Pluck a Flower ... Disturb a Star
by Neal Wiegman
(Chico, CA, USA)
Until age 55 my body allowed me to run and cycle long distances, play competitive tennis, and swim a mile. But my left hip gradually began to hurt more and more while running and playing tennis, until I was forced to give up both activities. Allopathic medicine offered no diagnosis other than early signs of arthritis in the left hip joint. Recommended treatment was pain killers and muscle relaxants, which I was reluctant to take.
After many visits to various chiropractors, I finally got a diagnosis of Bertolotti’s Syndrome, a congenital instability of the lower back that affects 6% of the population. In my case, it took 55 years for symptoms of the misalignment to appear—not in my back, but in my hip. Symptoms included an estimated 30% atrophy of the muscles in my left buttock, pain and stiffness on the left side of my neck and in my left knee.
The recommended chiropractic manipulations for my condition began and it was suggested that I improve the strength and flexibility of my hip with a rigorous style of yoga called Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, which consists of a sequence of movements linked with rhythmic breathing. Since I was doing the practice for therapy, I was pleased to learn that the Sanskrit name of Ashtanga’s Primary Series is Yoga Chikitsa, which literally means “yoga therapy.”
The class begins at 6:00 a.m. and meets three days a week. It’s often difficult to get out of bed to do such challenging yoga so early, but I’m motivated by not wanting to let down the team: the half dozen regular ashtangis who are enthusiastic, encourage one another, and “conspire”—we “breathe together.” This makes the practice easier and creates a bond within the group.
For many months I had to modify the poses, especially on the left side, because of weakness, pain, and stiffness. In an effort to restore balance I would hold the poses longer on the left side than the right. This would not delay the other practitioners because a “Mysore” style Ashtanga class (as taught in Mysore, India) is a supervised self practice, where each student practices at his or her own pace and level and the instructor moves from student to student offering individual suggestions and adjustments.
Very gradually the left side of my body began to loosen and strengthen, until it was hardly distinguishable from the right side. One day during the relaxation at the end of the practice, after almost a year of rehabilitation, I lay on my yoga mat with my eyes closed and suddenly remembered a quote that I had read: “Yoga makes us realize that we cannot pluck a flower without disturbing a star.” Although I intellectually understood the meaning of this metaphor when I first encountered it, I began at that moment to actually experience the unity of all creation. I felt that my being had spread out to encompass the entire universe. Tears of gratitude welled up in my eyes—for my transcendental experience, for my physical recovery, and for the camaraderie. I knew that I would be practicing yoga for the rest of my life.