How Childhood Polio Impacts My Ego in Yoga

I contracted polio as a child. It’s complicated, I don’t fully understand it. Though this disease was eradicated in North America long ago, I was born in Pakistan, where it still alive and present. Growing up in Canada, then, I didn’t get much information about it, nor much support in learning to be in my body.

The way polio impacted my body is complex, nuanced, not straightforward. But for the most part I’ve always gotten by. No leg brace, no heel lift in custom-ordered shoes. Things look relatively “normal” on the outside.

My body during yoga

To give you some sense of what it’s like to be in my body during a yoga class:

The right side of my body, when I do yoga, feels like that of a 9 year-old Russian gymnast. I am lithe, supple, and every pose feels like I was born doing it.

The left side of my body feels like I worked in construction till I was 70. Like years of manual labor left my body aching and torn. My bones feel brittle, my joints feel rusty.

My ego during yoga

When I do a pose on the right side, I am cocky. “Look at me just popping into half-moon. How perfect is my tree pose? Half-bound lotus standing forward bend? I could do that in my sleep.” My ego is so high on itself, it prevents me from receiving the benefits of these poses.

Half-bound standing forward bend

Half-bound standing forward bend

Then comes the left side. My right leg is smaller in size than my left, which means it takes all my effort to just balance in half-moon. When doing tree pose on my left side, I can’t carry my weight on my right foot, so I either remain with both feet on the floor or use a wall for support. Lotus on the left- I can barely get my leg bent, let alone fold anywhere.

My ego is beating me up so hard, it prevents me from receiving the benefits of these poses.

I did yoga this way for 15 years. This half-hyper-flexible, half-creaky, full-ego-takeover style of yoga practice. It was all I knew. I was “doing it”, but I wasn’t getting the underlying, life-changing benefits of yoga out of it.

Starting Over

Then I met my yoga mentor. I signed up for teacher training and began to work with this man who wanted to know. No one had asked before. Not doctors, not teachers.

He asked what it would be like if I modified my practice to honor my body.

I said, “No thank you.”

I said, “I’m fine the way I am.”

I quit the program.

No joke. I dropped out of the program. For many reasons, but this was one of them.

What yoga is like today

A year later, I came back. Ready to listen.

Two years later, I have worked with my ego (note: not tried to overcome or beat it or win against my ego- but work with) to create a whole new yoga practice. One that could find a middle ground between being overly cocky and overly self-deprecating. One that could put the ego aside and do what was best for my body.

Today, if you see me do yoga, you may think, “Did she even hear what the teacher said, she’s doing it all wrong.” Or at least that’s what I think you think. You see? It’s still a constant struggle, constant work, to do what’s right for my body, not what my ego wants, not what looks good to others. But I’m doing it, a bit at a time.

Now that I’m doing the yoga that is meant for my body, I have started a whole new yoga journey. A fuller, deeper, more authentic journey which has brought me life-changing benefits.

I had to let go of what “looked good”, what “looked right” to get something that was real.

Why am I telling you all this?

I am not sure, exactly. Maybe to make myself feel better.

But also, if I hold this much in my body, I wonder what you hold in yours. I wonder what yoga is like in your body.

I used to think everyone else was perfect, I was the only one who had issues. When I began to teach yoga, I saw that that simply isn’t true.

So maybe I write this assuming everyone has something going on that is unique to their body. And maybe you think you're the only one.

Maybe this piece is to tell you you’re not.