2canez on ice

When I visit my doctor, he is often stunned yet not surprised by the kinds of physical activities I pull off with an L3 Spinal Cord Injury disability.

When I was in a wheelchair, and could hardly walk or do anything, I was relearning all the basic things we often take for granted like bathing, taking a dump and walking up and down the stairs.

Once I got to a point where I was comfortable doing all those things myself, I started practicing yoga again on my own mat at home. Still in crutches, I fell in love with Pigeon Pose and was increasingly more flexible. I wanted to face my fear and take class at Yoga to the People, where I was practicing for 9 years before my injury, but I was afraid of what the instructors and students would think of my new condition.

I asked a PT I was seeing at the time what his opinion was about me going back, but he wasn’t in favor of it. I ultimately decided not to take his advice and instead follow my intuition (I also stopped seeing him). Ever since the day I returned, I was taking class multiple times a week until I decided to do Teacher Training that summer and become a yoga instructor. I believe it’s so important that I followed my instinct instead of the reasoning of others. I wouldn’t be where I am today if I chose to ignore the little voices inside.

Since I wasn’t new to yoga, the experience of relearning it with my new body wasn’t completely foreign. I already knew the poses, I just needed to modify them. Today I make use of the wall and hold my shamanistic wooden stick under my armpit for balance in poses like Warrior I/II.

After Teacher Training, I started taking self-defence classes in Krav Maga, which utilizes martial arts techniques from the Israeli military. This was really foreign to me, since I’ve never taken any marital arts classes in my life except for a few Karate classes when I was a kid. Not only did I face the mental challenge of learning these techniques and memorising all the steps, but I had to figure out unique and clever ways to modify them for my unique body. I’m so lucky to have met the most amazing instructor, Mike who gave me very personalised attention in the beginning and helped me modify certain moves on the spot. He told me my sticks were the best weapons he has ever seen, and that I can use them to hit people in the groin. He has been one of many role models throughout this journey of recovery.

When I walk into new pilates, yoga or barre studios, I am confident I know what I’m doing after having the experience of being in several similar classes weekly with ClassPass. I no longer feel the need to prove myself to any instructor who may doubt my ability.

But ice skating was a whole other trip.

Initially, I didn’t want to do this alone. I wanted someone there for support. As badly as I wanted to do this, I wasn’t fully confident about it.

I tried finding a friend to go with, but a lot were unavailable and/or uncomfortable with the idea. I grew too impatient waiting for people to change their minds or free up their schedules, so I just did it alone, on my own time. I figure, just like going to the gym or going to work, you can’t expect people to go with you. Looking into my reflection of a train window, I told myself “If you want to go ice skating Hannah, just do it.”

Of course I chose the most crowded day of the year to experiment. I arrived in Bryant Park on a Sunday night a few days after the Christmas tree lighting ceremony on an hour-long line behind 500 ice skaters. I immediately felt that all the odds were against me. Not only was the rink extremely packed, but I wasn’t even sure how to skate with my condition or if I would find skates to fit my braces in. I also feared getting rejected by the staff.

As I waited on line, I felt all the stares of people wondering what the hell I was thinking. One girl asked what the sticks were for and I told her I use them for walking, climbing mountains and now ice skating. I showed her the metal contraptions I bought from Amazon that I screwed to the bottoms of my sticks to grip the tips into the ice. Normally people screw these contraptions to their canes to prevent slipping on the ice on the streets, but I was about to use them for ice skating. People eaves dropping on line looked very intrigued.

When my turn was up, I had already anticipated what to expect. I walked up to the window and casually requested a pair of adult skates. The girl looked at me and then looked down at my two sticks.

“Ma’am, there are no objects allowed in the rink. You will need to check those.”

Me: “I need these to skate.”

“You can’t skate without those?”

Me: “No, I use them to walk…”

“Do you have some type of medical condition?”

Me: “Yes but it hasn’t stopped me. I climb mountains, I do Krav Maga, yoga, etc…”

“Hold up– let me find the manager.”

A male worker returned to tell me that the manager declined my entrance. I told him this was discrimination and demanded to speak to her myself. He brought me to a corner to wait for her.

Twenty minutes later, she arrived. I explained to her that I use these sticks to go ice skating, and had to fake some confidence like I’ve done this several times before.

She said that she offers services for people with disabilities and insisted it was too crowded, that it would’ve been better for me to show up at an earlier time when there was less people. I told her I didn’t want her services, so she relented by offering to have someone wheel me around in a wheelchair. I politely declined her offer.

I couldn’t stand this lady and her closed-minded mentality. I finally had it.

“You know this is discrimination right? I’m prepared like everyone else. I have my sticks, ice grip tips and leg braces. I understand my body and what it needs.”

While I may have seemed really confident on the outside, I was silently shitting my pants. I had to fake it until I made it.

The manager gave in. “Okay, as long as you understand that we’re not liable for anything. Everything you’re doing is at your own risk.” I nodded my head and reassured her that just like everyone else, I was responsible for anything that could’ve happened to me.

After having that wasteful argument, the manager decided not to charge me for anything. Once she let me in, all the workers were very accommodating in helping me find the correct shoe size to fit my leg braces inside them.

After two hours of squeezing and shuffling my leg braces inside a women’s 9 (which was too small) and a women’s 10 (which was too big), I settled with a men’s 8. I finally had my skates on and was ready to slide around. I couldn’t believe how much time has passed and how exhausted I felt already, and I haven’t even approached the ice yet. It felt like the hard part was already done.

