On the morning after Christmas I found myself cheek flat on the pavement eyes straight up the yellow line of the road, the blacktop stretching out of focus beyond my peripheral view. A pick-up truck eased to a stop before me. “Are you alright?” It was a Danny Boyle movie moment, a camera angle on the world that is feasible but clearly wrong.
My front tire had slipped away from me as I cycled across a bridge near my house, proving that the sign ‘Bridge freezes before roadway’ represents truth. I considered the man’s question, responded that I was alright, pulled myself up, checked the bike and proceeded to yoga class. My chest ached, I suspected a cracked rib, but nothing else seemed awry and since I believe yoga can only help any ailment, off I went.
I was sore in class but the heat and the stretches felt good. I left limber. I woke stiff the next morning, and flew off to Haiti for twelve days. By my third or fourth day in the tropical heat all pain had subsided. I thought I was fine.
I returned to yoga almost two weeks later. As I extended my arms over my head and swayed into my first half moon, the muscle over my rib screamed out in vengeance. Two weeks after the fall, the pain flashed back strong as the moment I hit the pavement. It barked at me furiously throughout the entire class.
Since then I have attended yoga every day and endured the trial of repair. I can do most all the poses, though slowly, with a deliberation that sharpens my concentration. The hardest position is the easiest one, sabasana, because lowering and raising the torso is excruciating. I cannot do the sit-ups. Every day I have a larger range of motion, but what is odd is that I had a week or more of no pain and then, wham, reentry to yoga threw me back.
It is an odd coincidence that my painful yoga emerged the same day that The New York Times Magazine published William Broad’s article “All Bent Out of Shape, The Problem with Yoga.” (January 8, 2012). Reading the article does not scare me off yoga; Bikram involves no inversion postures and stresses each person moving at their own pace. Still, a guy I practice with regularly tore his meniscus doing Bikram and needed an operation, and I have to ask myself, is the recurrence of my cracked rib pain due to the benefits of yoga working my damaged muscles more deeply, or did the yoga actually exacerbate my injury?
I choose to believe the former. The benefits I have witnessed in my health since adopting a regular yoga practice are amazing. I am trim, my lung capacity is amazing, I am flexible, my mental health is the best ever (and that has been one rocky road). I cracked a rib and without yoga my body compensated in three days. I did not even realize how I restricted my movements to ease the pain. But yoga does not allow cheating. You do each posture the best you can to a threshold of moderate pain. Having a cracked rib becomes a diagnostic exercise, understanding how the muscles around the rib play into so many postures our bodies can assume.
It may be weeks or months before I overcome the ill effects from my encounter with the bridge on Huron Avenue. It would be easier to stop going to yoga and let my body find shortcuts out of pain. But I believe in the yoga, in deep yoga, as my path to a healthier body as well as a clearer mind. So I will continue, carefully, cautiously, to practice my yoga, cognizant of the damage the bridge did to my body, but not acquiescing to it.