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Sara...

  • ...is a happy, ordinary, middle-aged, suburban woman who paints odd pictures, gardens in a straw hat, lives with the love of her life, is owned by one cat and the ghosts of several others, and walks a little funny 'cause she has a fake leg. She started this website because there's more to life than what we lose, and we need to let each other know what's possible, even if it's only a happy, ordinary life.

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    sara at saraarts dot com

    Make sure the subject line of your correspondence is clear and specific. I do not open e-mails from strangers unless I can tell in advance that I want to read them.

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Mrs. Kennedy

Pruned Tree Pose! Brilliant.

Sara

There's also "Downward-Facing Three-Legged Dog" or, when I do it wrong, "Downward-Facing Three-Legged Dog at a Fire Hydrant."

Regardless, thank you, Mrs. K. You are the brilliant one.

Michelle | Bleeding Espresso

You're way better at taking yoga photos of yourself than I would be. Falling over in the tree pose really doesn't lend itself to stills. Action shots, yes...hmm....

Are you feeling better?

Jana

Sara:
Thanks for the link(s)! Yes, I do the downward dog at the firehydrant all the time. Teehee. One bit of advice for amp yoga: I've found that doing standing poses--esp warrior poses--while sitting on a fitball is far easier than trying to balance on faux foot or sans foot.

And I am a parentheses junkie. Further evidence that I am stuck in my adolescence?

One question: do you ever get concerned about posting stump pics because of the [acrotomophiliac] issue? I'm always a bit uncomfortable when my pics get posted to [acrotomophiliac] forums.

Sara

Michelle, thank you, but that photo is the one out of six I took that day that either wasn't too blurry to use or didn't chop off my foot.

Yes, we are both feeling very much better. Now I am playing catch-up not just on my reading of other people's blogs but things like the actual work I should have been doing this whole time. (sigh)

Jana, I'm so relieved I'm not the only one re: Downward-Facing Three-Legged Dog at Fire Hydrant! Ha! My yoga practice is strictly private, so I never know for sure that I'm doing things the "right" way, but I do try to keep my stump down to get as much of a stretch as I can because I think that's part of the point of that position. It's not easy, though. In fact, that whole pose is difficult for me on one leg (and this is one where the prosthetic just gets in my way). When I had two feet, the tension through two hamstrings, etc., with two anchoring feet was much more stabilizing than through just one and then also while trying to maximize stretch through the residual muscles anchored so differently now in the stump. You know? So it's not my strongest position, but I keep at it. :)

I don't use my balance ball for yoga, though I do use it for other stretches. Maybe I'll try it; it's a great idea, and I thank you for sharing it here. If I'm in my prosthetic, I will use a chair kind of the way Peggy Cappy instructs in Yoga for the Rest of Us -- which I recommend as a terrific starting place for anyone interested in any kind of adaptive yoga -- or I work with the kitchen counters ballet barre style. I prefer to use a chair because, as you've seen, the floors of my kitchen are a bit irregular! Also the counter only has the one height. But sometimes I just get a twitch to do something, and if the counter is there, I go for it.

Aaaaand sometimes I land on my ass. Oh, well.

As for your last question, yes, that possibility makes me very angry, as would any contemplated misappropriation of any aspect of my identity, not to mention intellectual property. I have no interest in ever interacting on any level with those people. I took the liberty (please forgive me) of editing your comment to replace the "cute" slang word with the DSM word for the condition. I never use the "cute" word on this site because I know it is a popular keyword that people search for specifically, and I have no desire to give these people anything, to gratify them in any way. And no, I'm not interested in hearing "their side" any more than I'm interested in hearing about anyone else's taste in pornography or how s/he came to develop it or how s/he rationalizes it and dismisses the very real damage it does.

