The World Needs What You Have to Offer

Today, teachers, I have a story for you.

I spent the first two years of my yoga teaching career so injured that I had to walk with a cane. Every single time I stepped my left foot on the floor I had searing pain shoot directly up the femoral nerve in my thigh. Every. Single. Time. If you have ever had nerve pain, you can imagine how horribly debilitating that was.

I was 22 years old and a brand new yoga teacher, teaching about 10 classes a week. I lived in New York City: a place that requires a tremendous amount of walking, especially when you are a young, poor yoga teacher. It was nearly impossible for me to take the stairs into the subway, so I quickly learned the Manhattan and Queens bus systems. The physical pain I endured was matched only by the emotional pain that weighed on me. I had spent my whole life an athlete and dancer, and now my daily experience was crippled by intense and constant pain.

And hands down, without blinking, I will tell you this is the best thing that has ever happened to me.


Here Is Why:

I knew what was causing the pain. It was a torn {or really, SHREDDED} labrum in my left hip. {The labrum is a lip of cartilage around the acetabulum.} It is a common dancer and yogi injury. It took me three months after the initial injury to see a western doctor and get an MRI, and that is when I received this information. The surgeon I worked with told me he saw this injury all the time, he could do surgery right away, and I would be back to my regular life in three months.

“Sounds good to me! Sign me up!”

We scheduled the surgery for a few weeks from then, and I felt relieved and excited.

Until I started doing a little research.

I began by asking around to other dancers and yogis who had had this surgery, and almost no one felt “back to normal”, even a year later. An osteopath I was working with suggested I try Feldenkrais. {Never heard of it? Get yourself into a class, ASAP. I mean it.}  The Feldenkrais practitioner I was working with somehow got me a meeting with the illustrious Irene Dowd. {Being 22 and new to NYC I had no idea what a gift this was.} Irene had worked with many dancers who NEVER recovered after the surgery.

So I canceled it.

I canceled the surgery and committed to at least five days a week of Feldenkrais. I cleaned up my diet. I was already off meat and dairy, and I cut out alcohol, sugar, and caffeine. I got at least 9 or 10 hours of sleep every night. I let my amazing friends take care of me.  I did very little outside of hobbling to my classes and taking precious care of myself.

  • I learned what self-care meant, on a deep, cellular level.
  • I started to dig a really deep well within myself.
  • I had hope that if I worked hard enough, if I was clear and consistent enough, I would be able to heal myself.

Ah, well. Not quite.

About a year after cancelling the surgery, I had been able to reduce the inflammation in my hip joint enough that I was in very little pain. As long as I was sedentary.  There is little to no blood flow to cartilage in the body which greatly limits its capacity to heal.

A sedentary life was just not an option for me.

I began to research the surgery again.

I read every academic study that had ever been done on the hip laburm, it’s pathologies and treatments. I met with five orthopedic surgeons. I found one that understood my need to be active again without promising I’d be “good as new” in three months. I scheduled the surgery exactly a year after the first one had been canceled.

The year-long recovery was just as difficult and intense as the 1.5 years leading up to the surgery. And again I’ll say: it was the best thing to ever happen to me.

  • I struggled and suffered and had to dig deep within myself to find a place grounded enough to teach yoga.
  • I learned how to root and calm myself in the midst of a terrible emotional storm.
  • I learned how to be bright and engaging when I felt like my life was crumbling around me.

Because, side-note, I was also breaking up with my first love and college boyfriend of four years. Obviously…

I learned that even when pain-riddled and broken heart-ed, I had a deep well I could tap into to offer authentic and useful teachings to people twice my age.

For the record, I had an AMAZING recovery from the surgery, mostly because of Feldenkrais. My life now gets to include advanced asana, running, spinning, dancing, and partying (!), in addition to the restorative yoga, sleep, meditation, and more gentle self care practices that will always be a part of my life.

I had to dig a really deep well, and now as long as I keep it full, I have much to offer.

If I leave the well empty though, then I am pulling from my reserves, and like I tell the teachers that study with me: reserves are very expensive. You can’t teach from those all time.

I know that we all struggle with guilt about taking the time for self care {practice, sleep, alone time, connection with friends, study, healthy/delicious food, secure financial net} so let me get a little tough love on you real quick.

You cannot take care of anyone else if you are not taking care of yourself.

I mean it.

I didn’t say, it’s not good for you to deplete yourself…you’ll do a better job if you’re taking care of yourself too…

I’m saying, if you are not taking precious care of yourself, anything that you offer to someone else {students, children, parents, friends, co-workers} will carry your lack of self care with it. Those people can feel it, at least on a subconscious level.

And from our Facebook community, our friend Val asks,

“ I’d also love to hear what you think about having deep and meaningful support and teachings while still continuing to work on yourself and practice self-care. Sometimes I feel like a phony- like “Who should listen to this crap I’m saying? I spent the better part of the morning crying in the bathroom?!”

I’ll say this: of course we teachers are still human. We still have terrible things happen to us, we still struggle, fall down, and spend the morning crying in the bathroom. But we have done the work to tap into the place in us that is always whole, good, and perfect: our buddha nature. Even if we don’t feel it, we remember it is there, and we teach from that place. We are able to hold both terrible pain and boundless joy at the same time.

If you do the work to care for yourself, if you dig a deep well and keep it full, you will have so much more to offer the world.

And the world needs everything you have to offer. Desperately.

Go take a 20 minute nap. We need you to be rested so you can offer us your best self.

Thank you.

6 Responses to “The World Needs What You Have to Offer”

  1. Lyn

    Francesca, as someone who has been in your vibrant, vivacious, creative, spirit (and partied with you!) I love this post. I, too, experienced deep physical pain; disc herniation, sciatic pain, crippling back pain for a year: No yoga, very little movement. It was tough. So, what did I do? I went back home to my mum’s house and allowed myself to be looked after. I listened to my inner dialogue and noticed it was all stress and results driven – I had to be kinder even in my self-talk. It’s a long road but it is one that takes you into the depths of your strengths and come out with a deep, deep, intimate understanding of yourself. Well done with this post – so many people should read it.

    • Francesca Cervero

      Thank you so much for your lovely words Lyn! We are certainly on the same page here– We are so lucky to have been through an experience that required that kind of deep inner work. It really is a message I want to get out to the world in a big way. Thank you for sharing it and I’m sending you love, as always!

  2. Shree Ayengar

    Hi Francesca: Your Blog was so timely for me. I am going to have my right elbow surgery next Tuesday to correct my Tendenosis that I am suffering with for the past one (1) year. As you said, I finally decided that I have to take care of myself. Since my students have come to know of the surgery, I have received so much love and affection from my teachers and students that I am overwhelmed. Thanks for your Blog, it will get me through the recovery process of the next 3/4 months!

  3. Michelle Boutilier

    Hi Francesca, as ever… thank you for this! It is such an important topic and you’ve layered some really beautiful and wise words of support and challenge. I continue to be in awe of you and hold you as a mentor. I do hope you can come to Canada – Hamilton in particular… if you would like to run a special workshop in our studio, this would be a great gift!

    • Francesca Cervero

      Ah, I am so glad you found this blog interesting and helpful. Thanks for being a part of our community here Michelle! Stay tuned for 2014 dates to be announced! XX


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