I have had many yoga teachers but today I want to pay homage to one who helped me to find my way through what in my 20’s and 30’s seemed to be something I would have to live with forever….back pain.
I injured my back when I was 20 years old. 6 years later, when I first started doing yoga it often made my back feel better. I also frequently re-injured myself doing yoga in those early days. I had great teachers and over time I learned more and more how to not overdo. However when I met Mary Paffard in about 2001 I was dealing with significant back pain that had plagued me for nearly 20 years.
At that time, I had been practicing 15 years or so and my yoga practice was fairly intense. I had gained a lot of strength but I also seemed to be having subtly more pain in certain situations and more consistently. I was no longer throwing my back out several times every year and laying on the floor for weeks in pain, but I wasn’t sleeping well because my back hurt so bad at night every time I rolled over or changed position. I could do lots of challenging yoga poses, including back bends, but I could not fully relax in savasana and when I would go to get up it would hurt to even sit. In fact, any time I tried to relax, I would end up in severe pain. Once I was up and active again, it was generally fine, but the transition from relaxing to activity was excruciating!! I even had to stop getting any massage or acupuncture because althouth it felt good during, I could barely get off the table afterward. I was also having a hard time sitting for any period (I quit going to movies) and driving any distance was a challenge.
So, I met Mary and in that first workshop my back hurt incredibly the whole time! She was asking me to move in ways I did not usually move in my practice and to pay attention in a different way as well. She used strange images that I had never considered. I remember saying at times prior to our meeting, “I do real yoga, not that rolling around on the floor stuff”, and there I was rolling around on the floor doing what I thought she was instructing and feeling a lot of pain.
And, somehow, when it was over, I thought, “This woman knows something I don’t and need to know what she knows!” I believed that whatever it was, would help me.
I immediately signed up for Mary’s next workshop was which was a few weeks away in her home town of Ukiah, California. When the time came, I was experiencing quite a bit of pain and I was not sure if I could make the 13 hour drive. I was motivated though and thought that maybe if I could make it to Salem, I would know if the trip was possible. I got in my car and I made it to Salem – I got out and stretched. I made it to Albany – got out and stretched. Made it to Eugene…..to Medford….I got out and stretched about every 45 minutes and somehow about 16 or so hours later, I made it to Ukiah.
My back hurt through the whole workshop. But I drove home only stopping to stretch 4 or 5 times!
I practiced at home and worked with what I had learned and I made that drive to Ukiah a couple more times that year and many more over the next several.
It took about 3 years before I really felt like I was no longer a person with chronic back pain. And now, althougth I still have a tricky sacrum, I go to the chiropractor on a fairly regular basis and I have to take some care with my back I do not have constant pain or even frequent pain.
When I say I am grateful for yoga being a part of my life I really mean it! It got me out of pain. But Mary was the guide that truly helped me to figure out how to bring that potential out of my practice and I am not only grateful we met but can’t imagine what my practice, and my life really, would be if we hadn’t.