I am always amazed at how yoga can show up at unexpected times and we may not initially understand the value.
On September 12, 2015, my husband and I were driving on a country road out of state when we entered an intersection and collided with a sports car driving full speed through the stop sign.
Once our car stopped spinning and landed in the grass, I immediately grabbed my head and started screaming “my neck! my neck!” My gaze shifted down to see my legs moving involuntarily in a slow-motion running motion. I then started counting my breath (inhale-two-three-four-five-exhale-two-three-four-five).
I didn’t consciously think about doing these things, they just happened. The running motion later made sense to me because of something I learned in my masters program. When the stress response is activated (also known as the sympathetic response), we instinctively want to run, so my legs were running. This is useful in yoga therapy because Utkatasana (Chair pose) engages the thigh muscles. The breathing pattern I went into is Coherent breath. Studies have shown that having a respiration rate of 5-6 breaths per minute can activate the relaxation response (also known as the parasympathetic response), calming the body and mind.
Panic and pain aside, these two yoga techniques were automatic and immediate in the moments after the crash. I wasn’t cognizant of doing them. But I had practiced yoga long enough to go into it right away without thinking about it first.
I continued Coherent breathing as the first responders arrived on the scene and began firing questions.
“Were you wearing your seatbelt?”
“Did you have loss of consciousness?”
“Don’t know” exhale-two-three-four-five
Once I was in the ambulance and my head was fully immobilized, emotions surfaced and I began to cry. The reality of what just happened hit me and I was scared.
CT scans determined that I had broken at least four vertebrae from C2-T4 and had a perched facet. The perched facet is when the locking of two adjoining vertebrae become “unlocked” and one shifts, causing a dislocation and potential severing of the spinal cord. I believe that keeping the panic at bay through the yoga breathing may very well have saved my spine.
Emergency surgery was performed and the perched facet was repaired (carefully!). I also have two additional rods stabilizing my cervical and part of my thoracic vertebrae. The recovery has been long and painful, but every day I say a prayer thanking the Almighty for the use of my legs. And I thank my yoga practice for giving me the tools that enabled me to stay calm in the face of turmoil.