I have not taken a class since April 7. That day, I was in Susan Bowen’s 2/3 hot vinyasa class. She led an upbeat session that had us moving through sun salutations and modifications. I noticed something was wrong: I began feeling pain and discomfort in practically every pose and transition of the vinyasa, deep in my core and focused on my left psoas and radiating down by leg, up towards my hip and kidneys and across my hips. In the earlier stages of the injury, it was happened only in certain poses, and I would avoid them or get into them very mindfully. Now there was no avoiding the pain and muscle spasms.
In the middle of the class, I shut myself down. I did poses to soothe my core muscles, hip abductors/flexors and lower spin, laying or seated on the mat. I rested on my back with my knees propped on blankets. All the while my friends were sweating away in an active class.
For two month, since the first instance of the injury, I had rested the injury, making regular visits to my body worker, Howard Rontal, and then started taking yoga class after two weeks being very mindful in my poses and flows. During my daily routine, I was not conscious of any difficulties. At the gym, I did not feel any problem doing aerobic exercises.
Obviously, that approach did not work, because the injury (?) has flared up in a more generalized pattern. I decided to stop yoga classes again, see a chiropractor and check in with my acupuncturist, Kelly Welch, who had helped me in the past. More in future entries.
Acupuncture chart from Hua Shou (fl. 1340s, Ming Dynasty). This image from Shi si jing fa hui (Expression of the Fourteen Meridians). (Tokyo : Suharaya Heisuke kanko, Kyoho gan 1716). Courtesy of Wikipedia
My knee bothered me more each day as the week went on. Ibuprofen has become an essential intake several times a day. Last week, I could still feel capable of taking a yoga class. This week, it’s out of the question because of the increased pain and the sensation of instability. I was lucky to already have a Friday appointment with my acupuncturist, Kelly Welch, only three blocks from my office. Kelly also practices Ashtanga yoga and had two bad knees so he has first-hand experience about dealing with the problem.
I gave him the background on the injury, which I have already laid out here in excruciating detail. He asked about where the pain was felt, zeroing in on medial side of the knee. He really did not give me a “diagnosis” in a medical sense, leaving that for a Western physician who could use MRIs and other tools to rule out things like arthritis, torn ligaments and other nasties. He gave me some pointers about how to keep up with my yoga while not injuring it further by using a rolled-up towel or blanket between my thigh and calve behind my knee whenever I have to go into hero’s pose or similar poses that put pressure on the joint. He gave me the name and phone number of his orthopedist, who handles a lot of sports related cases. He also gave me the name of his massage therapist who has worked with people with knee issues, too.
Kelly did acupuncture on my right knee and left elbow (China medicine is into the yin-yang thing so a Chinese doctor would always treat the opposites to restore balance). He also applied some electrical stimulus, a slight sensation of being shocked. He adjusted it so that it did not reach discomfort or pain. And then he left me to simmer for 20 minutes. The treatment seemed to release a lot of muscular tension that had built up by the pain — and the anticipation of pain. As always with acupuncture, the treatment seems to wash me clean of tension and compressed energy. I feel lighter, more clearheaded.
Finally, Kelly set me up for three more weekly appointments for follow-ups on the initial treatment.
As soon as I made it back to the office, I shot off an e-mail to the optometrist’s office assistant and set up an appointment for next Wednesday afternoon, the soonest that he could see me.
Alan Little again comments on an entry in this blog and an article by Kelly McGonigal. He makes clear that there is more to ujayi breath than just trying to sound as if you have asthma.
My acupuncturist, Kelly Welch, tells me that both in Western and Chinese medicine there’s not much known about the lympathic system.
For those who have not investigated the Art of Living side of the site, the daily practice includes deep, rhythmic breathwork. Three-part breathing with a 4-4-6-2 pattern ujayi breath; three rounds of bastrika (a bit complicated to describe in this short entry) and kriya sudarshan, which includes three rounds of slow (20 breaths), moderate (40 breaths) and rapid (40) breathing. Some observers say that the kriya technique is a form of hyperventillation. That might be the case at first, but after the first few session I have not noted any symptoms of hyperventillation. It’s 15-20 minutes of very active diaphragm movement — without having to breaking into a sweat as you would with exercise. I suspect that much of the benefit comes from the effect on the lymphatic system.
The Art of Living Foundation promotes kriya practice specifically for medical conditions, like cancer, HIV and depression. It says that it has medical research to back up these claims.
I had a session of acupuncture treatment for the back pain that I’ve been suffering from for the past month. One of my yoga instructors, Anne Thiel, recommended that I try acupuncture, instead of a chiropractor or doctor for dealing with the lower back sprain. She recommended a young couple, Kelly Welch and Katherine Yonkers, here in downtown DC, only a few blocks from my work place. They were on my CareFirst approved list of alternative medicine providers so I got a discount. I would have gone sooner, but they were on vacation for the week prior to July 4th so I got an appointment as early as I could fit into Welch’s schedule. Since this was the first time, the session lasted 90 minutes — the first half for a general evaluation and history taking, and the second half was the treatment. Welch explained the principles behind the Chinese medical practice and explained how it would be applied to my problem.
I came out of the office without feeling even an ache in my lower back, a relaxing flush in my body and a new appreciation for an “occult science.” Admittedly, as soon as I made my appointment this week, the pain began to subside sharply. Today, it was not that severe and I even had some problems pinpointing it once I was lying on my stomach. I will have to see how I feel after my yoga class this afternoon.
I will have two more sessions, the first in a weeks time’, and then assess if additional treatment is necessary. I have read that back pain has a really low success rate for treatment, though my is not chronic pain so it may not be more prone to treatment. I liked that the treatment was holistic in approach and fit smoothly and neatly with my yoga practices: there’s no meaningful difference between Chi and prana — both are life energy.
Postdata: I noticed during my yoga class that I felt energized and in touch, even though it’s been a while since I had a class and I was out of form. It was a very emotionally satisfying session, even though my thighs ached from the deep lunges.