Living in Brittle Bones My Life as a Yoga Teacher with Osteoporosis
I’m the silent kind. I don’t like to share my ailments. I watch others proudly shape conversation around their physical suffering, but not me. For me, such talk is a public announcement of failure and an unwelcome reminder that I’m not in control.
The news was shocking, to say the least, as is any unplanned report that things are not as we think they should be. After submitting to a routine physical to lower the deductible on my insurance, I suddenly found myself sitting in my doctor’s office, staring at the solemn face about to pronounce news I didn’t want to hear. Through a murky, cloudy fog, I heard the words that I had very serious osteoporosis. Not osteopenia, not small numbers, but numbers that left the doctor wondering how I was still walking around in one piece.
I remember going to my car and sitting there, unable to find any part of me that could function well enough to drive myself home. I was frozen in fear. My doctor had made sure of that. I didn’t know what a DXA score of -3.8 meant, but I knew it was bad.*
I feared every movement I made. I feared my own body.
Fear is a strange animal and a real game changer, and it suddenly had me gripped in its jaws like some easy, willful prey. Just like that, my identity as a yoga studio owner, teacher, and practitioner, well known for being so vital and young-looking, had shifted to that of an old lady. I was scared, I was defeated, and I suffered in a prison of my own making. I feared every movement I made. I feared my own body. I feared the sound of a bone breaking. Nothing felt safe; there was no place to escape from the mental image of shattering into a million pieces and turning to mush.
I sat at home in my favorite chair, my shoulders beginning to hunch over, my eyes glazing over, and my loving spouse waiting on me hand and foot. When I walked, it was with great care. If I was brave enough to carry something, it was feather light. Fear had turned me into an invalid.
Slowly I found the desire to research osteoporosis, a disease I knew nothing about. I also wanted to know more about forteo, the daily injections of a hormone that my doctor insisted I needed (I had never been one to enjoy needles or choose easy access to prescription drugs, but I was determined to be open-minded).
Sitting in my chair with a deep need for answers, I became a research fanatic. I gradually became a self-proclaimed expert on the disease called osteoporosis, and on the choices for its treatment. For instance, I found that osteoporosis is called the silent disease and that it kills more women than breast, ovarian, and uterine cancers put together. Why don’t we know that, I wondered? I also learned that once a major already-weak bone is fractured, mending it together becomes almost impossible. There is then not much choice left for a woman except a nursing home, where her average life span will be 1 to 3 years.
Much to my doctor’s chagrin, I put myself on a “natural” plan for healing. I reached out to my friends and was disappointed that they had so little compassion for what I was facing. Apparently they were as ignorant of osteoporosis as I had been.
Over time, I realized that I had become so imprisoned by fear that I might as well be dead. The rebel in me finally came forward, and with it all caution vanished. I tempted fate continuously with careless movements and activities, shaking my fists at the gods in haughty defiance. Somehow my bones stayed knit together and graciously gave me time to return to sanity.
The rebel in me finally came forward, and with it all caution vanished.
My reaction to the diagnosis had been to jump between two emotional extremes, eventually bringing me to the real task of asking what thriving looks like in a body on the verge of shattering. How do I walk the thin line between fear and carelessness? How do I respect these bones and ask of them a sensible mobility? Each step I took became a practice of awareness and gratitude. My gait got lighter and more free. My shoulders and heart began to open again.
Proactively, I sought out my spiritual teacher, Pandit Tigunait, and asked for his wisdom and prayers. I sought out a Canadian-trained osteopath who knew the importance of working with my soft tissue as a means to keep my bones supported. I became a deeper student of prana.
There were two things I had to sacrifice to begin to reap the gifts of this disease. One was my fear. The other was the insane schedule I was keeping. Neither was easy to give up. Letting both go was doable, and in the end a small price to pay.
Two years after my initial diagnosis, I had a second DXA scan. With high hopes I awaited the results, only to find that there had been no improvement. The results showed the same number -3.8. I sank into a hopeless despair. But that week, I was gifted with a dream.
In my dream, I am riding a huge boulder that is rolling down the hill, gaining speed as it goes. I know instinctively this isn’t a good thing. In my dream I somehow manage to get off the boulder, stand in front of it, and slowly bring it to a complete stop.
I awake and begin to realize the message being shown to me. A huge thing has happened in the past two years. I have stopped the disease from its continued downward spiral, and I am now in a position of strength to slowly push the boulder uphill. Somehow I know it will be a long unknown journey, but I feel blessed and hopeful. I smile and go for a leisurely walk….grateful that I can.
*DXA scoring (99% accurate)
normal (-1) – (+1)
low (-1) – (-2.5)
established osteo (-2.5) or lower
severe osteo over (-2.5)