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.

Weekend highlights

Last weekend was truly epic. Since it was my only weekend off from yoga TT, I wanted to make the most of it. Here is a dose of highlights and spontaneous moments to share a few~

Friday night, I posed for Astoria Drink n’ Draw at Q.E.D. where artists come in with their sketch books, pens and colors to draw the model for 3 hours. The event began with 30 second to 5 minute poses and ended with a 30 minute pose. I wore a black one-piece, a neon green skirt and my customized black, white and metallic Nikes. I posed in the shoes, then posed taking them off and holding them up by the laces. I later did more dynamic poses, holding an ankle bind for 10 minutes and Pigeon Pose (Google it if you don’t know) for 20 minutes. You can check out the beautiful drawings of me on Instagram under #astoriadrinkndraw.

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Syed’s drawing
Lit up crutches from the 4/7 Drink n’ Draw
On Saturday afternoon, I went with five friends to Long Beach, Long Island. There was a massive art fair on the boardwalk selling all this hand-made jewelry and tie-die clothing. My friend Racky and I couldn’t control our spending. We got these matching Chakra necklaces with all 7 colors on them.

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Walking back and forth along the 2 mile boardwalk made me very fatigued. I envisioned a lazy beach day, but perhaps this was a good substitute for all the walking I would’ve done on my own time. For me, walking such a long distance is really like going for a run, except now I exert way more energy to walk than I ever did when I was able to run.


We all rented bikes to ride along the boardwalk. The last and only time I rode a bike since my accident was back in March, but I was with my parents and in a secure environment. This time, I was in a crowded place and had to rely on my friends to help me start and stop the bike. I was pretty nervous. I tried to stay as close to the railing as possible in case I needed to stop.

Racky’s brother, Jomel held onto both ends of the bike before I took off. When I was stable, he let me go. I peddled my feet, wearing my leg braces to keep them locked into position of the peddles.

I freaked out every time there was something in my way. A person, a biker, a police car, a lamppost. When bikers rode in my direction, I rang the bell several times in panic. Part of me wished I had a sign up that read “I’m disabled!” because people literally had no idea. It’s obvious when I’m walking down the street, but not when I’m on a bike. This is maybe the one time I wished I was treated like a porcelain doll. People were in my way, obliviously, and I feared that slowing down for them would bring me to the ground since I’m not yet capable of coming to a complete stop.

​I just breathed until all my anxiety flushed away. Riding under the tranquil sky and along the beach waves brought me to a state of zen. It felt so liberating to be on a bike again. Somehow, I got isolated from all my friends and went off for least 20 minutes by myself without stopping. On my first attempt to stop and call my friends, I placed my feet on the ground, but immediately lost balance and fell over to the left with my bike. About 10 people rushed over to help me in the blink of an eye. Luckily I felt fine and tried to just get up like nothing happened.​

My friends and I waited until 6pm to enter the beach because we were too frugal to pay the $15. It really was the perfect time to go. The crowds were gone and the sky breathtakingly changed from orange to pink to purple. I crawled like a dog to the shore where I found Racky standing and we slowly inched our way into the ocean. Standing and shivering together was more torturous and frightening each time we got closer to the waves. They looked so huge from a distance and the water was absolutely freezing. Once it was right below our waists, we were quivering as the break of waves kept crashing into us. I had to do my Warrior Ones to keep my body up from collapsing. Finally, we got closer, dunked our heads and rode our first wave. Right when we felt safe, a worker saw us from afar and kicked us out. “Closed!” he said. I got out of the ocean, looking all crippled, walking lopsidedly over the pebbled rocks.

We dried up and hung out in the sand as the sky grew darker. I practiced some yoga. I’ve never successfully done a handstand without the wall, even before my accident, so I gave it a shot in the sand. It was the perfect chance to practice while the ground was soft.

You learn something new every day. I can’t stand normally, but I can stand on my head.

The next day, I went hiking with my dad at the Kaaterskill Falls in Upstate New York, about a 2.5 hour drive from my house in Queens. We got there around 2pm and spent 4 hours venturing out in the wilderness.

The hike was very steep and rocky. I walked up with my wooden cane on the right side, using my dad’s forearm/hand to get up with my left side. I was sweating and breathing heavily the entire way up. At one point, we entered a never-ending staircase. My quads were on fire.


On the way up, we stopped at a waterfall that had a natural pool people were swimming in. I took off my clothes and went in with my bathing suit. The water was FREEZING. I put my ankle in, and then my butt and the lady next to me thought I was crazy. Since I barely have feeling in those areas, I was able to handle the temperature until I sunk the rest of my body in.



We hiked up to the very top of the mountain to see the viewpoint of the waterfall. Nowadays I can’t stop staring at cliffs. This one was 170 feet high. It’s hard to believe that I fell close to this distance.


Throughout the hike, I was getting many compliments from strangers, but this one resonated with me the most. A 40-year old man approached us from up the trail and shook our hands, looked at me and said “Excuse me. My name is Moose. I saw you hiking and you’re an inspiration.” And with tears actually coming out of his eyes, he said “I just sit on my lazy ass and here you are hiking here every day [it was only our first time].” My dad and I smiled and thanked him, and shook this man’s hand again who was so full of emotion.


I was so sore later that evening in my shoulders, triceps, quads, hamstrings and hips. From hiking to the point of total exhaustion, I had no desire to move any part of my body. I was pooped.

We had a nice vegan meal in Woodstock and got home from our long journey after 11pm. It was a rough PT in the AM.

New connections or stronger relationships?