However, as I have ranted vociferously in more than one location in the last year or so, it is a simple fact that every photo of a human being is pornography for someone. I can hate this -- and I do -- but I cannot change this. So, what to do? Am I to let other people's illness prevent me from sharing something I think could benefit a large number of people? And yoga can be very beneficial for amputees, helpful not just with stretching and strength-building, but many other things for which we have specific, constant need. I have written elsewhere on this blog that I use the meditative breathing alone to combat occasional intense flareups of phantom limb sensations that sometimes disrupt my sleep, and that this works far better for me than any drug ever could. I have also used yoga as part of my conscious decision to adapt to being an amputee, which has been part of the conscious decision I made to not just survive the fact of amputation but keep my life. Yoga has the power to help us keep our living spirits oriented in the real bodies we have now. It has the power to help us orient our real shapes in space, too, and both of these are abilities we may have taken for granted when we still had the shapes with which we were born, but strong, sometimes mournful memories of which can interfere with our ability to adapt. Yoga can help us put the physical past in its proper position in our consciousness: in memory, not allowing it to constantly try to elbow its way into present tense where there is no place for it. Yoga, in doing all these other things, can also help us build confidence, confidence to walk around, or hop around, confidence to be in the world and feel strong.

So, yes, it bothers me that there are sick people who objectify other people in this world, and that they feel it is harmless and their right when it is my strongly held opinion that this is not only insulting, and unspeakably trivializing of the real suffering of real people, but ultimately just another form or degree of psychopathy. And it was enough to keep me very reluctant to publish stump photos of myself for a very long time. However, amputees need to see other amputees getting on in the world, having lives, being more than objects. I know this from personal experience as well as what I hear from other amputees. So even though I know there is some creep out there who thinks even pudgy, clearly middle-aged I, the "hawtness" ideal for very few people in this world, am something worthy of projecting fantasies all over, I cannot allow myself to be imprisoned by this knowledge, especially if me hiding my image means other amputees don't learn what's possible for them.

And in the end, I feel I have to do this because no one else is doing it where I can see it. It's a crying shame because I am hardly a professional yogi. I've been hoping someone else would beat me to it.

Maybe instead of just doing a big comprehensive thing I'll just do one pose at a time. I did receive a new, superior (probably not handmade, alas) camera for Chrismukkah, and it will make movies...

Icky creeps be damned. This project's going forward, one way or another. Just...really slowly.

Jana

Sara:
Thank you for addressing the acrotomophilic issue--no worries about editing my comment to remove the d-word.

I've never even considered posting a pic of my stump because of the way the image would be appropriated. Even pics of my prosthetic foot or any part of my lower body get hundreds of click-thrus. I do wish there could be more honest depictions of bodies with amputated limbs, but it probably won't be by me--I'm too freaked out by the creepy voyeurs.

That said, I'm eager to see more of your adapted yoga poses. I may even post a few of my own (wearing my prosthesis, though). I wish I could, at some point, study yoga with a teacher who had experience adapting practice for amputees (is there anyone like this out there?). I've asked all of my various yoga teachers about 'balance' and the issues that come from having a non-symmetric body. I've never gotten any real answers about how to deal with it--as in, is it harmful to do some poses only with half of my body or is it better to only do those that I can do on both sides? One teacher told me just to close my eyes and imagine doing the poses with the other side of my body. While that was a nice sentiment, my body wanted to move, not just imagine. And doing this seemed to reinforce the inabilities of my right side rather than making me feel more balanced.

Sara

You know, given your own personal history as you've related it in eloquent part on your blog, I'm not the slightest bit surprised that the attention of these creeps squicks you out even more than it does me. I don't blame you, or anyone else who feels the same way. Heck, for the longest time I wouldn't post photos of myself of any kind on this site. I have not gotten to the place I'm at with it now overnight, and I'm still a little shaky in this place even though some of the shaking is anger.

Any demonstrations you do want to post would be so great. One of the things I hoped to show or that I've looked for other, more competent yogis to demonstrate, is how, when and why to incorporate props, including prosthetics. Part of what I want to know is the potential for injury that you mentioned, but also how these things affect various traditional goals of yoga. As I've said, I don't practice entirely without my prosthetic. I can work it into many things, and there are also many things I simply cannot do without it.

Yoga is about balance, but also yoga is a journey, the starting place for which is most certainly not physical perfection. I confess I haven't devoted an enormous amount of time to this, but I have found it very difficult to locate yogis who really know enough to safely and effectively adapt practice for people whose starting place is very much more complicated than usual. Yoga Journal, even though its insides often reflect tremendous diversity, only ever seems to have slender, perfectly fit white women on its covers, and someone once told me a story about taking a yoga weekend workshop from the great Bikram himself out at Kripalu* only to witness Bikram actually screaming at one of his students for being fat. "How can you expect to practice yoga in a body like that?" my friend quoted him. And I've also heard and read of other yogis, traditional Indian yogis, rejecting students missing limbs or specific physical abilities because they deem it "impossible" to practice "real" yoga without a whole body, without two complete halves.

