Physiotherapy: finding a path to recovery on the road

When I left Canada in October 2014 for my round-the-world trip, I was on a recovery path from a six month old injury that had caused sciatica. Although sciatica is the kind of issue that never really goes away, I was determined to put it behind me and not just because of my travel plans. Being active is a big part of who I am and I wasn’t about to give that up. I had been working with an excellent physiotherapist in Toronto and I left home with an arsenal of exercises that were intended to bring me back to full recovery. Unfortunately, the path to recovery is never smooth and my journey around the world led me to look beyond physiotherapy to find a complete solution. It’s been two years since my original injury and I’m still working on getting back to my best self but I’ve come a long way and it’s been an interesting ride.

A month into my travels I did the Everest base camp trek in Nepal. I’d cleared this idea with my GP and physiotherapist before leaving Canada and they assured me that it was definitely within my reach as long as I wasn’t carrying a heavy load on my back. The trek was harder than I expected and I struggled particularly with the altitude. My sciatica was pretty manageable on the way up but the knee on my injured side got very stressed on the way down. It was pretty badly swollen by the end but I didn’t feel like there was any serious damage so I self prescribed rest and TLC.

After another week in Nepal, I limped into Pakistan to visit with a good friend. My sciatica was acting up and my knee still hurt. Upon seeing my limp, my friend immediately asked me to join her in physiotherapy. The timing of this offer was perfect. The techniques that were applied were pretty different from my experience in Canada. In Toronto, I was mostly given stretches and strengthening exercises whereas in Pakistan, the focus was on electrotherapy, therapeutic ultrasound and spinal traction. Although I was initially skeptical about the different approaches, it really helped. After ten days in Pakistan, I was barely limping anymore!


Meditating through the pain in India.

My next stop was a yoga ashram in India. Embarking on three hours of daily yoga was great for improving my flexibility but it also really caused my sciatic nerve to flare up. I was pushing myself at an accelerated pace but I was still careful about my limits. I eventually had to reduce my yoga attendance by half and spend my down time curled up on my back to ease the nerve aggravation. I was also back to limping around- it didn’t help that the ashram was hilly! The net result of this was that once my nerve calmed down my knee and sciatica were markedly improved. I was so impressed with my progress that I continued to carry my yoga mat with me throughout the rest of my trip. This kept me inspired to stretch as daily as possible. After a few more months of stretching, my persistence paid off and I started to feel back to normal.


Morning yoga on the beach in Thailand

When I arrived in New Zealand in April 2015, I felt really good about day to day activities but still found that my knee and sciatica would flare up at times from things like stairs and salsa dancing. Luckily I found a great job in health insurance that enabled me to afford extra care and I was happy to invest in my health. I tried a number of things: physiotherapy, osteopathy, massage therapy and personal training. Although all of these helped in some way, I was happiest with my decision to hire a personal trainer. I found a trainer who was very knowledgeable about building core strength and helping me with my form. This was exactly what I needed and he got me doing squats and deadlifts again which I was so grateful for. I really missed that!


Yoga on a chilly morning in New Zealand

My Kiwi trainer gave me two workout routines that I could use on the road and I did my best to fit them in around beach time in the South Pacific. I eventually got a little too confident and added in some skipping which gave me a seriously tight calf muscle in my problem leg. When I arrived in Rarotonga, my calf was so tight that I was limping around and stretching was not helping. I looked into sports massage on the island and found myself a gem. He talked a big game of curing people who flew in from around the world to see him, of being chased by the All Blacks to join their support team full time and of being able to solve problems that no other physiotherapist, doctor, osteopath or massage therapist could solve. He also claimed to only have divine training! Although I can’t say that I believed all his claims, I decided to give him a try and he came through. He gave me an excellent massage that got to the source of my problem at the time and did wonders for my tight calf muscle.


Finding a quiet place to workout in Fiji

Now that I’m back in Toronto, I’ve been delighted to see my old physiotherapist and massage therapist again. I’m not at 100% yet and I’m going to keep looking for the right solution to get me there. Next on my to-do list is picking a new gym and new yoga studio in Toronto. I’m really looking forward to getting back to doing all the things I love.

India: yoga, monks, fitness and world peace

The first time I ever wrote myself a list of life goals, around age 16, my most unusual goal was to meditate with monks. I envisioned myself gathering knowledge from multiple university degrees in various subjects and then going somewhere like Tibet to spend a month or so meditating in a bare bones monastery. During that time of silence, peacefulness and focus I would be able to apply my knowledge to solve one of humankind’s great problems like world hunger. After I outlined the basic details of this to my parents, they pointed out that girls aren’t allowed to live with monks and that perhaps I could go to a nunnery. Yikes. The thought of living in a nunnery for any period of time still scares me and definitely brought into question my understanding of what a monastery is in the first place. My plans were put on hold.

This life goal sat at the back of my mind for years. As time passed and yoga continued to grow in popularity in the Western world, I started to hear about ashrams in India where anyone could go to practice yoga and meditation. This sounded like just what I needed – and with a bonus of yoga! Yoga vacations are now so much in demand that they are really quite simple to arrange.


Yoga pose statues at the ashram in India

When deciding to quit my steady job to travel around the world, it was obvious to me that this was the optimal time to achieve this goal. Never mind the fact that my one university degree in actuarial science was not the right subject matter for solving the world’s problems. I figured that a few weeks of meditation should provide me with some sort of clarity even if it were only a new personal insight.

It’s important to note that prior to this trip, I’d only briefly toyed with the idea of meditation. I admired those who meditated daily and imagined that they started every day at peace with themselves and with what the day ahead would bring. I hoped that this yoga vacation I’d planned for myself would help me figure out meditation and bring me more inner strength. Well, it was a great idea, but on this trip at least, I utterly failed at meditation. My biggest hurdles were physical injuries: one sustained prior to the start of my trip and a new one as a result of my Himalayan trekking. Both these injuries made sitting on the ground uncomfortable and at times painful. Despite my best efforts, I just couldn’t hold a comfortable position long enough to meditate.


Holding my best meditation pose

Now for my silver lining: the good news was that all the yoga I was doing, combined with my previously assigned physiotherapy exercises and my knowledge of what yoga exercises would hinder vs help, was accelerating the recovery path for my injuries. On my physiotherapy path, I’d already vowed to reform my approach to physical fitness to be more holistic and it was my time in the ashram that helped me develop a daily habit toward this goal.


Remnants of the ashram fire ceremony

Instead of coming out of my yoga vacation with a daily practice of meditation and insight into solving the world’s problems, I came out with a daily yoga practice and a renewed focus on recovery and keeping by body healthy and fit. If you don’t have your health, what do you have? My time in an ashram may have resulted in more of a physical than spiritual experience, but it was exactly what I needed at the time.