We are all blessed with a powerful mind-body connection. Sometimes we lose touch and disconnect. Whether our disconnection happens by consuming food until our stomach hurts, playing a sport despite having an injury which should have sidelined us, or acting in one way when our gut is recommending another course of action, we’ve all been there and can relate. Sometimes we are connected. We can meditate ourselves into a state of peace, love, and abundance. As we move through life, it’s likely that we are transitioning in and out of this connected state of mind and body. Yoga is the practice of connecting the mind and body, of ‘yoke’-ing, of finding a union between the mind, body, and soul. I am a firm believer in the idea that we are all in a practice, practice not perfection. Inevitably, we will fall out of connection, and in those moments there is a valuable lesson to be learned. It’s up to us to constantly be checking ourselves in order to stay in the flow of connection. If we stay vigilant, not only do we learn the lesson, but we can then bring ourselves back to connection. Allow me to explain what I mean.
When I was a little girl, I slammed my middle finger in a door...three times. The first time it happened, I had stitches. The second time was at a field trip to a Japanese restaurant. The third time was in the hinge of a large, dense fire door that led to my family’s garage. Upon further thinking, I believe it was four times because there was also a car door slamming incident in there somewhere. Anyways, as you can imagine, in my finger’s attempt to heal, I had a vicious sore grow. I was still quite young, all of this middle finger trauma happened in elementary school. I went to the doctor, he froze off the growth and I was left with a small wound.
I will never forget what the doctor said at this visit. He said, “I want you to look at this finger, everyday, and say, I hate you wound and I want you to go away.” At first I thought the doctor was joking, I laughed, but he was not joking. My homework was to in fact look at my finger and repeat this saying several times a day. He had me repeat the saying in front of him a few times to practice and he made sure I made eye contact with my finger. The doctor was very clear and adamant on this homework assignment and even pointed out how effective this treatment had proven with patients in the past. My wound healed and I thought it was because of my persistent requests for the wound to go away, I had followed my doctor’s instructions and done my homework.
Flash forward 20 years and here I am getting ankle surgery. You would think as a yogi, I would have the utmost trust in the process, in my body’s ability to heal, and that perhaps everything went beautifully. Surprise, it went much better as an 8-year-old than it did as a 28-year old. As an 8-year old, I was blindly following the instructions of my doctor, I had complete faith in adults, in my parents, and in the process. As a 28-year, I wanted answers. I wanted to know how every single ligament was detached and reattached, what the tendon repair process entailed, where the incisions would be made, what the healing process looked like, what the pain level was supposed to be, should I really say yes to the nerve block, and exactly how high should I be elevating my ankle? The list went on and on...I was kind of a nightmare patient. Well, maybe I was, maybe all adults are this way, maybe this was normal, I didn’t know. What I did know was that as an adult, I could see how socialized I was to fear. I had become socialized to the fear that something might go wrong. And it did.
My ankle became incredibly swollen and I had to remove the splint cast early due to pressure, which caused more swelling. Did I create this through my worrisome and distrusting thinking? Perhaps. The truth is, I was scared. I didn’t like the feeling of not being in control of my body. As an athlete, I didn’t like not being able to walk and disliked having to ask for everything. I didn’t like not knowing what the trajectory of normal healing was, I had no point of reference for myself. I wasn’t present. I didn’t want to have surgery, I needed to have surgery. There was no choice, and consequently, my mind was wandering and filled with doubts. Even with my best attempts to stay positive it was hard. I was a bit of a head case through the initial healing phase, until my doctor stepped in. He gave me a crystal clear speech on positivity. Here is a summary of what he told me:
You know this from your profession as a yoga instructor - the mind and body are linked. You need to be positive. You need this positivity for your healing. Stop doubting. Trust the process. If you have a negative thought, throw it away. Be positive.
After my doctor finished his speech, I took a quick glance at the list of questions I was prepared to ask him (not the most positive list) and decided that perhaps I better flip the page over. I turned over a new page, literally and figuratively.
