These past 2 weeks I have been learning a great deal about pain and fear from direct experience and exploring how yoga and mind-body medicine can really help with both.
Two weeks ago, I had an accident while out jogging. I was hit by a motor bike and broke the small scaphoid bone in my hand and ruptured my scapho lunate ligament. Despite the fact that this injury may seem minor initially and is often missed, if untreated early on it is actually one of the worst hand injuries you can suffer.
Left untreated, it can lead to a condition called SLAC (Scaphoid Lunate Advanced Collapse) where you lose the ability to grip and severe debilitating arthritis occurs. To have the best chance of avoiding this condition, advanced hand micro surgery is required by a plastic surgeon with a specialty in hand surgery within 4-6 weeks of the injury.
Boom. Suddenly my dreams of ever perfecting my handstand or any arm balancing yoga poses are shattered. Because of the potential for rupturing the surgical repair, even if successful, I will likely never be able to do a downward dog or a full sun salutation again, my favourite sequence in my personal yoga practise. My future as a yogi has radically changed, a frightening prospect for me as I am planning a full schedule of mindbody medicine yoga retreats in Bali for the coming year.
I was in Bali at the time, and luckily I had travel insurance to fly to Singapore to see one of the best hand surgeons in the world and have 2 metal pins inserted. I feel extremely blessed to have been in his hands!. But last week our insurance company dropped a new bombshell by refusing to pay for the surgery (despite agreeing to do so previously) leaving us with a huge out-of-pocket bill.
Arguing back and forth with the insurance company has been an extremely stressful and emotional process, probably even more so than the prospect of long term damage to my hand, and I have had to face a lot of my deepest fears related to money and healthcare.
I grew up in the South Carolina between the ages of 5 and 13 where the fear of going bankrupt over medical bills and not having health insurance is a very valid fear. My parents had many friends and acquaintances who did go bankrupt after having huge medical bills and apparently this deep rooted fear has lingered with me ever since.
I had to surrender control in a medical setting for the first time in a very long time and become a patient, as well as having to ask for help with simple things I can’t do 1-handed like brushing my hair and doing up my bra!
For the first time in my life, I had to take painkillers stronger than a regular Tylenol for my post-op pain, even though it made me feel nauseous, constipated, and lightheaded. These are the same pain pills I mostly refuse to prescribe to patients because they are highly addictive and they cause so much havoc to the digestion system, but taking them was the only way I could get to sleep at night due to the pain.
I have realized how easily being in constant pain can make you short tempered, grumpy, and more negative. I have developed a new understanding and deeper compassion for my patients who suffer with chronic pain every day.
This lack of control, the constant physical pain from the metal pins, the prospect of not having full function of my hand again and having the financial stress of fighting with the insurance company have all been incredibly challenging, but also the most amazing learning and growing experience. I have had to really practice what I preach 110% to deal effectively with pain and put my mind and body in a healing-promoting state in the midst of stressful events out of my control.
My mindbody, meditation and yoga nidra practises have taken on much greater significance and become something I have actually needed to get through the day, as opposed to a ‘nice to have.’ When my money and health fears start to run away and I begin to catastrophise, I know it is time to close my eyes, sit and centre myself again.
I have been fueling up on an anti-inflammatory diet full of micronutrients to support my body to heal as quickly and fully as possible (even though I did cheat yesterday when my girlfriends came around for lunch and a few slices of pizza with my superfood salad!).
I’ve found that when you are recovering from surgery, and don’t exactly have a full appetite back, the best foods are green smoothies with some variation of kale, spinach, peanut butter, coconut milk, bee pollen, Maca, Greens powder, bananas, and royal jelly honey.
I have been upping my supplement game and taking a combination of anti-inflammatory herbs (white turmeric, ginger, clove, sandalwood, cinnamon, cardamom, moringa), drinking fresh pressed turmeric juice which contained curcumin (a powerful anti-inflammatory whose potency is increased in our body by adding some black pepper to the juice), a high potency multivitamin with extra zinc & magnesium, high potency multi-strain probiotic and a high potency B complex vitamin.
To help with pain and to minimize the amount of pain medication, especially in the daytime, I try to activate the brain’s built in pain relieving chemicals called endogenous opioids: endorphins, enkephalins, and endorphins.
I’ve been doing this through a combination of daily Balinese massages, daily gentle walks in nature, snuggling with my cat, and creating a meditative healing space in our home with meditation tracks, comfy pillows, and minimal technology.
To get my exercise endorphins I have also had to dramatically alter my exercise routine, but have decided to make it a fun project to create a hand- in-cast friendly program that doesn’t involve any weight-bearing. So far, I’ve been doing a ballet warm-up, followed by some cardio on a stationary bike while listening to positive tunes and then an abdominal strengthening series on the floor that doesn’t involve any downward dogs, sun salutations, or push-ups.
I may never be able to get back to doing push-up style sun salutations in my yoga practice, but I will adapt. As one of my teachers reminded me recently, yoga poses are simply a tool toward happiness, quieting the mind, and finding your own inner sanctuary. The actual shapes or poses don’t matter if the intention is there!
To experience these lesson firsthand as both a teacher and a student, is wonderful, challenging and humbling.
If you have struggled with a painful health experience in the past, or are currently going through something similar, what do you feel that you needed or need the most to help you come out of the experience better than before?