Monthly Archives: November 2011

Can you say ‘Spondylolisthesis’?

Can you say ‘Spondylolisthesis’?

Well done if you can!  I personally still find it a bit of a tongue twister.

The anatomy geeks out there will know exactly what this is, but for those of you who’ve never heard of this or are a bit rusty on the old anatomy front, to quote fellow yogi, Jennifer Aniston from her classic L’Oreal commercial, “Here’s the science bit”:

“The term spondylolisthesis refers to the anterior slippage of one vertebra on another, most commonly L5 on sacrum or L4 or L5.  This can be caused by a fracture of the ‘pars interarticularis’; often the result of high impact falls as in a skiing accident.  It can also be a congenital defect’” - Chris Swain

Chris is the anatomy guru from my YTT course – an award-winning osteopath and a yoga practitioner and teacher for over 20 years. He even has a name given to him by his teacher who he lived with in a temple (though he told us he never uses it now – probably not so necessary at home in the UK, but that’s by the by).  Basically, Chris knows his stuff.

Anyhow, it looks like spondylolisthesis might be what has been causing my sciatica according the x-rays I saw of my spine in the chiropractor’s consultation room.  In my case it looked like L5 had slipped onto S1, hence the pressure on the sciatic nerve.  I also noticed a nice ‘S’ shaped curve in my spine – right thoracic scoliosis – an unexpected, though not entirely surprising bonus.

“I have a tilted womb – welcome to getting older world! Can I be in your gang?” 

That was one of the first responses I got from a friend after sharing the news. This is why I love my mates.

Pain is a great motivator and it was pain that got me to chiropractor’s office.  In the month or so running up to final YTT assessments backbends had gone from slightly uncomfortable to definitely painful.  (As it happens, extension of the spine – backbending – is contra-indicated for spondylolisthesis, which would explain the pain I was experiencing.) After the best part of three frustrating years of trying to confirm the cause of my sciatica and patching myself up in between, this was the final straw.  Yoga is the only thing that has consistently helped, but now I needed to take some other action.

Maybe because I am in denial or maybe because I am stubborn, I am getting a second opinion.  I want to be absolutely sure about what’s going on so that I can make an informed decision with regard to what to do about treatment.  I’ve just had more x-rays done, at hospital this time, and get those results back with my doctor in about a week’s time.  Though before I went to get changed out of the rather flattering hospital gown after the x-rays were done, the radiographer did comment, “Oh yeah, you can see the scoliosis straight off”.   I suspect she wasn’t meant to say this, as when I asked if she saw anything in the lumbar spine area she got a bit flustered and mumbled something about just seeing the curve of my lower back.

Crap.  Is that a bad sign?  That got me really paranoid about what she did or didn’t see on the x-rays…

I’m having an MRI scan tomorrow which I am really glad about.  It should confirm what’s going’s on – whether it is definitely spondylolisthesis or something else.  But I’ve started to feel a bit anxious about it.  Not about the scan itself though. I’ve started to wonder about the potential outcomes and what that might mean for me teaching-wise.  I know my mind should not be racing ahead and speculating, but this wasn’t quite the situation I had envisaged right after graduation.

My practice has changed over the past weeks – less frequently and certainly no backbends, for now. And no dynamic practices which has been frustrating.  It’s shown me in a big way just how attached I’ve become to my physical practice.  And with other stresses going on in my life, my practice – the thing I would usually count on – is in flux.  And I don’t feel comfortable with that yet.

I went to a class recently where the teacher said that injury can be a gift.  An opportunity to re-focus. That’s how I am trying to see this time.  The learning never stops and, I feel, there are some new lessons for me to learn here.

Graduating YTT

Graduating YTT


“Never get tired of doing little things for others.  Sometimes those little things occupy the biggest part of their hearts” - Anon


I’ve been AWOL on the blogging front over the past four weeks.

There’s been a fair bit of ‘life stuff’ going on, and it all seemed to culminate just at the point where I was gearing up for YTT final assessments.  I had all my plans for how and when I was going to practise, teach, study, extra classes I would go to…  I had even drawn up a schedule.  I was so proud of myself for being sooo organised and so on top of things and then… life happened.

My mother likes to say (a lot), “Man plans and God alters”.

When it comes to life we often like to think we are ‘in charge’ but really we’re not. It is up to us to take responsibility for our actions, yes, but where we are in charge is in terms of how we respond when those things we really had not anticipated happen. Especially those things that blindside us.  Those things that seem so unfair.  Those things that go against the natural order and don’t seem to make any sense.

I’ve noticed recently that so many of the people around me have been going through tough times.  And not in a ‘having a bit of difficult time with that arsehole at work’ way but in gut-wrenchingly sad, big life-event ways.

It’s reminded me that even when we have challenging things happening in our lives, so do other people.  It’s reminded me of the importance of trying to be kind.  You never really know what someone else you encounter might be dealing with.  There have been so many times in the past few weeks where people have extended what may, to them, have seemed the smallest of gestures, but those acts of kindness have meant so very much to me in those moments.

In the run up to final YTT assessments, my experiences and those of my friends and others around me made me reflect even more on why I want to teach.  People come to yoga for so many different reasons.  Whether it’s for a workout or to de-stress it all comes back to wanting to feel better in some way.  I have been so anxious about final assessments and beginning to teach for real.  I’ve worried about finding my voice and not looking the part, but I worked out that the ultimate reason for my anxiousness is neither of those things. It’s because I see it as such a responsibility.  I know how much yoga has helped and continues to help me and I want to be able to facilitate that for other people in some way.

Well, despite things not going according to (my) plan, I did my best and…. I passed! My fellow trainees and I graduated from YTT.  I feel so lucky that I got to do this course with this group of people and our wonderful tutors. It was sad saying goodbye at the end of the course, but I know this is just the beginning for all of us.  It’s less than a week since we graduated and one of my fellow trainees, Stew has already taught his first class (rather brilliantly too :D  I was privileged enough to be there in the front row!)

As I think about what to do next and begin to seek out teaching opportunities, I know that I still feel nervous about teaching, but at least I know where those nerves stem from and that it’s natural to feel this way.  I’ll take this great advice from course director, Allie as I go forward:

“It takes courage to stand up in front of a group and share the knowledge you have learnt.  The art of teaching comes from experience and being true to yourself.  Enjoy it and teach in a way that resonates with you.  It is such a wonderful thing to share with others, and over time you will realise the positive impact it has on other people’s lives.  I get told by my students from time to time, how life-changing yoga has been for them, mentally or physically.  These affirmations give me gentle reminders of the gift of yoga, and how lucky I am to be able to share such wisdom.”

Thanks so much to Allie, Toni, Bryony, Chris and Em.  To all my teachers and fellow yogis who have encouraged me along the way.  And my fellow trainees – the Class of Autumn 2011 :D