The Interdependence of Individual Healing
One night I went to bed healthy and strong. Then I woke up in the wee hours of the morning in inexplicable agony, crooked and folded in on myself, my spine screaming in cosmic tongues of ancient rage, my left arm curiously immobile. This was two years ago, when an amalgamated series of seemingly invisible triggers rendered me suddenly crippled.
The general consensus was that years of uber-flexibile, hyper-mobility combined with infinite variations of bad habits practiced via a decade of daily Ashtanga, ultimately took their toll on my spine which gave in like a piece of cardboard bent back and forth and back and forth and back and forth a few thousand times a day too many The vertebrae in my neck,C3 through C7, were badly compressed, smashing the nerves all the way down my aching arm into my year-long useless numb thumb.
I wrote about the ordeal for LA Yoga in 2008; while just tip-toeing back onto the mat whereupon I spent most of my practice in teary child’s pose. Almost two years later, I can feel my thumb, I can turn my head to the left (usually), and I can make it through the primary series, up to navasana (boat pose); and, I’m still immersed in this transformative healing journey that has completely upended my perspective on healing, on injury and on community.
The ensuing healing process has been a unique collective effort that continues to astound and inspire me and to break my heart in its poignancy and its generosity – and then put it back together again with its integrity, its compassion and its love. It is in honor of this beautiful community that continues to show up for me in the most selfless of ways, that I am writing this story.
Fiercely independent, I’ve historically held to a – literal and metaphorical – hard-and-fast I can do it myself motto, which makes sense as an Ashtangi who was never reliant upon the sweet sing-song voice of an instructor to guide me through my practice. Ashtanga – with its set series of poses, was the ultimate in autonomy – asanautonomy – allowing me to move my body six mornings a week for ten years straight with very little help from my friends.
Until that unchecked autonomy bit me on the ass.
In those early days of electric agonizing chronic crisis, I was fragile, breakable – and alone. I spent weeks holed up in my Beachwood bungalow, dazed by the pain, crazed by the lack of sleep and totally confused by my karma. My friend Tim Martin, CEO of IZO Cleanze, had juice delivered to my door daily, knowing I was in no position to massage kale, scrub pots or even remember to eat. My acupuncturist/naturopath girlfriend Simone needled me on the sun-dappled wood floors of my apartment, while holding tuning forks to my feet, sending healing vibrations to my schizzed-out nervous system. And Julian Walker, a bodyworker Tim drove me to see every few days for healing sessions, checked in daily by way of instant message, which proved to be an invaluable source of support. It is amazing how much “How are you feeling?” came to mean in those craggy days of chronic crumple.
Weeks into my thrice-weekly pool traction plus physical therapy regimen, Julian offered his perspective while watching me tie my intellect into threadbare knots figuring out the meaning behind the trauma: “Dani, some things really are just physiological.”
Julian’s comment, offered to assuage my frustration, only confirmed the deeper knowingness within me: We’re energetic beings expressing our inherent divinity through these physical structures. Every physiological experience belies a deeper emotional, psychological, spiritual, karmic lesson. Out of the weeds (sort of), and eager to dig into the next layer of my healing journey, I opted to dive deeper into the mysteries of my spine.
A healer friend, Tracy Feldstein, led me through Somatic Trauma Release and Gestalt work, encouraging me to connect to the emotions underlying the seemingly trigger-free injury. Tracy was quick to call me out on my “spiritual bypass” tendencies – to deny the experience of feeling my feelings with otherwise high-falootin’ spiritual speak which supported the rationale that I didn’t actually deserve to feel bad about my experience because I knew that, on some level, my soul was choosing it. Our sessions were a source of many breakthroughs, as she relentlessly held me accountable for my emotions – the ones I was ready to access – those dense layers of heartbreak and anger associated with parallel experiences that I hadn’t connected to the physiological experience I was facing.
At the same time, I’d started seeing Dr. Jeremy Brook, chiropractor and yogi who showed me exercises to keep my neck warm and lubricated throughout the day, and offered me a handful of modified asanas to satiate my burning desire to get my ujjayi back on. Still, my spine would only the hold adjustments for a couple hours at most, and the three day a week Westside schlep was grating on my sacrum, my nervous system and my psyche.
The dependency I was cultivating wasn’t resonating. The act of seeking help to heal my spine was only entraining my mind to buy into the notion that I was broken. The outward-clawing was calcifying the illusion of an inward-lacking so I decided to use the power of my mind and my will to set my spine straight myself.
I am an autonomous individual, I insisted. I am whole. I am complete. I am perfectly healthy and aligned.