And there began my practice, keyword - practice. I wanted to bring back connection. I had lost my mind-body connection. From that moment on, I went about my day with the intention of maintaining positivity throughout. Whenever I slipped away from my positive healing thoughts, my Mom stepped in and reminded me to maintain my positive outlook. Guess what, it worked and continues to work! Day by day I am getting better. Whether this is magic, the placebo effect, or time, it is working.
Thinking is medicine and the placebo effect demonstrates this because 30% of patients who receive a sugar pill rather than a prescription drug have a positive response to treatment. The thought and belief that you are getting better, makes you better! There is so much power in your thinking. As a yogi, I know that your thoughts become things. You create the world you live in through your thoughts. Your thoughts, create the lens with which you view the world. Currently, I have no option but to trust the process. If something went wrong, it already went wrong, and me worrying about how the surgery was performed while I was knocked out under anesthesia will only hurt the healing process. I knew that I needed to be present, and I needed to bring myself back into the space of connectedness in order to properly heal. Simply by disconnecting and worrying, I was doing a disservice to the healing process.
I am so thankful that my doctor stepped in and gave me a dose of my own yogic medicine, he reminded me that my thoughts matter. I found agency in my healing because I decided to embrace positivity in order to expedite my healing process. Because I understood that powerful thoughts have the ability to transform and create the world I live in. Just as I did as an 8-year old, I decided to again speak out loud to myself, “You are doing great! Heal ankle, heal, heal, heal!”.
Positive psychology was founded on this principle, the idea that we can change our negative thoughts, simply by focusing instead on positive growth. It has proven to be an effective treatment for illness. Different researchers are connecting patients’ relationships to spirituality with positive healing related to chemical changes in disease, from cancer, to HIV, to minor wound healing. The effect of positive thinking in the healing process is profound.
As I reflect on the healing experience of my minor wound as an 8-year old and compare it to my major ankle reconstructive surgery as a 28-year old, I am able to borrow the characteristics I demonstrated from my 8-year old self (trust, belief, and love over fear) and practice them now. As an 8-year old, I was unencumbered with fear, I trusted that the world was good and just and that everything would happen as it was intended to. Moreover, through the repetition of my healing mantras, my 8-year old self, unknowingly reinforced a devout belief in the healing energy of my body and mind; my 28-year old self is knowingly applying that principle - that the body was built to heal - through the repetition of similar healing mantras. I am no longer standing in my own way. I’ve realigned my mind, body, and spirit. I’ve said yes to embracing the gnarly healing process. I don’t want to inhibit my own healing. Honestly, because I felt more connected to my body, I allowed, pressure free, the healing to take over. I took pressure off of myself, because I held the positive belief that my body is functioning with my own best interest in mind. There is nothing I needed to control. I needed to let go. I needed to believe. I needed to maintain my body, mind, and spirit connection in order to facilitate healing. My body is not separate from my mind, nor my soul. They are all connected. We are all connected.
Ultimately, connection is what this life is all about. We cannot expect to find positive connections with others, when we lose our connection to ourselves. Perhaps this injury was a part of my journey to show me just how powerful the connection we seek in yoga and life can be. Our connection is everything. If we lose it, we must find it again. Just as a healthy ankle is important for optimal health so too is a healthy mind, body, and spirit connection. I lost my connection, because I was in a space of fear and distrust, and I probably slowed my healing down. I had a wakeup call from my Doctor and I found my connection again, and from there my healing took off. If you are in the process of healing, I encourage you to start by focusing on your connection. Reestablish the union of your mind, body, and spirit and watch yourself get better.
Ever more connected now than ever, I can honestly say, running, yoga, hiking, and living, here I come. I’ve opened myself up to love and healing through connection and now the Universe is on board with my decision to heal.
PS- I wish I could pay my respects and gratitude to that doctor I had as an 8-year old who instilled in me the beautiful practice of believing in yourself and for demonstrating the powerful mind-body connection. I am forever grateful to my orthopedic surgeon for reinforcing that lesson I learned as an 8-year old and for doing a top notch job with my surgery.