as a haven against the pain – and I would run to that spot repeatedly. My body, you see, was just beginning to share the extent of my injuries. Each discovery yet to come would test all of us, and that chair would prove crucial to both my physical and my internal healing.