Say Goodbye to Stress

"Back" to Our GardenR9

Priscilla Dann-Courtney

When I left home for a ten-day silent yoga retreat, the last thing on my mind was my husband's chronic back pain. I know that doesn't sound very kind but I was more concerned about leaving my husband and children, my psychotherapy practice, and most importantly, the world of conversation, for ten days. But it was under the clear blue sky of the Arizona desert that suddenly without words I began to make sense of my husband's back pain.

Our retreat was taught by a beautiful and very gentle yoga teacher from Korea who led us through daily yoga poses and meditation practices that encouraged us to read our bodies like we would the novels by our bedsides. The aches and pains we felt in our backs, our shoulders, our knees, held our personal stories and were metaphors for our individual challenges. My chronic shoulder pain taught me about the burdens I carried, and as I learned more about myself, I thought more about my dear husband of close to thirty years.

He had always been active—an avid runner and tennis player. But in the last few years, he had suffered from low back pain that would often lead to evenings that we affectionately called the "hobbles." He loved gardening and his spring and summer blossoms were beautiful. But as his gardens flourished, my husband's weekends were filled to the brim with yard work. Often after a hot and sweaty afternoon, he'd pour a glass of water and comment, "Perhaps we could lay some more concrete, extend our porch—we really don't need so much grass and so many flowers!"

So as I moved through my yoga poses in silence and spent many hours in deep meditation, my reading of my husband's back pain became clear. The beauty of my husband's irises was taking on a darker hue. What began as a love and passion for Mother Earth was becoming more of a heavy weight and burden. I thought about how frequently the national news would report on homes collapsing due to tornados—individuals buried by the disaster. Suddenly I recognized that my husband and I were being buried by the demands of our home and our work, suffering from our own psychological tornado.

Even though most of our days were spent in silence on my retreat, infrequent check-ins with our families were allowed. Cell phone service wasn't always the best so the important conversation I needed to have with my husband wasn't so easy.

"What, lovey, I'm losing you, can't hear you  ... " I heard my husband say through static.

But finally it all became clear. "We should think about moving, simplifying our lives, working less!" I said with great emphasis.

My husband rationally answered, "But why?"

I explained that his back pain had to be related to the pressure he put on himself to make our home and yard look beautiful and how sad it would be to spend our next fifty years being driven by our responsibilities. It was the combination of both the physical and psychological strain that landed him in the "hobbles." I wanted him to stop turning his "back" on himself and his wellbeing. Our life was our garden; it was time we weeded out those aspects that were bringing him so much pain. Obviously, our brief conversation was just the beginning but I knew I was laying the groundwork for something wonderful that felt so much more hopeful than laying concrete.

I returned from my week of silence with a few short words on my to-do list. "Simplify," "Move," and find time to "Breathe." And now, five years later, we live a block away from our larger house, in a small home with a beautiful little garden. The flowers are blossoming as I write this. My husband and I have both shed the burden of working too many hours. His infrequent low back pain is just a reminder he's pushing too hard both physically and psychologically. We find time to take better care of ourselves, infusing yoga into our daily lives where we stretch ourselves toward a sense of peace instead of pain.

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