But then there was a photograph I saw -- and looking it up is part of why it took me so long to post this answer -- in Yoga Journal of the great yogi Sri B.K.S. Iyendar assisting a woman who was a right transfemoral amputee wearing no prosthetic in Warrior Pose at a conference in Colorado. ("Living Legacy," Yoga Journal, Issue 193 (January/February 2006), page 77.) And then there's Bonnie up in the San Francisco Bay Area, who says she takes a class which has more than one adaptive student, with more than one kind or level of adaptation necessary. Apparently this is something her teacher specializes in. And then there are you and me. So I know that something is possible, because something is happening, and not just in the privacy of living rooms. But unless you happen to be in the right place at the right time, it's invisible.

I would really like it not to be invisible. I would like more instruction and better instruction, and much much more visibility for adaptive yoga generally. Until someone else steps up, though, I guess it's gotta be on us. Oh, and on any mauled or otherwise impaired action figures who might happen into the shalas of the internet. ;)

About closing your eyes: One of my favorite customers at Whole Foods was a guy who teaches yoga in the town where I used to live. After I got my leg cut off, he and I had a number of helpful conversations. I said I wanted to see what I could do without props, though, how far I could go, and he said he didn't really know anything about that. However, one day I told him that I was very puzzled about something.

Thanks to yoga, I told him, as well as ballet and fencing and even the ridiculous modeling I did as a teenager, I have superb balance on one leg, really solid -- just not when I close my eyes (or try to photograph myself, but that's another story). When I close my eyes, or when my vision is temporarily obscured like when I pull on a T-shirt over my head, I fall over almost immediately like a felled tree. (I've gotten better at not doing this since then, but the first sensation is still complete loss of vertical orientation.) I asked him what he thought might be up with that.

He told me that when our eyes are open we are receiving all kinds of information that we take for granted to orient us vertically. When people with two feet close their eyes, they don't fall over because they have that other, stabilizing foot with which they can adjust their position in all sorts of ways of which they may remain wholly unaware, but people with only one foot, not having that, have no recourse but to grab for support with their hands or fall.

Now the most interesting thing he told me was that in fact yogis are usually taught not to practice with their eyes closed. I regret that I cannot remember exactly why, but it had to do with energy pathways, I think. (The only time I have ever been instructed to shut my eyes was doing a specific breathing meditation in Corpse Pose (Savasana), the same one I've been using my whole life against insomnia and now phantom limb stuff. But that's lying down, and the purpose of that exercise is body awareness and relaxation.) Apparently, according to this guy and except in very specific circumstances, closing your eyes is actually a bad idea. I wish I could remember exactly why.

(We didn't talk about how this relates to blind people or even blind amputees. Obviously in those instances I'm of a mind to believe adaptations can be made.)

Since there don't seem to be many experienced adaptive yoga instructors in your area, I would recommend two courses of action. First, write to Bonnie and ask her about her teacher and how to get in touch with him/her. Maybe her teacher can recommend someone in your area -- or maybe taking a few classes with him/her might be a good excuse for a weekend in San Francisco. The second suggestion, if that doesn't pan out, is to contact your local VA hospital or academically-affiliated rehab hospital. If anyone would know where to go for adaptive instruction locally, I would think they would. Understand that I have not yet tried this myself, though. I'm more about books and DVDs and the privacy of my own living room.

The balance thing: You know, I've finally gotten to the point where when I dance around in my kitchen I can balance on my prosthetic with my left foot pointed into my prosthetic knee and my left knee completely turned out, quickly, like a little piqué kind of step, but holding it longer than I used to. Still can't do Tree Pose on the prosthetic for very long, though, not with the hips properly open, not without support. But still, progress. It's just very, very slow, and the balance comes in the breathing as we once discussed. :)

_____
* No reflection whatsoever on Kripalu, which I'm told is a wonderful place and remains the only yoga or wellness facility I've ever seen to use an image of a woman with a body that even remotely resemble mine in one of its ads. I mean not skinny, but also not anything else in particular. And it wasn't an ad for weight loss, either, it was just a regular ad for the center.

laurie

1-Tree pose, pruned? I laughed out loud. Three-legged downward dog? Made me do it again.