Over the past 10 months, the progression of my recovery has been dependent on two major things: #1 Waiting for my damaged nerves to regenerate and form new connections and #2 Building strength in all the body parts that are functioning to compensate for the ones that aren’t.

Among many damaged nerves, the biggest issue lies on the lack of feeling and movement in my feet and ankles. One of the biggest reasons I cannot walk without a supported device is that I don’t have complete dorsiflexion (ability to move the foot up) and plantar-flexion (ability to move the foot down). You need these movements to take normal steps. You also need your ankles to hold your balance while standing. My ankles don’t have that control; they are wobbly, and I’m beginning to get muscle atrophy from not using my calf muscles.

Waiting for this function to recover has been painfully slow. Although I’m getting subtle feeling back, like the top of my 2nd left toe, there is still a very long ways to go. In January 2017, I was able to move both ankles up slightly for the first time in 4 months. That following March, I was able to spread my left pinkie toe apart from the others. Although these are subtle breakthroughs, they present hope for more future recovery. However, at the rate I’m going, it feels like this can take over 20 years.

When I ask doctors if I’m ever going to feel or move my feet again, they respond with an “I don’t know.” Unfortunately, Western Medicine does not have conclusive answers when it comes to the recovery of Spinal Cord Injury. There is no cure to make the nerves regenerate faster. I’m told that I have to just wait and see what happens, and that there is no guarantee that it will ever happen.

That being said, I’m giving 90% of the credit to #2 for helping me get to where I am today in my recovery.

If I didn’t have the arm strength I gained, I wouldn’t have been able to lift my body up with crutches. If I didn’t have the hip and quad strength, I wouldn’t have been able to walk around with 1 crutch. If I didn’t have the abdominal strength I have now, I wouldn’t have been able to walk with a cane. All of the activities I do on a daily basis to get me through the day such as crawling on all fours, waddling, taking the stairs, even standing on my own head have been attributed to the build-up of every muscle, every crevice of my body that has always been functioning before and after my accident and saving my ass through this surreal part of my life.

My new gains have enabled me to go hiking through extremely steep trails. They have allowed me to surf beach waves and swim in the deep end of swimming pools. They have allowed me to continue my yoga practice and adjust other bodies as a yoga teacher. I can ride a bike (although clumsily when starting and stopping). I am making the most out of life and enjoying the thrill of every moment, because even though sometimes I feel like Mr. Potato Head with missing body parts, I still have so much that is working.

No, I am not losing hope in the redevelopment of connections in my feet, ankles and calves because I do believe there are answers out there that Western Medicine has not yet solved. But in the meantime, I will continue to strengthen those connections that have never lost sight and have always had my back.

Finding my gold in the darkness

Hello! Welcome to my new blog. This is my first post. Thank you all so much for reading.

I want to invite you all on my journey of healing and recovery. My intention is to keep everyone updated with my progress, describe the different therapies I’m doing and share my triumphs and obstacles of every day life.

As many of you might’ve read or heard, I broke my back last year resulting in a spinal cord injury at T12, which has affected my ability to walk normally (you can read more about my prognosis by clicking the “My Injury” link on top).

Back in September, I began walking with a flexible walker two weeks after my fall. When I returned to NYC from Thailand, I continued practicing with a walker until I was ready to give the lofstrand crutches a whirl.

I practiced with the walker and crutches every day with my physical therapists around and outside the hospital, Mount Sinai where I was living for two months. Meanwhile, my friends and family would take me outside the hospital and wheel me around bars, restaurants and clubs.

After my discharge date from Sinai in November, I was free to walk anywhere and everywhere with the crutches and I didn’t let anyone stop me. I began taking subways and buses by myself, crushing several flights of stairs and taking long walks through the park. I ditched the ugly hospital crutches and bought myself an ergonomic pair from Amazon that had cushiony handlebars and built-in flashlights and horns. I even blinged them out with LED battery lights that change colors.

Unfortunately those got destroyed on a trip to Hawaii in January 2017. It was my first time vacationing since my accident. I went in the ocean with them and the battery of the horn started malfunctioning. Too bad they aren’t waterproof. Wearing my customized leg braces, I hiked up part of Napali Coast State Park and a much steeper path, the Kalalau Trail.

A few months ago, I said goodbye to one of my crutches. It was a difficult switch but I knew it would get me closer to where I want to be, which is walking without any supported device and eventually running.

I later replaced the 1 crutch with a cane, which gives me much less support and stability. I’m no longer crutchy- I’m caney.

I’m currently in my 5th week of training to become a yoga teacher. Since I need to touch something in order to hold my balance – even with just my pinkie finger –  I find the wall useful for a lot of the standing postures, such as Warrior One. I learned to modify all the yoga poses in order for me to receive the same experiences and sensations I’ve always gotten from them.

One of my biggest concerns of the teacher training was modifying the poses of other students. I neglected using my cane or crutches to get around the studio because they take up too much space in the tight crevices of yoga mats and I wanted to be totally hands-free. When walking inside an apartment or house, I usually waddle without holding onto anything by dragging my feet across the floor. But I can only do that in situations where I hardly need to lift my feet off the ground.

Depending on the space and the amount of students who attend class, I’ve been finding it manageable to adjust people’s poses while walking on my knees, crawling, scooting and sometimes waddling if there’s enough space. I’m finding mutual comfort in sharing the mat with other students when necessary.

Despite everything I’m going through physically, mentally and emotionally, I’ve found comfort and peace in having the ability to do almost everything I did before my accident. By choosing to have sovereignty over my own life, I’ve continued to follow my passions and make them work with my circumstances.