My father fixates on things.
He has a traumatic brain injury, so fixating comes with the territory. Since 2007, he’s been fixated on his drop foot—his numb left heel, the product of a spinal surgery where the surgeon clipped a nerve.
The Mayo Clinic defines foot drop as a neurological, muscular or anatomical condition that causes the foot to drag when you walk. In some cases there is need for a brace.
My father needed a brace. He needed a bigger left shoe. He blamed his drop foot for the trouble he had walking, balancing and moving through the day.
Nothing would fix his foot—he was stuck on this notion.
My father once took 20 minutes to use the restroom. Four minutes was used inside the restroom—the other 16 was needed to walk the 25 yards of the Macy’s aisle from the shoe department to home furnishings, and then down the short bathroom hallway.
“Dad,” I said as we walked back together to meet up with my mother. “You gotta get in shape. You can’t even walk anymore.”
He stopped in the middle of the aisle and starting doing a rudimentary foot-lifting exercise. “I can’t get my foot to work!”
“Yes, you can! You are using it right now!”
“No I’m not!”
“Yes, you are!”
“The other foot! I’m using my right one!”
He was frustrated with me.
In his mind I was still the same ditz, the same clueless kid I was at 13. He walked ahead. I watched him a take few steps—an uneasy, repeated sequence of slump, pitch, drop and drag…slump, pitch, drop and drag.
Snails did it faster.
“Well, yoga will help,” I said, catching up to him. “Honestly, Dad, yoga will help with that. Your heel, your balance, everything. What do you think?”
“Yoga is interesting,” he replied.
That scene in Macy’s was three years ago. He and I have done some yoga since then—yoga to help his injured brain, to help better his cognition and behavior and reestablish his sense of purpose. Today, the brace is stored at the top of my parents’ coat closet, all of his left shoes match his right shoes and he walks just fine.
Magic? No, just yoga.
The first time I got my father on his mat, boy was he annoyed with that drop foot.
“I can’t. It won’t work. My heel is numb. It’s impossible. You don’t understand!”
We were getting nowhere. He was mad, but he was right—I didn’t understand. I don’t have a drop foot. I don’t push into my back heel in warriors and not feel my back heel.
“Your foot works!” he said.
It does, and I have no clue what he feels like, but I am learning how to work around things that don’t work for me. Yoga and life keep teaching me that some things you just cannot change. You either get stuck wishing on the impossible and staying angry at what is or you figure out how to cope without those things you simply cannot have.
On a bigger scale: I can’t have my old dad back. On a smaller scale: my dad can’t have his foot back.
So we stopped our yoga-ing and had a chat about how to live, work and yoga around the things we absolutely cannot change. The answer seemed to be: focus on all the things we don’t want to change, all the things that don’t need a fix and all the things that are already working for us.
We agreed that we would both not focus on the drop foot—no one was even allowed to say drop foot—and he was to try to find other ways to balance in harder poses and other ways to find grounding if he had to step up or back on the mat.
Six weeks later, back in New York, I called him to ask about his drop foot.
“I don’t feel that foot anymore,” he said. “Well, I can’t, but now I don’t concentrate on it. And your mother says I don’t need to wear my brace. ”
Janna Leyde. I’m a yoga teacher in Brooklyn. I am currently working on publishing my first novel and also creating a place where yoga and brain injury professionally meet. Concerning the latter, I am certain that a yoga practice will not only help survivors of traumatic brain injury, but also their families. As I practice with my father (a brain injury survivor) my family and I are learning that yoga not only helps his mobility, but also his mind.
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Assistant Ed: Amy Cushing
Ed: Bryonie Wise