Last week I was one minute into a downward dog of death in a yoga class.
I have always hated downward dog because after all these years of hard work my form is still lackluster. Some might say (okay, some havesaid) it’s just bad.
I never go unnoticed by the instructor. She will gently roll my triceps back and push my shoulders away from my ears. I expect this adjustment and have learned to surrender to it.
So I was perplexed last week when the the instructor leaned down in front on my mat and put her hand on top of mine. I assumed, or hoped, that she was giving me a congratulatory pat. Finally! I thought. I have the perfect downward facing dog. I was about to command myself to remain humble when she pressed down on my hand.
“You need to really spread those fingers and engage them into the mat,” she said. She pressed down harder this time, causing me to groan.
“Does that hurt?” she asked.
“A little bit. Sort of. Not really.” A decade of yoga may have taught me to listen to my body, but a lifetime of good southern manners has taught me to lie my ass off—even to myself.
“It looks like you can’t straighten your ring finger,” she said. The other students broke form and turned their heads toward me. I was, once again, the bad dog in the room.
“I injured it a few months ago.”
“Months!” The instructor gently ran her fingers over the swollen lump in my knuckle. “You need to have that checked out. Soon.”
I promised her I would take care of it immediately. Instead, I moved my mat to the back of the room during the next class. I hoped she would forget about me and harass someone else with her soft hands and concerned face.
But I’m never that lucky. This time she was kicking a little ass, too. She stopped us mid sun salutation to say,
Pain is your body sending you a message. It’s asking for your help. Allow yourselves to hear that message and heal.
She put her hand on my back and guided me into child’s pose. And like a child, I wanted to throw a massive tantrum and storm out. After all, she was not the boss of me. I’m an adult, dammit—I can take care of myself.
So why hadn’t I done that? First of all, I was drinking with friends when the injury took place. It would be one thing to injure myself rock climbing or banging out a winning round of tennis. Drunkenly eating cake and slamming my finger in the refrigerator door isn’t quite so sporting. It earns me not one bragging right. I will say it was lemon cake with butter cream frosting. It was delicious. You would have gladly sacrificed your finger for it, too.
And two, even though I have insurance, I’m not about to spend money on a doctor unless I’m close to death or I look terrible. Had it been an injury to my face I would have been at the doctor’s office in five minutes begging to make it stop. Excruciating pain, however, is so totally doable.
This is the quandary I find myself in.
Thousands of years of wellness wisdom has taught us to care for the body.
It’s a temple, a blessing, a home for our wandering souls during this brief stay on earth. We know that we have some ability to control our fates, hence all the vitamins and exercise and overpriced anti-wrinkle dream creams. It’s in our best interests to treat ourselves well.
But most of the people I know will spend their money on an ailing dog faster than they would themselves. I get it because I’m one of those people. My dog got her heart worm medication even when I was existing on Ramen noodles and box wine.
The ridiculous part of the whole thing is that I have insurance. I pay almost three hundred dollars a month out of my own pocket for a policy that covers almost nothing.
Hey, all that cake and alcohol is going to catch up with me someday. I know that not having insurance could sink me. Having it, though, doesn’t allow me to afford going to the doctor when I need it. It’s either pay for the insurance or go to the doctor.
Down through the years I’ve learned to ignore my body when it speaks to me.
Aches and pains are calls I refuse to take. Years of pitting my health against rent and food and Friday night drinks with my best friend (therapy is mandatory) made me put that ringer on silent years ago. It’s not that I don’t believe the yogic wisdom, I do. Orthopedic surgeons, however, really don’t give two tics about my beliefs. Neither do their billing departments.
Then there’s the fact that yoga classes aren’t cheap. I’ve decided that they are crucial to my mental and physical health and therefore non-negotiable. In the end, though, they are a luxury that very few of my friends can afford. I acknowledge that and I’m tremendously grateful for each and every moment on the mat.
As a yogi I have a tendency to be self-righteous when my friends eat crappy food and spend too much time on the sofa. They tell me they feel lethargic and old, and I marvel at their abilities to ignore what their bodies are desperately trying to tell them.
This wreck of a ring finger (I’ve taken to calling it my “decrepit spinster finger”) reminds me that I’m on that sofa, too. Most of us are. You have to make a lot of excuses in a system that asks you to break the bank for a broken leg. Either way, you’re broke.
Eventually vanity won, and my finger now has the full attention of an orthopedic doctor and a physical therapist. My knuckle swelled so much that people started noticing. Some of them winced when they saw it. In my life, it’s often my worst instincts that end up saving me. That’s why it’s so hard to give them up.
I’m trying to listen. I’m trying to learn. The message is hard to decipher. Namaste.
Editor: Lynn Hasselberger