People are often surprised to find out that I was a rugby player throughout my college career. Yoga and rugby, the ultimate combo, right? I loved the strength the rugby required just like I love the strength that handstands or forearm stands require.
I spent decades gaining strength in order to execute these yoga postures. What I didn't realize was that an old rugby injury was slowly making me weaker and weaker. My shoulder was becoming more painful and for several years I was able to ignore it. If i just work out more, it'll go away was my mentality. I did my handstands and my kettlebells, but finally 3 years ago I could not ignore it anymore. I decided to see a orthopedist, thinking it was just a torn rotator cuff muscle; i'll have surgery and be good as new.
Wrong! My muscles were all fine and healthy but I was diagnosed with pretty severe and advanced osteoarthritis. The doctor believed an old injury to my shoulder kept degrading the cartilage and remodeling the bone, so that I was left with bone on bone.
What could I do to heal?
Not much, according to my doctor. I can strengthen the muscles surrounding the joint but eventually I would require a shoulder replacement.
I was 37 years old at the time, far too young for such a thing. Shoulder replacements require a long recovery and leave the patient unable to bear weight on their arms anymore. Goodbye handstands.
To say I was crushed was an understatement! I felt like I was mourning my physical potential that I'd never reach. I chose to try injections and continue to deal with the mounting pain and the lack of mobility.
Finally while in India I couldn't hear it anymore. I couldn't sleep, I couldn't do my beloved inversions and arm balances and ketlebells.
I found a wonderful, talented doctor who recommended surgery to clean the joint and two experimental procedures to help with cartilage regrowth.
I had put surgery off for so long out of fear of being out of commission and not being able to workout and do yoga and become weak and out of shape. But since I could barely do anything and was in constant pain I decided to go ahead with it.
January 10, 2018, several weeks before my 39th birthday I had arthroscopic surgery in India (surgery in India - that is a whole other blog post!). After my surgery the doctor confirmed that my arthritis was really bad, with no cartilage and that my bone has become misshapen. His hope was for a little pain recovery and some added mobility.
Here we are four and half months post surgery. I am completely pain free. However, I lost total muscular strength and range of motion and have had to relearn how to use my arm. I have had almost daily physical therapy, uncomfortable and always challenging. Yet I persevered.
I have come a long way form where I was, I can now lift my arm and I am working on strength and slowly attempting weight bearing exercise.
I haven't done an inversion or arm balance in over six months. I haven't done a chaturanga or used my kettlebells in five months and I have survived. I have adapted.
What I have learned is that I am not defined by the "cool" yoga poses I can do.
I am not defined by my strength.
I am also not defined by my limitations or by my injuries.
Will I one day be able to do a handstand or lift my 40kg kettlebells again? I really don't know.
For now, I focus on getting stronger in body and mind, while secretly hoping.