I swore off the assistance of others, and engaged a deep and heady inquiry into the concept of need. I grappled with the idea every which way, understanding the benefits of service and support, while resisting the notion that they are requirements rather than options. The energetic charge to my obsessive musings was a sign that there was more to it than mere intellectual curiosity, but blind spots are so named for a reason.
I spent the next few months keeping myself really, really busy. The messy multitude of crap occupying my time/space continuum numbed me from the sensations of my crabby, crumpled spine – an ever-present source of low-grade pain that I managed with the occasional Thai massage, and denial – lots of it.
Chiropractor Dr. Max Levin is a fellow Yerba Mate enthusiast whom I often run into at our neighborhood juice joint in Los Feliz. We danced together as teenagers, and he’d recently gotten his boogie back on by way of Ryan Heffington’s Sweaty Sundays, a contemporary jazz class for everyone in Silverlake. It seemed an odd choice considering the heaping piles of broken rubble holed up in my shoulders, my limited range of motion and the constant sensation of demons chewing on my upper cervical spine and kicking spikey-studded heels into my sacrum, but my gut told me it would be good for me. It was. While my posture was never what you’d call dazzling, let alone decent, the injury rendered me hunched over and folded in on myself. My thrice-daily at-home physical therapy regimen (prescribed by Dr. Leroy Perry, the chiropractor who uncrippled me with pool traction and physical therapy) that I wasn’t keeping up with included exercises to open my upper cervical spine and pull my shoulders back and down my torso. Even when I did them, they were tedious, boring and painful. Back in dance class, I was opening my heart not because I had twelve reps to check off, but because I was having a blast. Plus, I was moving the clustered chaotic swirl of emotions through and out of me. My range of motion was limited and recovery time dodgy, but the joy of dancing proved such potent healing on a soul level that the time I spent icing down my spine and soaking in Epsom salts was well worth it. Dr. Max not only urged me to step back into my boogie-down, dance-happy self, he supported me through the process with pre-class adjustments, regular reminders to stop rolling my neck so violently, and weekly nudges to come in for the treatments and bodywork that my body so desperately wanted, and that I continued to resist under the auspices of I can fix this myself.
A week after I’d come back from a whirlwind twenty-four-hour rock-star jaunt to Burning Man, I received an e-mail from Body Unwinding practitioner Ryan Amsel, who’d read about my injury, and wanted to help. He arrived at my doorstep with a massage table under his arm and vague references to shamanic influences slipping from the underside of his slack Southern drawl. The session lasted two hours – he barely touched me; asked me just how busy I was keeping myself; sang, channeled and downloaded infinitely more information from beyond the veil of non-ordinary reality than either of us had expected and told me that my spine was wretchedly misaligned.
“Tell me something I don’t know,” I muttered silently. My spine was now more conceptual narrative than physiological structure – a story that earned exaggerated intakes of breath, and reaffirmed my warrior persona branded by the challenges I endured. The sentient experience of it was something I’d pushed to the far-reaching outskirts of my experience such that the biological reality no longer seemed relevant.
I woke up the morning after in agony – floored by the sensations coursing through my spine, wondering: Was this actually my spine?
Did it even constitute a spine anymore? Ryan hardly touched me, so I knew it was nothing he’d done, rather what he’d undone: Months worth of distracted busy I’d lain over my physical experience while avoiding the underlying issues that were now clawing for my attention with a wicked, jagged, burning vengeance. Every vertebra was pulling every which way but straight, with all the surrounding tissues, muscle groups, tendons and ligaments compensating in the most spastic and illogical of ways.
Allegedly, Spirit never gives us more than we can handle. The Universe gifted me an extended spurt of respite and mobility, and then, just when I thought I was in the clear, sent me a great, big batch o’ pain, inviting me deeper into my inquiry, beckoning me back inside, where more lessons were buried and awaiting unearthing, divots in my consciousness ready to be smoothed out.
And so back into the healing process I dove.
“Yours is the most severe spinal crisis I’ve ever worked with,” remarked Amsel, who said that until we cleared the energies informing the physiological distortion, my body would not heal. He instructed rest, myofascial release and chiropractic – immediately.
Jodi Blumstein, an (awesome, grounded, nurturing, bad-ass) Ashtanga teacher with whom I used to practice back when I was killin’ it second and third series-style, as well as a gifted bodyworker, immediately replied to my pleading Facebook status update.
“I hear a lot of story,” she said, while I waxed breathy and dramatic about my saga, face down on her table.
She was right. I was caught in the tricky, sticky web of my own narrative. Again.