2-I have recently fallen in love with yoga. Mentally, physically, emotionally I am getting stronger. And it really helps the lymphedema. I love what you say about how yoga helps us live in our bodies, as they are. As someone with only one (rather large) breast, this really speaks to me.

3-I read your discussion re acrotomophiliacs (a new word for me) with interest. I have posted pics of myself, as I go out in the world, as a woman whose chest is an asymmetrical landscape. I question this choice EVERY DAY but I keep doing it - so the ambivalence you write about resonates with me. I don't know that anyone fetishizes my look but I know that many are repulsed by it.
Please understand that I am not equating losing a breast with having a leg amputated, just that your discussion really resonated with me. Thanks for letting me into your discussion.

elizabeth

Wow, yoga seems to be the thing of the day - so I will send all the non want to play badminton want to do yoga people to you. I don't do yoga because I cannot balance on one leg, nor could I earlier in life and quite honestly, I am not sure the idea of competitive Yoga is one other yoga people would go for. For me the personal phrase "I'm centered" tends to make me think, "Does that mean I've come to a full and complete stop?" But I like that you are pushing forward, in your traditionally sick humoured way and being ethusiastic about something which has helped you.

(I did however learn how to control breathing, pulse and slow heartrate but that was a biofeedback when I was 12 or 14 - the ATARI put out a biofeedback kit which for a control freak like me, to CONTROL even more things sounded so appealing. See why I am not a good yoga match (I know, I know, it is people like me who need it the most!)

Jana

Sara:
I can't close my eyes and stand up, either (though I do have amazing balance--esp on my organic foot). As a Mormon I was often in circumstances where, because of prayer or reverence, I was supposed to close my eyes while standing. I always cheated and left mine open. Now that I think about it, I'm sure as a 2-leg I probably closed my eyes while standing all the time. But since then, no. (I keep a washcloth in the shower specifically to shield my eyes from water while washing my hair or face so I can keep my eyes open--because falling over in the shower is not a good idea!)

On a related issue, I can't stand carrying anything bulky in front of me that prevents me from seeing my feet (think laundry basket, which I carry to the side resting on my hip). When I can't see my feet (or foot, as the case may be) I get vertigo-ish. Which was why, during my pregnancies, I used a cane for standing or walking--because the belly obscured the view. I also only wear shoes with soles that are thin or flexible enough that I can "feel" the ground beneath my feet--because so much of my sensory info comes from the sole of my left foot.

TheAmpuT

I do yoga, too...and I am a huge fan of props for some things. After the accident I took a few classes with this woman who was a master with props (in fact, in the class was another student with no legs and arms only to her elbows...and there she was in a headstand...that class kicked ass).

Anyhow, I call it "Eternal Tree Pose" and I have threatened to make a t-shirt with that written on it, and a graphic...except I lack the graphic talent.

alphabitch

what are you holding in your hand? it looks like a glass of water with an eyeball in it.

re: the eye-closing thing. whoever it was that taught me to process and print photos told me to close my eyes in the darkroom and everything would be easier and I wouldn't spill things or run into things as much. which didn't make sense, but it worked, and I gather it's because when your eyes are closed, your brain isn't expecting visual input, so it's easier to deal with pitch darkness with your eyes closed. I might have made that part up. I'm a clutz either way. Maybe I should try yoga in a darkroom.

Sara

I am sorry, my friends, that it has taken me so long to get back to this. Sadly, the fridge just won't stock itself, nor the dishes wash themselves, nor the laundry launder away on its own, no matter how hard I think about all of it. Also, my eyes are exhausted, awaiting the new glasses I am in the process of obtaining. I went six or eight years on the same prescription, and then suddenly one day -- BOINNNNGGGGG!!! -- it was like they were rubber that had been stretched as far as it would go and then snapped free, and now it is really hard to get them to do stuff like read.

