How would I look with just one arm?

After practicing for a few years my left shoulder began to hurt. It was more of a dull pain, than sharp, so it was easy to ignore. It started when I began working on hand stands. I had this idea that as a “seasoned practitioner”, that would be me, I needed an effortless handstand in my yoga arsenal.

It shoulder didn’t hurt all the time, only when I tried to lift my left arm above horizontal was I reminded of the injury. But it wasn’t interfering with my practice so I told myself to quit giving into the attention it desired. Just ignore it, it will go away. 

I’m not sure why, but strangely I was surprised when it became worse. The dull, uncomfortable feeling turned into a sharp, stabbing pain. Of course I continued on with my practice until the pain was so severe that I could not lift my arm at all. It made me feel like a wounded bird with a bad wing.

Ever time I tried to lift my arm the pain was unbearable. At this point it was not only affecting my yoga practice but every aspect of my life as well. Finally, I went to the hospital where they gave me a magic pill. There was so much magic in this pill that not only did it make the pain in my shoulder disappear but it made my lips numb as well. 

The first pill may have been amusing but I wasn’t going to take another.

I returned to the hospital and reported that the pain was worse than ever. The doctor and nurse looked at one another, a kind of suspicious sneer as though maybe I was lying and wanted an increase in my medication. When I told them I didn’t want any more medication and that I had stopped taking the prescription they had given me they called security and had me thrown out. As I was being manhandled through the door I thought I heard the doctor say; “Meditate over that, yoga boy." 

Still in extreme pain I decided to visit the country’s top sports medicine clinic where they pride themselves on holding together the countries international and Olympic teams. Yeah, give me some of that expertise.

After more x-rays and an MRI, they diagnosed me and set me on a regimen of therapy that I was to do twice a day, each session taking 45 minutes. In addition to this, I was to return to the centre thrice a week for the same. After a couple of months, thousands of dollars and a frustrated wife later I was not getting any better. It had now been one year since the pain had begun.  

Unbelievably I was still practicing yoga but found I was embarrassed to practice in front of strangers. The embarrassment was all about my ego and how I could not bear to have a perfect stranger think that the state of my practice was what they were seeing. Finally, in a rather stern voice I reminded myself that my practice is just that - my practice. And from that point on I limped from one end of my mat to the other, head up, not caring what anyone thought. 

Don’t worry, the end of this story is near.

Finally I decided to come clean with Master Teo, the Chinese healer I mentioned in my book. My wife had introduced him to me and he now takes care of our aging bodies when we push them too far. Although he had been working on my shoulder for the past year I never told him that it was not getting any better, nor did I admit how severe the pain was.  

Finally I did and when I was done talking he drew a breath and looked me in the eye and said, "I've known you a long time, David and I think this pain is in your head." I think he said a bunch of other things after that but I was so taken back by his diagnosis that I had tuned him out. When I tuned him back in he was telling me that tomorrow morning I should do my normal practice, ignore the pain and work through it.

Later that evening I wasn’t sure what to think. I respected Master Teo but could he be correct? Could the pain be in my head? The next morning, my wife and I rolled out our mats in the little room where we practiced yoga at home. She started her practice immediately but I just stood there in silence, thinking about Master Teo’s words, wondering if my mind was behind all this pain.

At the top of my mat with no other option I took a leap of faith and decided to take his advice.

It was painful, to say the least but I continued on, ignoring the excruciating pain. As the sun salutaions had me raising my hands over my head I decided one of two things was going to happen; either I was going to work through the pain and get better or my arm was going to fall off at the shoulder and hit the floor with a thud. At the time, due to the pain, I was happy with either outcome.

But the strangest thing happened - shortly into my practice I began to cry. I was doing marichysasa A, my head was down and I was crying full out. I could tell my wife had stopped her practice and was standing by me. I'm not sure how long I cried but when I stopped I continued on with my practice minus eighty percent of the pain. Over the next couple weeks the pain was all but a memory.

I’ve told this story before and at the end I get the same question; What do I think happened? The answer is, I’m not sure. I could blame it on my whopping ego and the pain was my bodies way of reminding me to leave it at the door. Or the pain could have been the sign of an emotional block and when I finally allowed my emotions to run free everything got better.

I hope something in this story has struck a cord with you. Of course if you are physically injured it is best to see a physician first and allow enough time to heal. But if the doctor does not have an explanation for your pain, it may be time to start listening to your body.