Notes on my journey to yoga + learning to embrace my scars
“Our backs tell stories no books have the spine to carry…” –Rupi Kaur
Every week, several of my students ask me, “What brought you to yoga?”
And if you look closely at my back in the picture above, you’ll find one of my answers.
The scar you see running from the bottom of my neck all the way to the base of my spine is the result of having spinal fusion surgery after being diagnosed with scoliosis in middle school.
Scoliosis is a side curvature of the spine, and depending on the severity of the curve, surgery may or may not be needed to straighten it back out.
For me, surgery was the only option as my curve began to progressively morph into an "S" shape throughout my middle school years. Visibly, one shoulder sat up higher than the other, one rib stuck out further, and my waist was also uneven: causing one leg to be slightly longer. The pain of my asymmetrical torso got unbearable, and so during the summer before entering high school, I had the surgery: 7 hours of being poked and prodded, having metal rods inserted along my vertebrae, losing a lot of blood, getting an emergency blood transfusion and finally waking up to a straighter spine.
Post surgery life was really tough for me. My back was straighter but my spirits sagged tremendously.
The healing process was extremely painful: physically and emotionally. I didn’t tell any of my friends that I was having the surgery done that summer. I didn’t even tell anyone that I had scoliosis when I initially found out. I was very embarrassed, feeling like the only one amongst my classmates who had to get a bunch of metal rods inserted in my back just to get my torso to look semi-normal again.
As my back begin to heal month after month though, my doctor informed me that because I had the metal rods inserted in my vertebrae, my range of motion throughout my spine would be very limited and I’d need to take precaution during any sort of physical activity. I also noticed that as time passed, my back started to feel really stiff.
Yoga was recommended to me as a way to safely create more range of motion throughout my spine while still being mindful of my physical limitations that the rods created. So, I researched some local studios, found a beginner class and signed myself up for a brand new experience.
But the first time I tried yoga, I wasn’t a fan.
Flowing with my breath was a challenge and I couldn’t put my body into the shapes that I saw others around me doing because of my spinal limitations. Nonetheless, I had purchased the new student 1-month special, and committed to taking at least three classes a week. By the end of the month, I noticed a subtle difference in my back. I didn’t feel as stiff anymore and was actually beginning to see the beautiful benefits of the practice taking effect not just on my physical body, but through my emotional well-being.
Fast-forward to today, several seasons of practicing on and off, and it’s now been over ten years since I first stepped onto a yoga mat.
One of the most important things I continue to learn each time I practice is to honor the limitations of my body.
There are some poses that I’ll never be able to do because of my rods and limited spinal flexibility. I used to let that reality frustrate me a whole lot because I always wanted to twist just a little bit deeper in spinal twists, and pop into full wheel with one leg lifted toward the sky. Over the years, I’ve come to honor my practice just as as it is right now, and the timeline of how it is progressing. I’ve learned that my ability or inability to get into a pose doesn’t make me any more or less of a yogi than the person standing on the mat next to me. Everybody is different. And every body is unique. That is why we practice yoga: to learn to love and accept ourselves just as we are.
With the acceptance of my body, I’m also learning that my scars are nothing to hide or be ashamed of.
It took me a while to be comfortable revealing the scar on my back in public, whether that was in a yoga class or hanging out with friends. I never bought or wore the clothes with the back out in the summer months because I didn’t want anyone to stare or ask me about it. In my mind, I didn’t have a sexy back like other women. But who’s definition of sexy was I after anyway? It’s scary how we become enamored with the idea of being judged by others, when we’re in fact our own biggest critics.
I’m now learning to walk proudly with the scars that I wear: all of them. The ones you see physically on my body and the ones I carry from life experiences.
Scars don’t have to be hidden.
Instead of looking at these marks with embarrassment or shame, I now recognize that they’re a symbol of strength and courage: a reminder that I’ve endured something and made it out alive.
I am okay. I am fine right now in this very moment, just as I am.
Our scars are a reminder of where we’ve been, but do not dictate all the beautiful possibilities of where the future will take us.
In my case, my scar has helped me stand just a wee bit taller. And that’s always a bonus.
P.S. How did you find yoga or yoga find you? Please share your story in the comments below.