When I was 18, I broke my back in two places.
The car I was riding careened off of a bridge—an image we might associate with a blockbuster film rather than real life. As I lay there, digging my hands into the sand trying to make fists that wouldn’t quite close, I heard voices asking me questions.
The voices echoed and the words lacked clarity. I couldn’t concentrate on them long enough to answer. I would squeeze the sand tighter and tighter hoping to release some of my intense pain into the earth.
Finally, I tuned into a male face long enough to understand that he might possibly be able to provide relief. As his face came into focus, so did his voice, “Can you give me a phone number? Anything? We need to know who to call.”
The only phone number that I could scan my memory to find didn’t require much effort. I didn’t remember my own phone number, but I remembered the phone number of my best friend. All of those hours spent on the telephone while getting yelled at by my parents to hang up had paid off.
I was able to muster enough focus to recite my best friend’s phone number. I must have dialed it 10 times a day, and it was the only thing I could remember during a time of extreme pain.
After a spinal fusion surgery, I had to learn how to walk again. My legs were so shaky and stiff as I had spent over a month lying in a hospital bed. A few days of that month were spent lying on a wooden board.
The night I came home from hospital, all of my girlfriends came over to help me. They would walk slowly with me, help me keep my balance, and not allow the trauma of that night disillusion me into allowing it to claim my identity.
Looking back, it’s no wonder I found such a strong connection to the practice of yoga—it provides the same mirrors as my deepest friendships have.
Yoga allows my body and mind to find a new rhythm, and guides my limbs into places they’ve never been before, all the while guiding me to know more about the state I am currently in.
One of the most humbling aspects of asana practice is achieving balance. Strategies can be used to aid balance, but it is never something that we simply learn one day. Practice helps, of course, and we can become better at implementing balancing strategies like using our bandhas (muscle locks).
Balance will change from day to day. I often tune into my practice and notice how it is no coincidence that on certain days, I have no balance at all. Usually, it is an indicator that elsewhere in my life, off of my mat, I am not in achieving balance.
The Power of Our Standing Leg
One strategy that I always come back to is the power and strength of our standing leg. For example, in Tree Pose or Standing Bow, we must keep our standing leg strong, solid, and unmoving, like a lamp post rooted 1,000 feet into the earth. If our standing leg is strong, balance is more likely.
In that space of focusing on our standing leg, it is truly extraordinary how much it matters in holding the posture. I like to think of my standing leg as my helper, my compass, and my anchor. We all have at least one anchor in life, don’t we?
For me, my chosen sisters are like my standing leg. They seem to know exactly what I need to keep my balance. They keep my secrets; laugh at my humanity if I am taking myself too seriously an offering of their open heart provides boundless strength to keep on going.
Like any relationship, the give and take is not always 50/50, and but unlike many relationships, my sisters never keep score.
A Strong Foundation
One of my best friends is currently battling cancer. I try my best to be her standing leg when she loses balance, but the beauty of our sisterhood is that she still tunes into my heart even in her darkest hour, and holds out her hand to help me achieve balance.
As I dug my fingers into the sand early that summer morning, I realize now that there were hands holding mine the whole time. My foundation is strong, with roots that are unbending, unmoving, 1,000 feet into the earth.
The phone number that I managed to recite on that day was kept in my heart amidst the noise and delirium of pain. My practice is often an offering of strength derived from those roots.
“If you knew who walked beside you at all times, on the path that you have chosen, you could never experience fear or doubt again.” ~Wayne W. Dyer