I injured my knee nearly three years ago. But if I’m being honest, the pain began in 1987.
That was the year I bent over in front of my pediatrician as he showed my mother the growing curve in my spine. I was ten years old. I remember feeling cold, wearing only fuchsia underwear that were a size too big for me and, I felt, slightly risqué for my age. As they went over the details of the progression, treatments, and complications (which included death from suffocation), all I could do was wish that I had chosen different panties.
My adolescence was spent in a blur of excused absences from school, time spent in visits to a specialist downtown, a man who never looked me in the eyes. At the first visit I was draped in lead robes by an x-ray technician who smelled like cigarettes and gum. She asked if I was pregnant, sheepishly telling me — a girl who had barely started wearing a bra — that it was a question she was required to ask of everyone. Over the years I became used to this ritual and no longer blinked at the request to know my sexual proclivities along with the rest of my insides.
At each visit the doctor would clip the latest x-ray film to a lighted box and talk to my mother about the degree of curvature of my thoracic spine. I would look out the window, flying over the frozen rooftops of Detroit.
I remember the visit when the doctor assessed that the curve had gone too far. I was 13 when I was shoved into a back brace. We girls tend to feel the very worst about ourselves at this point, but few have anywhere to put our terror except the pages of our diaries. I wrote furiously and angrily, hiding the book under my mattress so no one could read about my humiliation. I told only close friends about the back brace, though I am certain that many of my classmates could detect the large plastic corset I wore beneath my clothes. We are all our own version of weird at that age, but when the strangeness comes from our own being, it feels irreconcilable.
There is no beginning
The doctors will say that there is no scientific reason for a person’s spine to twist and turn as mine did; scoliosis is what they call idiopathic, meaning it has no discernable origin. But my spine has taught me that medical doctors don’t always look in the right places.
I declare that I have looked in many places. Urged on by this beautiful twisted spine, I have searched for healing from the mystics and the yogis. This is what I have found: In addition to the proclivity toward scoliosis, I was born with two other assets that have either grown in the same mysterious spiral as my spine, or caused it.
The first is that I have skin made of gossamer. I am intuitive, empathic, highly sensitive — whatever you want to call it. This means that I have the gift to feel the slightest shift in temperature of the people around me. This is the kind of thing that a person either learns to harness or falls victim to. I’m proud to say that I make a living from it.
The second asset is a deep kangaroo pocket where I could store the things my intuition presented to me that were unexplained and unexplainable. Carrying a collection of stuff that is borne of the gray area has allowed me to find incredible peace in uncertainty (I can come out of a hurricane with just a few hairs out of place) while holding a tremendous load. In my searching, I have learned quite a few tools that allow me to set down some of what I carry. Not all of it is mine. This benefits you as well as me.
The physical always follows the energetic, so it is no surprise that I grew the way I grew. That my spine, the physical channel that carries subtle energies, spiraled in such a way allowed it to respond to or unlock the unexplainable, intuitive connection that came into this life with me. Like an orchid climbing a tree, my spine was working for me, not against.
The wisdom of my body
I wish so badly that we could gain our wisdom from good experiences, but we are a stubborn species and I am not separate from that affliction.
My spine hikes up the angle of my pelvis, which pulls the tendons and ligaments in my left knee to be overstretched and hyperflexible. It was only after years of drying out these precious tissues — by eating little to no grain, running for exercise despite my body’s consistent disapproval, carrying a child while doing a million other things, and, yes, even pushing myself too far in my daily yoga practice that I was promised would help the matter — for things to finally show themselves to be as brilliantly aligned as they are. My meniscus in my left knee tore after a simple act of standing up from sukhasana (easy pose, or criss-cross-applesauce). I was laid up for six weeks to think about what I had done.
And though I thought plenty during the six weeks of recuperation, castor oil packs, and absolute rest, I had not yet earned my wisdom. It took another year of reinjuring my knee again and again and again until finally I got a clue.
I began to rethink my relationship to my body, to listen to what it really wanted. More rest. More rejuvenation. More joy and dancing. I shifted from jumping through sun salutations to lying still in yoga nidra. From always multitasking to focusing my attention on one point and staying there. From always moving (both my home and in my body) to looking at what I am trying to evade. From denying my pleasure to bathing in it.
There is no end (and that’s a good thing)
My knee has been quiet for a long time now. I have listened to her story, at least this version. Yet my spine still curves in a graceful C just beneath my ribcage. I don’t ask her to be anything different. Yes, she still bangs on my pelvis and plucks the strings of my psoas, but I now honor that she is singing.
My spine has taught me the truth that healing never ends. There is no point at which we can brush off our hands and call it done. Our bodies exist in layers (layers of skin over layers of muscle over layers of bone) and our energetic experiences are just as thick, so how could we think that a few months of any healing protocol will address it to the core? So why do we keep going? Because when each tissue-thin layer is lifted, we are as good as reborn.
I have this golden nugget for everyone, including the doctors who could not explain my curving spine: Let’s admit that we don’t have all the answers. Let’s admit that the body is a strange and beautiful place that is at once paradise and hell. Let’s not force this to be anything else. Let’s not force what is naturally fluid, changing, and mysterious to stand upright, symmetrical, and unwavering.
Instead, let’s play within that mystery and see what we see.
Curious what the wisdom of your body is saying to you? Join me for BodyStory, a journaling journey guided by Ayurveda. Over six weeks we will use the powerful sense-making tool of journaling alongside the expansive healing wisdom of Ayurveda. We start October 6.