To look at me you would never suspect that I live with a spinal cord injury. I contracted paralytic polio when I was 5 years old in one of the last polio epidemics in the United States. Polio was known as “the AIDS of its day”. I was shunned by classmates and grew to despise and disconnect from my body. Over four years ago now, at the age of 53, I was diagnosed with post polio syndrome, a 'progressive neurological disease' and I went back into a leg brace, used a cane and at times a wheelchair for mobility. I quit my full time job and went on a mission to heal my life. Through outpatient rehab and harnessing the best of Eastern and Western Medicine and my own inner resources with a deep faith in hope and possibility, I went on to run the 2009 Boston Marathon no longer needing a leg brace or a wheelchair. But something was missing ....
After a recurrence of symptoms and another course of outpatient rehab in October 2009, I was back on the roads running again in June 2010. On Facebook, my friend and neighbor Nicole Burrill aka The Sassy Yogini (www.sassyyogini.com) saw I was posting about my solo strength training work outs and my runs. She asked me if I did yoga. I gave an answer as terse as could be 'No'. I looked at Nicole and thought, there is no way I'm 'good' enough to be in a yoga class with someone who looks like Nicole. If there were a picture next to the definition of yogini in the dictionary, it would be of Nicole. Nicole was unrelenting in her quest to get me to the mat and finally I said that my New Year's Resolution for 2011 would be to try a yoga class.
Nicole talked with one of her yoga teachers, Pat Donaher (www.patdonaher.com) to ask him what would be a good class to bring me to given the diagnosis of post polio syndrome. He said, “If she can run a marathon, she can do anything.” I went to Pat's class with Nicole and as she had predicted, I was hooked. I began to connect with my inner child before age 5 when I was a beautiful, flexible ballerina. I felt a sense of playfulness and a freedom in my body as I assumed various poses. I had a workout which I could never have experienced never mind how boring and tedious it is to do squats and lunges and single leg lifts at home. I loved the glow and cleansing that followed after having sweat for 90 minutes (and it wasn't even a Bikram class) and I loved the energy of the yoga community who warmly embraced me.
I realized that, given my 'special needs' it would be prudent for me to supplement my practice with individual lessons. After that first class with Pat, I knew we would work well together. Initially, my goal was to to learn how I could move so that I could 'fit in' with the other yoginis. That goal was quickly relinquished and replaced with deepening my mind/body connection and learning how to (as one of my yoga teachers said) “love myself whole.” Through my yoga practice, I am moving away from a polio and post polio survivor who works to overcome my disability, to a woman who embraces my uniqueness, is learning how to love and accept my body wherever it is in the present moment, retraining neuromuscular pathways to give me greater freedom in movement and breath and having a lot of fun along the way. As a girl in a full leg brace and then as a teenager who had to wear special polio shoes, fashion never met function. I love the Plank yoga accessories for the fun and funky style they offer me while the high grade of Plank's luxe mats provides me with extra support and comfort during my practice. As someone who has a difficult time knowing where my body is in space, I was forever hitting someone with my yoga mat while trying to juggle my bag and mat. With Plank's Canvas Series, my bag and mat are compact and affords me the added advantage of taking the stress off of my neck and shoulders. The inner transformation I am experiencing on the mat is reflected in the sense of style that Plank offers me.
The benefits of yoga for the general population are well documented. Thanks to the pioneering work of Matthew Sanford, a paraplegic who is a revolutionary yoga teacher, (www.matthewsanford.com and www.mindbodysolutions.org) he is spearheading a movement to incorporate yoga into rehabilitation for those with spinal cord injury and other physical challenges and diseases. On his website, he cites the benefits of yoga for those with physical challenges as:
- Increased strength, balance and flexibility — both mental and physical
- Rhythm, an inward sense of direction and the ability to move through life in a more integrated way
- The capacity to live more fully within the body
- An enhanced ability to manage stress
- A deepened sense of connection with others
- Hope and a renewed sense of freedom
So if you don't believe that yoga is for you because you are physically challenged, or even just don't 'look' like a yogini, leave that belief at the door with your shoes. Discover the healing world that awaits you on the mat that will carry you to a life of greater joy, freedom, health and wholeness off of the mat.
Our Plank guest author this week, Mary McManus can be found writing and inspiring on her own thoughtful blog New World Greetings and we Plankers are truly pleased to be sharing Mary's story with you!
Additional resources: Spinal Cord Injury and Yoga: http://www.spinalcordinjury-paralysis.org/dailydose/2011/03/17/you-and-yoga
Yoga: Discovering the Mind/Body Connection http://www.christopherreeve.org/site/c.mtKZKgMWKwG/b.6544377/k.2C6B/Yoga_discovering_the_MindBody_Connection.htm?msource=email&auid=7949850