“It can heal in an instant,” Blumstein said. “You know that, right?”
I did know that! I live my life guided by the infinite possibility of every moment miracles, and yet, somehow I’d tied myself into a thousand literal and figurative knots over the forever it was going to take to heal the mythology enslaving my spine.
Blumstein spent hours digging into the contracted walls that had become my neck, my pelvis, my iliopsoas – the generalized entirety of my torso.
“I’ve never felt a spine quite like this,” she said.
Amsel went the distance as a shaman and bodyworker to help free me from the karmic energies in which I was entangled. The methods he used were multifaceted, multidimensional and – quite frankly – really weird.
“Your spine feels completely different,” said Blumstein. “It’s like I’m working on another person, entirely.”With energetic shackles unbound, my body was finally able to absorb the healing it was receiving. Over the span of a few months, Amsel released the compensation patterns by way of his Body Unwinding technique, in which he uses the lightest of touches in just the right way to release the fascia lain over the muscles, freeing them to fire and release. The work was remarkable in its efficacy and its gentleness, gifting me the mobility and range of motion that had long been relegated to the realm of memory.
A year and a half later, I was ready to learn how to use my body again.
A passionate Joe Pilates method purist, Kara Wily was recommended by an old-school yogi goddess I trust implicitly. My first taste of Pilates – leg presses on the Reformer – was a shock to my system. My psoas was contracted all the way up into my ribcage. All the leg strength I’d thought I had from years of Yoga didn’t actually exist. Same for this elusive “core” Wily kept mentioning. Pilates showed me that I’d been using my back for ALL of it – for every balancing pose and every surya namaskar and every mayurasana – all variations on cheating originating from my overtaxed lower back.
No wonder I was in so much pain.
Pilates is humbling – there’s no show-offy anything to prove you’re busting ass and getting stronger. The “better” you get, the harder the practice gets, as you discover more ways the body’s compensating and slacking off. Wily’s passion and her unrelenting attention to detail was a godsend. With her half-dozen sparkly eyes glued to my belly, she noted when my pelvis was tilted out of position, when my lower back was doing my belly’s work and when my neck was holding unnecessary tension. She encouraged smaller and smaller and still smaller movements, so I could feel where and when my bad habits were kicking in. Wily shed light on the downside of my flexibility, explaining that because I felt no resistance while moving big and wild and free, I couldn’t feel my body in space, and had no idea what it was actually doing while I was flailing, over-stretching and hyper-mobilizing. With no tightness to bring a natural stop to my extension, I had no sentient concept of my body in space, and if I didn’t create an injury to feel myself, I wouldn’t know I actually exist.
Existential crisis by way of hyper-mobility.
Wily’s theory not only explained my relationship to my body, but to the entirety of my life. As a fiery, deepest depths-drawn go-go-go-getter with five planets in fearless, pioneering Aries, I had a habit of warp speed free-diving dangerously far and perilously deep, without second thought for comfort or consequence, until I was tethered, bleeding, choking or some variation on unsightly suffering at my own hasty hands.
Wily’s passion for Pilates was inspiring, while her patience and her dedication to my healing process were unparalleled. She held my hand through half a dozen one step forward, two (or three or four) steps back phases, where I would drag myself into her Larchmont studio exhausted and achy, sacrum throbbing, neck whining, frustrated from the lengthy process of not yet actually healing. It was always in those two or three step back sessions of tiny movements when I learned the most, when I clearly saw the habitual patterns of movement that weren’t serving me, that were taking their toll on my spine and my mind. Through this process I found my way to gratitude for the pain, and grasped the graceful lesson of the shadows, entities, the energetic razor wire winding its way around my spine, because the pain shone light on the distortions ready to be shifted into alignment. My leaps forward on my achiest days were exponential, and I understood the benefit of slow and steady, small and quiet, inheriting those lessons the meek glean from silence and stillness, space and repose.
Then there was Beth Friedlander – another Pilates teacher who helped me make peace with my body. Friedlander was the Yin to Wily’s Yang. Infinitely creative, Beth took a more circuitous approach, pulling from an endless arsenal of movements that allowed me to find my own way into the stagnation and the contraction – encouraging me to connect the emotions to the experience, to feel the frustration, to release by way of breath and call in the healing I was intending with every inhale. Friedlander encouraged me to delve into the rage and frustration I still wasn’t allowing myself to feel for losing my practice and my body; she held the space for me to rage and to cry during sets.
Friedlander honed in on parts of my body asleep at the wheel since the injury. She brought my adhesion-laden left arm back to life with exercises we did together and techniques I could use at home.
