Three days before my college graduation, I had the misfortune to be a passenger in a Subaru that broad-sided a Lincoln Continental. At the hospital, the doctor asked me what I did for my scoliosis. "What scoliosis?" I asked, unsure whether it was a spine or a liver problem. "This one," he said, holding up an x-ray that looked more like a roller coaster than a spine.
Up to that point I had no problems with my back. I trained in Karate and Kung Fu, and though my left side kick and right front kick wobbled when thrown, I always assumed it had something to do with laziness. In the back of my head, I had wondered why I could do a split but not touch my toes. But, like many other 22 year-olds, I moved on to other thoughts rather than resolve those.
After the accident, I spent nearly two years trying to contain a constant, severe ache. Doctors recommended nautilus and walking. Chiropractors shrugged and apologized. Two years after the accident, I returned to Tai Chi. Not long after, I got Rolfed. After that, when I practiced diligently, I could have pain-free days if I didn’t stress my back.
Unfortunately, at that time, I owned an ice cream truck business. If you have never had the pleasure of spending eight hours a day hunched up in an ice cream truck, let me inform you that being an ice cream truck driver, and especially, knowing other ice cream truck drivers, can really stress your back. So, I resigned myself to constant, low-level pain.
By 1990, I was out of the ice cream truck and in an office. I practiced my form regularly and had contained my back problems. It ached when I was tired, stressed or physically active. I was prepared to live with that.
Then, in August of 1990, after reading several of Dr. Yang’s books, I stopped by the YMAA school just to take a look. From the first warm-up exercises, I saw a new path. Immediately, I saw how the spine loosening and flexing serve a focal point of the training. I watched people who had invested years learning how to move the spine, how to relax the joints and free up the muscles in and around the spine. The fluid motion blew me away and the process opened my eyes. Although over the years I had bored many a friend with back pain discussions (have you ever been engaged in an interesting discussion of someone else’s back pain?), I didn’t know my back. I didn’t know how to move individual pieces and relax individual muscles.
The health benefits associated with learning to move this way are enormous. I am, except when I do something stupid (and I do), entirely pain free. I own a small restaurant, where I also cook. I can spend 10 hours on my feet with the fryolators gurgling, hood vents howling and the customers screaming and go home pain-free. But it is more than that. My self-image has been transformed. I no longer feel like the person who can’t help move a couch. I no longer wonder whether a hike is going to cause me pain. Though people in my classes might beg to differ, I feel supple. I believe that I too can move like a reed.
I am very grateful for my YMAA training, particularly for the relaxation of my spine. It has freed me from pain, and shown me a path to being healthy.