But I'm here now, so --

Laurie:

1. I'm so glad!

2. You might like this quote which was included in the article about Iyengar (NOT Iyenbar) which I referenced: "The goal of yoga is nothing less than to attain oneness...with ourselves and as a consequence oneself with all that lies beyond ourselves." I'm not sure how that relates, but I think it does. :)

3. I am always very happy to hear whatever you have to say. Also, I am very interested in all the different ways individual human experiences connect. The differences between all of us are compelling enough, but the samenesses are like blood, you know? I don't know if that makes sense.

Meanwhile, I'm sure somebody out there fetishizes surgically altered women of every kind. And I'm just as sure somebody out there is repulsed by human appearances of absolutely every description, natural or altered. Regardless, anyone who can't see you're lovely now and that you've been lovely all along is at least half-dead inside. To steal a line from a favorite silly romantic comedy (Keeping the Faith), "You're a natural. You radiate."

At the same time, I'm also sure that somewhere out there is someone who wants to be a breast cancer patient, or at least pretend to be one, just for the attention. Or something. If you want to learn another yucky word I never knew 'til I was facing amputation, go look up "apotemnophilia." (shudder) Then go read this feisty thread about similar weirdness over at esteemed correspondent Elizabeth McClung's place.

And speak of the devil...

Elizabeth:

You must read more of the Yogabeans site. Of particular interest -- and hilarious relevance -- I recommend Utthita Trikonasana and Parivritta Trikonasana (led by bendy Marge Simpson) and my absolute favorite of all time (so far) Utthita Parsvakonasana and Parivritta Parsvakonasana (led by Duke of the G.I. Joe Sigma 6 squad).

That said, no, yoga isn't really a sport so much as a practice one develops over time. It can be very exciting indeed, but bear in mind that I am someone who really can enjoy herself watching paint dry, given the right circumstances. It's not everyone's cup of chai.

Personally, I don't really enjoy competition at all, and I find it makes me physically, emotionally, and mentally unwell, so the truly sporty things I do -- hiking, triking, canoeing -- are all solitary or cooperative in nature. I often think about joining a rowing crew, and I've been invited to, but again, I'm just not interested in winning so much as gliding through the water to a tightly choreographed rhythm with other people (cracking sick and twisted jokes all the way, of course). The passage through that water, through that expanse of time, with those people -- that's the point for me.

You might be entertained to hear that even in yoga practice, I don't really think about "centering" though I sure do hear it a lot when other people speak about it. I think about balance, but in terms of distribution. I think about fully being my whole self, and filling my whole space, owning my whole body AND my whole self, and the changes in all of it, giving everything, using everything, and knowing what all that is and means concretely as well as ephemerally, insofar as that is possible. When I meditate, if I think about anything at all besides cell-by-cell body consciousness and relaxation, I think about the universe outside of time. "Centering" is not really adequate to describe that. I'm not even sure it applies at all.

See, I'm really not a "real" yogi at all, just a dilettante with her own questions and uses for the process.

Jana: I'm so glad you came back and said more, because -ahem- about that closed eyes thing...uh... The only reason I said all that was because I actually misread your comment the first time. I foolishly assumed on some level that you must have meant that your teacher was telling you to visualize your missing parts while standing on your replacement parts or leaning on something or just balancing on your remaining leg but still while actually practicing yoga. This is not what you said at all, and I apologize for not paying better attention. It's just that it never occurred to me that anyone would tell you to, essentially, just close your eyes and pretend. Very uncool.

Still, I'm also kind of glad I made that mistake because your tales of closed-eye experiences are very interesting. I find it really confusing to carry things anywhere but on my back, and I've been curious about that. I just assumed it was about complications of balance, but part of it has also always been needing to see where I put my feet, both of them, something I've always had to do because I am such a profound clutz, but which got even more necessary and more complicated once I started walking around on the prosthetic. Now that I'm more skilled at feeling my way and adjusting to missteps, better at even detecting missteps through means other than sight, it's less off an issue and I find I can carry groceries in ordinary cloth bags at my sides. But I still prefer to backpack everywhere if I can. I realized reading your experiences that I really value not just completely free arms and hands which I can use for flailing or for carrying a walking stick when I remember to bring one, but also clear vision. I hadn't really thought before how much! :)

Bonnie (AmpuT): I totally support your T-shirt idea. Maybe I'm a little burned out on all the ads for yoga gear for perfect bodies. I think you should make the T-shirt, and then advertise it in mainstream yoga publications alongside the tiny little tank tops, cosmic jewelry, and stretch pants with delicately flared ankles. Hm, perhaps I am bitter.