The Yin/Yang Pilates duo taught me tools necessary for me to support myself – authentically. Wily guided me into my core, where I was gathering the strength necessary to hold my posture strong and tall throughout the day without giving into my lower back. Friedlander taught me how to excavate my own body, to search out stagnation and how to release it myself – with equal parts curiosity, patience and creativity.
During Dr. Max’s adjustments, he asked me to tell my Pilates instructors to start incorporating exercises to strengthen my neck muscles. I was suddenly aware of this beautiful symphony of healing, and how blessed I was to move among so many gifted practitioners.
Working multiple times a week with both Friedlander and Wily, I became aware of the itinerant nature of my so-called injury. Some days the pain hijacked my neck, some days it clogged up my shoulder, some days it clenched onto my sacrum and every day it gnawed on my arm. Sometimes I could connect the pain to daily logistics and various bits of exertion, other times there was no logic, which begged the question: What is injury, really?
All injury, in as far as traumatic stress is concerned, means there’s something going on – blind spots, patterns and behaviors that don’t work for us – on an emotional, mental or spiritual level that you cannot find because they are unconscious. If you can’t find it, you can’t deal with it, so it comes into the body to allow you to find it, and thus deal with it. Unfortunately for you, your body screams more so than it whispers. –– Dr. Michael Kooby
It was relatively late in my healing journey when my friend Justin, who’d been holding my hand throughout the duration of the ordeal with massages, superfood tonics, magical healing chocolate, and strong arms to carry all that I hadn’t been able to, took me to see Dr. Michael Kooby. Dr. Kooby practices Integrated BioEnergetics – his ever-evolving and expanding amalgamation of Network Spinal Analysis, the entire gamut of chiropractic disciplines, Deeksha and an eclectic smattering of bodywork and other modalities he’s studied and experienced throughout the last sixteen years. In addition, Dr. Kooby is gifted with an eclectic arsenal of energetic mojo. He sees, feels and hears physiological, emotional and psychological phenomena that are invisible to most healers, and humans.
With the gentlest touch of a single fingertip, Dr. Kooby coaxes otherwise invisible coils of energy from points in and around the spine and connects them to one another, restoring previously blocked lines of communication between them, allowing them to work out their issues amongst themselves. He says he’s honing in on the resonant harmonics of stored energy centers and then connecting them to the parts of the system that are already thriving, such as the bound energy can fuel the already flowing energy, which makes for amplified efficiency.
After my first session, deep, dark shadowy emotions came flooding to the surface with a fierce veracity and clawing urgency. I engaged a daily Sedona Method practice with a friend who was experienced in the work. With this help, I practiced actively allowing – allowing for the emotions, the judgments, the doubt, the frustration – purging myself of their charge while acknowledging them and giving them the space to be and, ultimately, to take their leave.
We added bi-weekly body mashing sessions to the mix to release the holding patterns in the body. Suddenly I was shedding shadows and shoulder aches.
In my third or fourth session, Kooby was intrigued by a pattern showing up in the invisible lines of energy in my body.
“I’ve never seen this before,” he said, intrigued by the mystery he was witnessing.
The specifics of what he saw are irrelevant. I leapt to grasp onto the hyperbole – “never before” and all the epic, extremes of otherness it implied. They all came in: Blumstein telling me she’d never felt a spine like mine before, Amsel telling me mine was the worst spine he’d ever worked with – all these healers’ opinions that I’d latched onto and taken to mean I’m special, I am different, I am separate.
Can you say breakthrough?
Like the fish who knows not this otherwise invisible ocean in which she’s immersed, I was drowning in my own aching forest and unable to make out the individual trees whose tending would ultimately allow me to escape the confines of pain and injury and crooked.
Everyone is oriented according to their own unique amalgamation of experiences and environments, as well as their genetics, their karma and the energies animating the bodies with which they (we) so often identify. These allow us to see the world from an individual perspective. It was precisely these unique perspectives that shone various individuated beams of light on the myriad aspects of my injury allowing me to piece together the embedded lessons. No one fragment was the magical miracle cure. No one key that was offered was any less important than the others, be it Taylor Estes’ nurturing hand on my sacrum during her candlelight flow class, the subconscious reprogramming I did with hypnotherapist Stephen Clark, or my voice teacher, S.J. reflecting my tendency to push, strain and muscle through my everything, while I oohed and ahhed the length of my vocal range.
Every perspective mattered; every reflection was relevant; every gesture was essential to my healing.
