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  • Writer's pictureKimberly Greeff

Adapt or Resist: A Yogi's Journey with An Unknown Spinal Fracture

Updated: Dec 30, 2023




“When did you break your back?” The chiropractor asked as she reviewed the x-rays she had ordered the week before.


I stared at her blankly as if I should know the answer to this but honestly have no idea what she’s talking about. After a few moments I cock my head to the side and asked “What do you mean?”


“It looks like you fractured your back and it healed itself. It’s a common injury we see in extension athletes like gymnasts.” She says matter of factly.


Extension Athlete. I had never considered my years of pushing flexibility and advanced yoga postures as any kind of athleticism let alone to the point of fracturing my back. Backbends had always felt good and I could argue that I always listened to my body and never did anything that caused pain.


Oh, shit. There was that time when I couldn’t sleep on my belly for a while and the only comfort I found for the discomfort I felt in my back was laying on a pillow under my belly and then practicing yoga in 80+ degrees to “loosen” the tightness I was experiencing around the area.


I filled her in on the recollection.


“Yup, that sounds like it.” She said with the look of surprise on her face. Even with the surprised expression I sensed not an ounce of judgment.


A trait I deeply respect in a practitioner.  Nor did she pass any of her personal views on what I’d been through. Another check in the box of respect and trust.


“The good news…” she said “is that you adapted to not move into spinal flexion and instead have an incredible hip hinge to make up for the flexion intolerance in your spine.”


She pulled up the image of my bones in a forward fold.


I laughed (or snorted) out loud.


When I went into get these x-rays the tech instructed me to fold forward to the point I could comfortable do so. I hinged and planted my palms on the ground to which she loudly exclaimed “wow, you're a flexible one.” The expression on my face was hidden in my legs but it may have included an eye roll. There is a time I would have proudly beamed “thanks, I do yoga” to which it would undoubtedly lead to the information that I teach or own a studio or whatever went along with my beliefs and ego at the time.


Now, here I was getting images of my bones to see if there was instability in spinal flexion.

“Yeah, I should have been more clear on my instructions for this x-ray.” The chiropractors reflection brought me back to the present moment.


“What do you mean?” Seemed to be the only question I could muster today.


“Well, you just hinged, avoiding all spinal flexion to do this xray. Again, it’s an adaptation from the injury.” She smiled at me.


I felt that.


Adaptation. It’s a brilliant word for compensation. A word I had adopted years ago with my own clientele. Compensation passes judgment. Like you’re cheating somehow. Adaptation allows for the story that your body is doing the best that it can as it finds a way to keep going.


This exchange of information and the realization that what I had experienced all those years ago brought about a big think. I thought about all the ways I had drastically changed the way I teach and how it effected my second studio’s success and eventual closure. I reflected on my abrupt pivot into learning all I could about anatomy and biomechanics and challenged all the old ways I used to do things.


It also brought up hurt and frustration at my mentors and teachers at the time. The medical professionals I sought help from. I remembered the Chiropractor I went to did a ton of muscle testing and supplements - he was convinced I had parasites, a gluten allergy and a whole host of other ailments that was causing my pain and that he could help remedy if I just took these supplements, ate clean and saw him twice a week. Thousands of dollars later and not one X-ray or a hint of tangible insights I could use I stopped seeing him. Now I know. My spine was fractured.


When I tell people about this I often hear a version of…


“I have a great yoga teacher, she tells me to listen to my body.”


I had a chiropractor (I’ve seen many) who after I came in for a hip issue suggested I practice yoga.


“To which I pulled up some photos of myself in extreme poses and asked, you mean like this?” And he replied “no, no, no that’s not yoga!” And I had the great privilege of pulling up many other advanced postures and showed him what is being taught across the city in yoga classes. He had no idea and thought it was just some light stretching to which I told him that yeah, it can be that too and there are classes that do just that.




I listened to mine too and not once did I experience pain in my postures or practice - well that’s not true. I did have a knee injury that occurred in full lotus while teaching. That was a time I was performing a demo - I didn’t let on that it had happened but rather disassociated from the experience to finish teaching the class.


I don’t share any of this to scare you away from yoga. I share this as a piece of the puzzle that has helped me be the teacher and practitioner I am today. I am proud that I no longer contort myself into postures with an ever increasing desire to go further, deeper or advanced. I am grateful to have supplemented with strength training to shore up some of the instabilities and deficits in my body.


Now I lead trainings and workshops that empower students to learn about their unique bodies and use the practice of yoga to honor the sacred temple they get to inhabit not rearrange it to fit some ‘ideal” expression of the pose or fit into a lineage or style of yoga.


Evolve Yoga plays at intersection where tradition and movement science meet through embodied, sustainable and integrated practices that serve the whole person on and off the mat.



It’s not been an easy road but a worthwhile trek to knowing better and doing better.


Here’s a poem that holds reverence for the thousands of versions of myself I”ve been.


Onwards with Courage!

Kimberly


"i have been a thousand different women"


Make peace

With all the women

You once were


Lay flowers

At their feet


Offer them incense

And honey

And forgiveness


Honor them

And give them

Your silence


Listen


Bless them

And let them be


For they are the bones

Of the temple

You sit in now


For they are

The rivers

Of wisdom

Leading you toward

The sea


I have been a thousand different women

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