I don't suppose you'd be willing to share the name/contact info of your prop-master teacher? She sounds awesome.

Alphabitch: I am holding the camera with which I am taking the photo, of course! hahahahaha I had to hold it in a weird place to get enough of my pose in the shot, not the place I usually put my hands in Tree Pose Pruned; usually I go through some "namaste" rotations (I don't know what these are called technically) ending with my hands with the palms together in front of my heart. I also usually stay vertical through the whole thing, no leaning off to one side. It really matters where you put everything, you know? :)

About the eyes shut thing: When I studied photography in art school, I developed my film in my bathroom at home, and I discovered the same thing. I found I could not thread the film onto the spools accurately unless I did it with my eyes closed. Of course, I had both my original feet back then, so staying upright while I did this was not an issue; plus the bathroom was really small, and it was easy to find things to lean against. But if I tried to load the film with my eyes opened, I just got confused and always ended up kinking the film or not getting it evenly spaced in its coils in the cannister.

I was kind of excited by this discovery and found the whole experience quite sensual.

alphabitch

Of course it's the camera. duh. I see that now. It looked like a glass with an eyeball in it on the other monitor is all. I have an appointment for an eye exam later this week. Not a moment too soon, I gotta say.

alphabitch

PS, I'm having trouble reaching the yogabeans site for the last few days; is it just me?

Sara

Oh, no! Yogabeans is awol! That sucks.

I hope it comes back.

Sara

Yogabeans has returned. All is right with the world. :)

Nancy

I am a yoga instructor with a student with prosthetics from the knees down on both legs, one slightly shortened arm with a few fingers and the other stops at the wrist. She is a little shy (and new to yoga) so I don't want to focus on her too much but would love to hear of poses that would work well with her while also being challenging enough for the rest of the class. Any input is appreciated.

Thank,

Nancy

Sara

Hi, Nancy. Thanks for popping by. I can't really give you a lot of specific advice, because my situation is so different from your student's (except for the shyness; I'm too shy even to take a public class) and also because I am not a trained teacher. I would recommend, however, that you read comments to my post for Blogging Against Disablism Day 2008. My esteemed correspondents offered some very useful thoughts and resources there about learning and teaching mind-body disciplines, including thoughts about Iyengar yoga and a link to a guy in a wheelchair named Matthew Sanford who teaches yoga to people with all sorts of bodies and who might be very interested in giving tips or at least the benefit of his experience to a fellow teacher.

Good luck, and good for you for opening yourself up and trying. The most important thing we all agree on in this other post is that it's all about figuring out what you can do, realizing that the strongest practice doesn't look the same on absolutely everyone, and that everybody's somewhere along the way of the journey, not a finished product, no matter how long s/he's been practicing, no matter how many or what kind of impairments each of us has to work with.

I hope that makes sense and that it helps.

Farida

Hi,

I am a yoga instructor and I truly believe that anyone can do yoga. Yoga knows no age or shape and cliched as it sounds, your breath can truly set you free. the path to a perfect life comes from embracing all our imperfections, physical or otherwise.

I am not sure why that instructor said to not close your eyes while you practice yoga. i teach about 13 classes a week and i cant do poses with my eyes closed. when you close your eyes, you are forced to look inward for strength and balance, it is not an easy thing for most of us to do, with or without all our limbs. I routinely encourage students to close eyes during their poses, it always surprises them and makes them realize they need to go deeper and are certainly capable of it.

another reason he might have said so is because when you close your eyes, you stop energy flow, and while you practice you want to stay 'open' to encourage a good balanced flow. it is a common reason why yogis are instructed to not close their eyes until savasana or meditation.

i came across your site because i knew there were amputees doing yoga and i wanted to post some on my facebook, i think what you do is inspiring. do i have your permission to post your site and pic?

may you find more strength and balance everyday.

namaste.

Diana Chewning

I think you are awesome, go Yogini:)

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