What do you do when you can no longer do what you do? How do you adjust to big life changes that affect your ability to work, like adjusting to retirement, disability, or being laid off? Almost two years ago, I was in a freak accident. Both of my femurs and both SI joints came out of socket, and I had a torn glute muscle. I suppose all the years of yoga and being strong and flexible helped — it certainly could have been worse — but it didn’t protect me from being injured. It took a whole year to be able to simply walk without pain. I couldn’t do much in the way of a physical yoga practice, couldn’t teach, couldn’t dance, couldn’t go to any exercise classes. That was most of my existence, so suddenly I was adrift.
In addition to the frustration of being physically sidelined when I was once so strong, it felt weird to suddenly stop almost everything I was doing. I questioned my purpose and identity. It’s such an American thing to have your self-worth wrapped up in your job, but the words that I often said to my students kept coming up: “You are more than your job. You are more than the roles that you play.” Just because I wasn’t teaching yoga didn’t mean that I was a useless human, but sometimes it felt that way. I used my yoga training to listen to my body and listen to the Universe. I put my feelers out there to help me figure out which way to go with my recovery and with my life. I went to physical therapy, which helped tremendously until it started making matters worse, and then I put my own yoga therapy training to work.
A year after the accident we moved to a beach town. It turns out that walking in the soft, deep sand (rather than the packed sand near the water) has been the single, most helpful thing to heal my body. Walking on the sand makes me use the muscles in my feet properly, and all the muscles and bones from my feet to my waist seemed to fall into the proper place. My legs got strong fast, and I was able to get back to most of my former yoga practice. Walking on the beach was also mentally and emotionally healing. It made me KNOW that everything was alright, and I didn’t have to do anything special to prove my existence or value on this planet. I was feeling great and started going to a dance class and riding my bike again.
As soon as life started feeling normal, I had a bike accident and another set-back. I guess the Universe was trying to show me something or move me in another direction. I decided to listen, even though I sometimes fought with thoughts that I should go back to doing exactly what I did before because that was who I was … that is what I did … that is what people expect me to do.
I kept taking those long walks on the beach, stopping to meditate and realizing what a gift it was to have some time and space, and to have no expectations on me at all. I was simply being. The ocean, the mountains, the sun, the seagulls — they all reminded me that there’s something big and beautiful going on in the world every day, and we are all a part of that natural world regardless of whether we are producing or accomplishing enough to justify ourselves to society. That’s just pressure that we put on ourselves. My husband retired around the same time that I was trying to heal, and he was going through a similar process: adjusting to no longer doing what he did and learning how to be OK with that.
As I was closing in on a year of being a beach bum, I suddenly realized that I had actually been productive after all: I wrote a children’s book, which is almost ready for self-publication. My husband and I joined forces on some creative projects and we both learned a lot of new things. I decided to create yoga videos instead of teaching in a studio and have been working on implementing this change. These things came about with such ease and effortlessness that it didn’t feel like work. It didn’t feel like I had been doing anything other than being and living in flow. My accomplishments don’t justify my existence. They just show what can happen when you allow yourself to have some empty space without rushing to fill it.