How a Daily Yoga Practice Is Helping Me Forgive Myself
The accident compounded the difficulty of quarantine, and it was all my fault.
I took my first yoga class 17 years ago, and it’s been an on-again off-again part of my life ever since. Yoga helped me through two pregnancies, and it’s been something I’ve returned to repeatedly when my mind or body needed a reset. But I’ve never been able to muster the discipline to make it a daily habit. That is, until I shattered my wrist in the midst of a global pandemic.
Let me explain.
It was April, one month into lockdown, and my family was taking an evening walk. It was one of the many improvised entertainments we’d created to fill our suddenly strangely empty schedules. My teenage daughter had brought along her skateboard, and in a moment of hubris I asked her for a turn. This should have registered as a mistake before I’d even stepped on the board — I am notoriously clumsy and my lifelong aversion to physical risk had left me completely unfamiliar with anything in the skateboard family.
I stepped on the board, and it immediately flew out from under me. It was like a Bugs Bunny cartoon — startling and comical in its immediacy. As I fell, I reached my right hand out behind me to break my fall. The kids laughed, and I tried to laugh it off myself. I wanted everything to be fine, because I knew trying the skateboard had been a mistake. If I was hurt, it was my fault, and I didn’t want to admit that I had been so foolish. But as the pain began to register, it became clear I wouldn’t be able to be a good sport and just shake this off.
By the time we made it to urgent care, I was sobbing. Due to covid, my husband had to wait in the car while I cradled my right arm, tears streaking black mascara onto my mask. “Oh wow, yep, you broke it!” the x-ray tech chirped. My wrist was broken in too many places to count, just obliterated.
Over the next few months of casts and splints and x-rays and physical therapy, it was hard to move past the recognition that I had brought all this upon myself. I felt I had no room to complain or ask for help, because it was all my fault. My culpability in this disaster made me wretched. I was enraged by the slowness of the progress I was making in physical therapy, how many things I still couldn’t do. But it was a private rage, one I turned inward upon myself.
My physical therapist had me list my goals, what did I want to be able to do? I came up with three things: write, play guitar, and do yoga. My therapist drew in a breath through his teeth. “Yeah, yoga might be a while. If at all. Bearing weight on that wrist? That’ll be the last thing that comes back.”
Something that can happen in the wake of an injury or a diagnosis of illness is a kind of antagonism between the self and the body. A person can feel their body has betrayed them. For me, this hostility was multiplied by my own role in the whole fiasco. Not to mention that my autoimmune disease — psoriatic arthritis — was complicating the healing process. My body and I were barely on speaking terms.
In October, six months after the accident, I was cleared by my orthopedist and discharged from physical therapy. Not that I had regained all function of my hand and wrist, but the fractures had healed, and the rest, my doctor told me gravely, would be up to me. “Try bearing weight on it,” he said. “It’s gonna hurt like hell, but that’s the only way to get it back.”
At first, I tried a few yoga routines with modifications — just skipping any pose that called for putting weight on my wrist. Then I began gingerly putting my right hand down, keeping most of the weight on my left hand, but at least imitating the posture of downward dog. And then one day, after working up to it for weeks, I let myself trust. I shifted my balance to center, and my right hand held. It hurt, but that felt like a reasonable tax for my body to levy from me.
I moved my yoga mat up from the fluorescent-lit basement to my small office. I set my alarm a little earlier to carve out a few extra minutes from already-full days. I found an online yoga series whose approach and pacing worked for me. I reached out to a friend who followed the same series and set up accountability. And soon, I had cultivated a daily practice.
I do yoga every morning, in my pajamas, before the day has really kicked into gear. I come to the mat groggy and disheveled, my wrist already aching. I light a candle and focus on my breath. Every day, I begin by gently massaging my wrist, trying to infuse my fingers with love and warmth and atonement.
My body didn’t betray me; I betrayed my body. But every morning, cross-legged on the floor of my little office, we are slowly coming back to each other.