Here’s what I know about clichés.
They can be silly, overused and sometimes even nonsensical. But nearly all of these one-sentence thoughts contain at least a grain of truth—which is probably why so many of them remain part of our everyday language.
I also think that a lot of us identify with at least one of these old timey sayings.
Mine is this: Every cloud has a silver lining.
(For those not skilled in metaphors, the phrase means that even when life’s circumstances appear overwhelming and hopeless, something positive, sooner or later, will eventually emerge from the experience.)
But to arrive at my happy ending to the sentence, it’s important, first, to write about the cloud that hit me, literally, 13 years ago this month.
My daughter was four years old, and I was a widow who had relocated us five months earlier from Los Angeles. Driving home, I decided to pull into a favorite produce stand right off the two-lane blacktop that connected my new address to the bigger city a few miles away. My little girl was nodding off behind me, safe and snug in a plush car seat.
I stopped, waiting to make a left turn.
That’s when another car—zooming at 65 miles per hour behind mine—slammed into me.
Most folks in bad car accidents remember that the seconds during and after impact slow down, and I was no exception.
Taking it all in herky-jerky, stop action movements, I remember seeing the vehicle that had just badly rear ended my car fly over me, then spin and come to rest upside down.
By this time, I was calling my child’s name and kept calling until she answered. But it was only after I unhooked my seat belt to get to her that I noticed that neither my hands nor arms would move.
Both were clutching the steering wheel, but scarily, I also couldn’t feel them. It was around then that a young girl (later, l learned she was a new, 16-year-old driver) emerged from the wrecked car in front of mine. She had cut a finger. That was it. Her only words to me were these: “I didn’t see you until I hit you.” Within minutes, more cars had stopped, and other bystanders magically appeared from both sides of the road to also help.
I thought I was fine, but upon the urging of medical personnel, I allowed myself to be taken to a hospital. Because my child was beside me, I pretended that I wasn’t all that scared, and that everything would very soon be all right.
Indeed, after looking me over, I was released that night.
Yup, I was pretty shaken up and I was pretty sore. The car was totaled, too. But my daughter was fine. All in all, I thought we had dodged a pretty big bullet.
Then, not very long after, the pain began.
Excruciating and unyielding, it traveled from my neck to my back and shoulders, and next made its way up again. Prescription pills took the edge off, but they never entirely kept the immense aching at bay. My hands and fingers were now also weak, and would drop things without warning. And although it sounds funny, one elbow began to hurt—a lot. This was when I discovered that elbows are used constantly, from opening doors and washing dishes, to working on computers and preparing meals.
I wasn’t about to submit to surgery (which offered no guarantees anyway), and while massages and acupuncture helped, those treatments clearly weren’t enough. So it was that after an MRI revealed a nasty case of whiplash, my physician suggested physical therapy.
I had a different idea.
I wasn’t a complete stranger to this ancient practice that, while not a religion, teaches one to experience inner peace via a series of imaginative, stationary poses. Simple meditation and breathing techniques are also part of being “on the mat.”
Indeed, I’d taken a class here and there in Southern California, but found myself dreadfully out of place because the focus was on maintaining a skinny body, as well as encouraging competition with other classmates. The element of breathing, which I later learned is so much of what yoga is about, was barely mentioned.
But necessity is the mother of invention (another cliché!), and besides, I had now done some research on this healing technique, which some believe began about 10,000 years ago.
These days, it turns out that there’s a whole lot of science behind yoga and pain management.
One study, detailed in a Harvard Medical School publication, concludes that when it comes to back pain, yoga can be successfully substituted, often with better results, for traditional Western stretching and therapy. The fact that yoga is a relatively low cost option (often under $10 per class) , and is also offered in so many places—aside from yoga centers, it’s everywhere from churches and mobile home parks, to park and recreation centers and even on the beach—makes the practice appealing as well.
Another Harvard article says that yoga alleviates stress and anxiety, two emotions I was feeling a lot more acutely after the accident. Specifically, yoga can reduce heart rate, lower blood pressure and ease respiration. There’s also evidence that a consistent yoga practice can help increase heart rate variability, an indicator of the body’s ability to respond to stress in a healthier way.
This all sounded pretty darn good to me.
So, armed with a new knowledge and a new attitude, I reentered yoga with a gentle class twice a week.
But unlike the perfect bodies of Los Angeles, I was now with a group of women, some older than me, who joked about being “the walking wounded.” A few had been in accidents like me; some had fibromyalgia, and others were simply feeling the aches and pains of age.
Every class began in folding chairs, and always, there were props. Blankets, straps, and hard rubber blocks helped make the asanas—the physical movements, or poses, in yoga—that much easier.
I especially liked what our teacher said when I first began. “Yoga is not supposed to hurt,” she said. “If you’re hurting, stop. We’ll find another way.”
It didn’t happen overnight, but slowly, the daily throbbing began to dissipate.
Today, while my hands still occasionally let go of whatever I’m holding, and my neck is not all that strong, I’m no longer in pain.
Of course, some of the healing had to do with giving my body permission to mend in its own way, and too, in its own time.
But I’m also positive that the lessening of my pain was accelerated by a consistent yoga practice.
In fact, I know this is true because whenever I’ve missed a couple of weeks of class, my back and elbow start letting me know that they need a little attention.
I practice at a studio closer to home now, and sometimes, even feel confident enough to participate in a strong beginner level class. This venue also offers restorative yoga, a type of yoga that envelopes one in a profoundly deep state of relaxation that I’ve been unable to duplicate any other way. Lately, I’ve also attended a monthly event that adds essential oils and light massage to that already heavenly experience.
I don’t know if my body will ever be as strong as it was prior to the car crash.
But I’m also certain that if I had never gotten into that horrific wreck, I also never would have found my way to a healthy yoga practice… which has not only brought new friends to my world, but also introduced me to a way of moving that fuels my entire being.
And that, I know, makes this silver lining A Very Good Thing.
How about you? Whether it’s about clichés and yoga, or a life experience that came to mind with this post, I’d love to hear your stories!
ps. If you haven’t yet seen this astonishing yoga transformation video (it has more than 12 million hits), check it out here, at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qX9FSZJu448.