Lessons Through an Accident

A Bike Accident

Yesterday, on my bike ride home, I flew off my handlebars going downhill.

I blacked out for a second, and before I knew it, someone was standing there asking if I was ok. “Your legs were over your head,” he said, (I know, impressive right?) and offered if he could take me somewhere.  I was totally disoriented, and the time-space contiuum seemed to all blend together. I felt fine enough to get on my bike, but I was so out of it that I didn’t have time to ask for the guy’s name to thank him.

The more that I think of it, the more that I am truly truly grateful for my accident. I’m thankful for the kindness of  a stranger. I’m thankful that my body, though sore as it is right now, didn’t suffer any broken bones. I still have all my teeth, and I can still walk around on my own two feet.

Normal is nice, and we take it for granted all the time.

Listening to the Animal

I rode my bike the rest of the way home, checked that I was mostly ok, and got on my mat. I curled up in Child’s pose, and just felt the weight of my body. A bit shaken up, I repeated “I’m okay” out loud a couple times, as to reassure my reptilian brain.

My teacher Theresa Elliott often refers to our “animal” within as the creature that we need to sooth and coax into focusing and relaxing. As much as possible, I slowed down my breath and smoothed it out, coaxing my animal to calm down.

I used the scanning technique in yoga, to go through my whole body to see how it felt, to hear what was talking to me. I have to admit, this will sound extremely cheesy, but there was this moment of tenderness, of me really giving my full attention to my body, and really listening to it.

The Gaitri Mantra

I sat up and tried to press my hands together, something I can do very easily normally, but was practically impossible at the time, because my wrists, especially my right wrist, were bruised upon the hard impact of the fall. I let my palms, and hands, be where they wanted to be, and started chanting the Gaitri Mantra.

I learned of the Gaitri Mantra when I took a Sanskrit workshop with my teacher Kathryn Payne, and there was a woman in class who was a devoted Bhakti Yoga practitioner. She had suffered from chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia for 7 years, and wasn’t getting much better through both western and eastern medicine. She learned to chant the Gaitri Mantra, and did it for 108 times a day, every day for a couple weeks, and the  symptoms subsided. She swore that she had been pain-free ever since.

I had always been somewhat skeptical of such stories, as my Western science mind has been trained to be, but at that moment, any doubt I had seemed to be insignificant to my body’s desire to chant. So I kneeled down by my bed with my shaken body and voice, and started to chant, Ohm Bhurbhuvah svah… The unfamiliar Sanskrit words filled the room, and I began to get so involved with the pronunciation and the pure sound of it, that I forgot how painful my wrists felt.

Stop Fanning the Fire, and Stay with the Breath

Last night, as I tried to sleep, my head felt heavy and dizzy, and I thought of Natasha Richardson’s recent death from a head injury. “Oh God, what if this is my last night?”, I thought. I know, it sounds silly and overdramatic in broad daylight when everything is fine. But in the dead of the night, when the mind is fearful, overactive and imaginative, it can go anywhere and is capable of thinking of anything.

So I thought of Pema Chodron’s teaching, and in particular the advice of “do not fan the bad thought”. Essentially, every time I think of something, usually something unpleasant, I am fanning it, making the fire bigger.

Then I remembered the lesson of being present, and went back to the good ol’ breath. I thought of my pranayama lessons, especially observing the breath. What is it doing? Where is it going? I laid there, just watching my breath, and fell asleep at some point.

Yoga for Every Occasion

This morning, I woke up and temporarily thought of going to yoga, but when I stirred and tried to turn my body, I immediately realized I could not do even a simple Downward dog at the moment. “What now?”, I thought. It was like when I was doing a lot of competitive running, and when a shin splints sent me sideline, I felt this loss of identity. “But I am a runner, what was I then, if I did not run?”

Luckily, there is a yoga for everyone and for every season. I had dabbled into Yin Yoga for a bit, but quite frankly, my go-go-go-ooh-shiny-shiny personality hadn’t really jived with it. But this morning, it was the perfect and most appropriate thing for me to do, so I dusted off my Biff Mithoefer’s Yin Yoga Kit, and put on the guided practice CD. Then, I arranged blocks, bolsters, and blankets together, and fell in a Restorative Yoga pose that I had learned from Judith Lasater.

Having had this accident has slowed my pace down, but it has filled up my heart with even more gratitude. Gratitude for all the teachings I have received, and that there is this thing, this tool, this yoga, in my life. My friend Brendan once asked me why I do yoga, and after thinking about it for a minute, I said, “I do yoga so that I can deal with the shenanigan of Life more gracefully.” It was true then, and it’s true now.

The benefits of doing yoga, as I have seen, go above and beyond being able to touch my toes. So breathe, breathe, breathe, and wear your helmet!