A sob caught in her throat and her tears mingled with sweat in the hot yoga room.
Jennifer Tindale had gone through nearly a decade of chronic pain and prescription drugs, but it wasn't until she was on a mat in a North Vancouver yoga studio that she finally felt some relief and a sense of her identity.
Tindale, a North Vancouver resident and self-described "type-A personality," had recently begun a career as a radiation therapist when she was injured. "The job was very stressful, but you came home at the end of the day knowing that you made a difference in someone's life," she says.
After two years of training, Tindale had her back turned when a particularly tense patient grabbed onto the therapist to pull herself up. She felt a sudden jerk on her arm and a twinge in her shoulder. Accustomed to the aches and scrapes of competitive softball, Tindale assumed the pain would pass.
Her initial plan was to take a little time off work to deal with the injury, but as days turned into weeks and her vacation time elapsed, Tindale says the pain only worsened. Besides the physical discomfort, Tindale says there was a void in her life with no work and no one to help.
Formerly active and athletic, Tindale, who was in her 20s, found that raising her arm compressed the blood vessels in her neck, stopping the blood flow to her arm. Tindale opted for a surgery that removed her first rib in order to stimulate blood flow. The surgery was technically a success, but Tindale found her pain had only changed shape.
"My nervous system has basically been traumatized," she explains.
Tindale was diagnosed with complex regional pain syn-drome. "That led to six or seven years of . . . every drug you can think of all the way up to being on methadone for a few years and every other cocktail," she says. "I've pretty much been a medical guinea pig in some respects."
Tindale spent those years lost in the maze of the medical system, undergoing Botox shots, epidurals, and "marinating in narcotics." She tried massage and physiotherapy, and spent her free time locking horns with the Workers' Compensation Board. "WCB, the only thing they paid for was my drugs," she says.
Realizing her life had shrunken to the point where her days consisted of Starbucks and sleep, Tindale had a simple revelation: "The drugs never took the pain away. . . By the time I decided to go off everything, I was lucky if I was awake four hours a day."
While the drugs made her sleep, withdrawal kept Tindale up for days in a row. While she didn't find she had a strong psychological addiction to the drugs, the physiological addiction was bone-deep.
"The methadone leeches into your bone marrow, so when you're detoxing it's coming from your bone marrow out, so it feels like your bones are breaking," she says.
Finally free from the drugs and still trying to cope with her pain, Tindale made the difficult decision to venture into what she thought was the exclusive domain of pseudo-spiritual hipsters. "I was the biggest skeptic on yoga," she says.
But as she twisted and stretched, modifying certain poses because of her pain, Tindale says she found a moment between inhaling and exhaling, she felt her pain ebb, her mind calm, and she wept. "In class, I'd be bawling, because I was numb for so long," she says.
Tindale still lives with chronic pain, and still has days when she doesn't get out of bed, but says yoga has given her a method of dealing with the pain that extends far outside the studio. When stuck in a long line in the bank or angry at a reckless driver on the highway, Tindale says reverting to the yoga mindset helps her remain calm.
"A lot of people go to yoga to discover their body, I go to yoga to get out of my body," she says. "I'm not going to look like the front of a yoga journal, but that's okay."
Besides sharing her story on her blog, www.myyogamypain. blogspot.com, and volunteering at a detox centre, Tindale is now teaching weekly classes Sundays at 6 p.m. at Northshore Elements YYoga. She's also preparing to give a two-hour restorative workshop to help others discover their own power to restore and heal at Body Harmony Yoga Studio Oct. 29 at 12: 30 p.m. Cost: $20 plus HST. Info: www.bodyharmony.ca.
"I'm blessed I got injured in some ways," she says. "This is what I was meant to do."