As I approached the rink, I saw so many people slipping and falling. I took a step forward and gripped onto the ice for dear life with my two hands grasping the sticks. I started dragging my feet forward without lifting them off the ground, using all the work of my upper body. It was so difficult. I couldn’t stop sweating.

Suddenly I fell on my ass and people were in shock, but I was okay. I got up and tried again. I was nervously steady and careful.

I practiced until I found a technique that worked for me. Opposite stick, opposite leg. 1, 2, 3, 4 (repeat). I became comfortable and made several slow rounds around the rink. I couldn’t believe how much of a workout I was getting in my hamstrings, hips, arms, abs and chest. I decided then and there to make “ice therapy” a new addition to my weekly workout regimen.

Today I returned to Bryant Park to practice again. I continued the same technique I picked up from last time. After making my way 3 or 4 times around, I became more comfortable with my surroundings. This was my jungle of ice. Once I gave up the fear of falling, I began gliding instead of “ice walking.” I fell on my butt a few times but got up, brushed myself off and continued what I was doing.

Falling is always deemed negatively by our society, but in order to succeed innovatively we must fall and get back up. If we don’t fall in life, we will continuously follow old habits and patterns that disable us from moving forward.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how or why I have such a high drive to push myself past my limits physically. If I was a natural couch potato who stayed home all day eating popcorn and watching Netflix, my recovery would’ve been a lot more grueling. I had to work really hard to get to where I am today, and I don’t think I would’ve had the motivation and determination if I hadn’t enjoyed the physically demanding labor this recovery requires.

This made me realize that I have other challenges in my life that I’ve been putting off. I tend to give up easily on things I don’t enjoy as much as exercising, such as reading difficult novels or keeping up with this recovery blog.

Sometimes fighting challenges includes fighting the ones that may not be the most enjoyable, but when we struggle we become better versions of ourselves.

The art of standing balance postures

Before doing teacher training at Yoga to the People, I’ve underestimated the benefits of Tadasana, or Mountain Pose. Typically after a forward-fold when the head hangs heavy and the legs are straight, you enter this pose by lifting your arms up and over your head, standing up tall, relaxing the shoulders but keeping your arms straight with your fingers spread wide apart, pinkies slightly tilted inward.

I never considered this pose to be physically rigorous or complex. I took it as means of easing students into their yoga by instructing them on doing something they are largely familiar with. We stand all the time, how hard could that be?

There is nothing strenuously difficult about standing in the work-out culture, unless you have a chronic injury or medical condition. The question is, how often do we stand with full awareness of our bodies from the inside out?

We use the same fundamental knowledge of this pose to master more complex ones. In a headstand, one must find stacking and alignment of various muscle groups to find balance in the posture. Imagine gravity pulling all of your body weight down from the very top, like a building crashing to very the bottom. You’re using your forearms, triceps, and shoulders to keep that chest lifted. Your chest is supporting your core, your core is supporting your tailbone, and everything leading up to the souls of your feet are keeping your legs straight up in the air. To sum it up, the weight is going more into your arms and less into your legs.

For me, this pose is more doable than a regular stance. Because my upper body is constantly doing a majority of the work to support my lower body when I walk daily using sticks, I am much more capable of standing up-side down than standing upright free-handedly. And when my arms and chest become even stronger, perhaps it will be easier for me to walk with my hands than with my feet.

In order to stand upright again, I must apply that same weight-bearing concept of head-standing to performing an upright stance.

In this video, I begin by finding my balance in a standing posture. Then I add the challenge of lifting my hands up and over my head. Now my lower body is bearing the weight of my upper body instead of the other way around. Since my calf muscles still lack complete mobility, I make use of my braces while standing to mimic some of the lost ankle function.

Right now, standing free-handedly with my arms up in Tadasana is like doing any difficult balancing posture I performed before my accident, like balancing on one foot.

Because my muscles aren’t all working synergistically as they used to, I have discovered harmonious alignment in the stacking of joints and muscle groups.

I feel everything sinking down towards the bottom. My hips are stacked over my knees over my ankles, and my lower and middle body is supporting my upper body up like a mountain. I cannot lift my arms up without falling until I have established a firm base of lower and middle body.

Notice how my lifted arms lose their solidity when my lower body unsettles. When I fall apart, it goes beyond the physical. It takes a very relaxed mental state for me to hold this posture.

Has anyone ever told you to stare at an object or shape that isn’t moving in a balancing posture? For me, I need to stare at a mark on the floor, or something that makes me feel really really relaxed, not a piece of mildew or green slime hanging from the wall. I cannot be distracted by loud TV or people shouting in the background. I need to fall into a daydream so that I forget I’m even standing. The fear of falling causes me to fall.

Once I’ve entered that deep state of mind and I’ve found balance in this posture, I can begin to find connection with my paralyzed body. Throughout my recovery, I’m learning that silence does not equal nonexistence. That just because your TV is on mute doesn’t mean that the show isn’t still playing. Part of my body is on mute but it’s still there. It deserves to be recognized.

As the weight of my upper body and quads sink into my ankles, I can sense the hollowness of my ankles causing my joints to wobble and shake. Yet surrounding that hollowness, there is some connection traveling down towards the bottoms of my feet. I can feel the outer ball and heal of my left foot and inner side of my right foot kissing the walls of my braces. Bearing weight onto my ankles rather than onto my sticks or a wall gives the silence of my lower body a voice. Mountain Pose, a deceivingly complex yet seemingly simple pose has allowed me to connect my mind with my silent body and unravel some of these body mysteries.