This post is not about food or recipes or cooking in general. The results of the story I’m about to tell you has led me to learn about myself, injury, healing and how much I need certain body parts in order to cook!
Last year started off great with a wonderful birthday filled with friends and vegan donuts in February and a spectacular trip with family to the Philippines and Japan in March.
Standing Bow in front of Cadlao Island in El Nido, Palawan Island, Philippines
I started taking salsa and bachata lessons with my husband. I was reconnecting with Ayurveda and doing abhyanga (oil massage) most days, eating a Vata-pacifying diet for winter, and following BKS Iyengar’s yoga course week by week in the back of Light on Yoga. I was set on creating my own yoga practice at home. I had been practicing Bikram Yoga on an off for 4 years but was looking for variety in poses and ways to strengthen my upper body. I should have just started going to Intermediate classes.
A friend suggested I try a new Barre/Yoga Fusion class and I did for a couple classes. Unfortunately, one class in April, the instructor was going quite fast in a sideplank/chaturanga/sideplank progression and I knew I injured myself. I’m usually not one to criticize teachers, but this was definitely not a thought out routine in terms of alignment and breath. I’m still not sure what happened but it led to bursitis of my right shoulder.
I ignored the pain for a month, thinking I would heal. I continued to cook for clients, do yoga at home and try to stay active. Soon wiping counters was causing pain. I eventually went to an orthopedist (1st visit in my life). I was given a cortisol shot but it did nothing. Then I thought I would just give my shoulder a break. I took the summer off from cooking for clients and did no upper body exercise, thinking that rest is what I needed. I did carry a 30 lb pack and did a 30 mile backpack trip in Yosemite but other than that was quite sedentary. The pain persisted and I started having a hard time sleeping.
When I went to salsa class I would be afraid the other dance partners would hurt me and often times they did.
I eventually went to see another orthopedist in late September, had an MRI, and followup that took way too long to schedule. So by October, I was told the space between my acromion and humerus and where the bursa lies is smaller than normal and that leads to more pain or pinching. My rotator cuff was fine. I was also told I had multidirectional instability in my shoulder due to weak muscle and hypermobility in my elbows. By this point, all overhead motion caused pain and external rotation was declining.
So moved on to the recommended physical therapy. My therapists were really nice and I learned about certain muscles that had grown weak, ie. subscapularis and serratus anterior. They told me to stop all yoga. The exercises they recommended were great but the manual therapy hurt a lot. My shoulder was not improving. Ultrasound therapy caused melanin changes in my skin and I still have discoloration. It possible the wrong setting was used by a new tech and my outer skin got too hot. The last 2 weeks of my sessions in November, my range of motion had decreased. I could no longer reach around to fasten my bra! I was wearing Rocktape a lot. I went to acupuncture and had massages. I was taking vegetarian glucosamine, eating lots of turmeric, staying away from stressful situations and people, and trying to go to bed earlier because I would toss all night. This is when I learned of the term FROZEN SHOULDER. Look it up online! It’s a problem that can last for more than a year and I was in the freezing stage. Chopping big carrots or squash was impossible, folding laundry hurt, vacuuming the house was only happening via the Roomba.
I started going through a funk, wondering if I was ever going to feel normal again.
Eventually, I thought that more heat would help as it was the one thing that made pain go away…a hot shower, steam room/sauna, hot packs, warm massage etc. I had been to a couple Bikram classes during this whole ordeal but I was getting self-conscious about what I could no longer do. The feeling after class was enough to keep me going. In December, all poses that involved the shoulder hurt tremendously. I could not raise my arms up sideways, only forward.
I still remember a 95 degree class (this is for newbies or those that want it less hot) how I cried during Ardha Kurmasana (Half-Tortoise pose). I could not straighten my right arm beyond a 90 degree angle or touch my forehead to the floor. This used to be such a restorative pose for me and now it caused so much pain. Comparison to my former self was a blow to my dwindling Ego. I completed the class with more tears and tried to look at myself compassionately in the mirror. I did 7 classes in December before our trip to Cancun/Tulum. I was feeling a little better and decided I would do the 30 day Bikram yoga challenge to see if I could heal my shoulder.
In my first few classes I was still having problems with a lot of poses that used to not give me problems. I felt lame during class but good after. Each day my flexibility improved. I wrote it all down in a journal so I could remember the progression and be thankful for each little step.
Day 2: I can touch my nose in Ardha Kurmasana
Day 5: I did a double (2 classes back to back)
Day 6: I can grab my right ankle/foot in Standing Bow and Floor Bow and pull my shoulder back a little
Day 8: Sunday class with my family and they could see my improvement
Day 12: I can keep my right arm up the whole time in Triangle
Day 15: I am starting to get my right arm under my body in Locust
Day 17: I touched my right leg briefly in Camel
Day 19: Some friends came to class and encouraged me
Day 23: Right arm under my body and lifted both legs a little in Locust
Day 27: Grabbed both heels in Ustrasana (Camel)
Day 30: Last day, family came to class, and I could do all poses!!!!!
I didn’t take any photos as I thought it would be weird to ask people. I know and feel how far I’ve come. My standing bow is just as good in my tropical photo but with more leg up and back arch.
When I started the challenge I was not sure of what would be the outcome. I was a little desperate!
I am thankful for this healing modality that required me to be determined and to make the time to come to class.
With the help of the dialogue, encouraging family, friends, teachers and the hot room, I feel like I have made a strong effort in healing myself. I’m not completely there as I still do not have full external rotation, but the improvement is amazing. It was also affordable, and no drugs taken!
Even though I’m not a doctor, physical therapist, super yogi in any sense, I feel that Bikram yoga is great for shoulder issues. The beginning series has no downward dogs, planks, chaturangas and other poses that beginners with shoulder alignment issues exacerbated by weight would have problems with. You also spend time holding poses, not flowing through them fast. I have never injured myself in this sequence as it is logical and every part of the body gets stretched or compressed each class. Blood moves through breaking up scar tissue. The savasanas between poses hurt me a lot in December because of the way the arm was supposed to lay, but eventually I could feel better circulation in the whole area. Besides more range of motion, strength, and confidence in my shoulder, I also lost belly fat and gained core strength, toned my thighs and glutes, released lots of neck tension, strengthened my spine, and increased my stamina to complete classes without skipping poses or needing a nap later in the day. I can dance without guarding. My sleep improves, my outlook on life is sunnier, and I can see more of a smile on my face everyday. Thank you Pure Bikram Yoga team!
I won’t take my health and my shoulder for granted and I’m excited to get back to cooking more delicious food without tears!