It’s not that we need each other, so much as we are each other; and, as autonomous interdependent individuated expressions of this One, like Julian Walker so eloquently says in his Yoga classes: We take turns. We take turns expanding and contracting, soaring and falling, loving and losing, and it is the support and the reflections that we offer one another along the way that allow us to grow, shift and awaken.
I’ve spent many a morning meditation weeping tears of unfathomable gratitude for the support I continue to experience from the magical healing hands, and inside the infinitely expansive hearts, of this blossoming, brightening, ever-expanding, empowering community of seers, feelers, artists, healers and lightworkers. I am blessed to be part of such magnificent community, and I love the myriad magical ways we play together, support one another, vision, create and continue to grow.
Tim Martin – friend, cleansing concierge and CEO of IZO Cleanze: izocleanze.com.
Dr. Habib Sadeghi – the integrative physician who quieted down the nerves in my shoulder with a magical injection during the injury’s onset; gave me a three-hour IV drip between Radiohead concerts so that I could dance my way out of my crippling pain, at least for the weekend; and ultimately, sent me to Dr. Leroy Perry: behiveofhealing.com.
Dr. Leroy Perry – chiropractor extraordinaire who saved me from surgery with his swimming pool therapy regimen: drleroyperry.com.
Julian Walker – bodyworker, Yoga teacher and hand-holder: julianwalkeryoga.com.
Tracy Feldstein – healer and bodyworker who called me out on my spiritual bypassing tendencies: (818) 388 – 3883
Dr. Jeremy Brook – West Side eternally thoughtful yogi chiropractor who always practices with a smile and an uplifting attitude:
Dr. Wing at Yo San University – who masterfully needled my otherwise frazzled nervous system into a state of calm: yosan.edu.
Dr. Max Levin – East Side chiropractor who adjusted my neck on the fly and between dance classes: (323) 697 – 3545.
Dr. Michael Kooby – extra-sensorial spine master genius sent from heaven to flush my consciousness and wake my spine back up: (917) 803 – 8878.
Polly and Anna at Chiang Mai – my occasional Thai massage: (323) 465 – 1255.
Kara Wily – a Pilates purist with an inspired passion for the practice who gifted me my core: karawilypilates.com.
Beth Friedlander – infinitely creative Pilates instructor who guided me back into my body, and into the emotions beneath the pain: (310) 927 – 1663.
Jodi Blumstein – bodyworker and Ashtanga teacher who gave me permission to modify the practice to fit my ability and my healing process. Center for Yoga on Larchmont, and (312) 310 – 9642.
Justin Polgar of Yes Cacao – custom-blended raw shamanic healing chocolate infused with herbs, elixirs, superfoods and other magical potions to accelerate my healing process, and to support me in loving myself through it: (310) 279 – 8007.
Ryan Amsel – shaman and Body Unwinding practitioner/originator who gifted me with healing miracles: ryanamsel.com.
Stephen Clark – hypnotherapist and life coach who gave my subconscious mind a much-needed tune-up: (310) 617 – 7865.
Simone Kredo – the infinitely compassionate naturopath who held tuning forks to my aching vertebrae and my ouching arm: (646) 258 – 7675.
Sweaty Sundays – a big, bright burst of heart-opening joy at the Sweaty Spot: Silverlake.
Charisse Landise – lovin’ chakra healer/massage therapist who kneaded my aching shoulders on several occasions, while tapping into the karmic lessons laden within all that fascia: (323) 377 – 4017.
Jowharah Jones of Jowharah’s Lovin’ – delivered (delicious) medicinal, raw foods to my door when I was too crooked to (un)cook: (323) 382 – 5854.
Compton Rom at Ascended Health – kept me nourished with his Endurance formula for optimal muscle regeneration: ascendedhealth.com.
Taylor Estes – that sweet, healing hand on my sacrum during her candlelight flow class at Black Dog Yoga in Sherman Oaks: blackdogyoga.com.
S.J. Hasman at the Silverlake Conservatory – my rad voice teacher who keeps a keen eye on my posture.
Pop Physique – where a happy handful of enthusiastic American Apparel-clad beauties helped me to stabilize my hips with barre exercises, mat work, and consistently awesome soundtracks: popphysique.com
John Riley and his Lifestream Generator – John tapped into (one of the many) underlying issues holed up in the brick wall that was my upper cervical spine while transmitting healing currents into my body by way of his (amazing) consciousness-expanding technology: zeropointresearch.com
Guru Singh – who likely has no idea he held my hand through so many dark, dark nights of this swiftly swelling soul with his uber inspiring, al(l)ways acutely relevant podcasts:gurusingh.com