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A Yogi in Recovery by Caroline Leon
Apr 21

A Yogi in Recovery by Caroline Leon

This is the story of a Yogi in recovery, the tale of my accident and of all the crazy allopathic and non conventional methods of treatment I have tried over the last few months to get myself better and back to normal.  

Who am I?

If someone had asked me who I was before my accident I would of said; I am honest, caring, restless, reckless, loving, free thinking, open, a yogi, an avid Pilates practitioner, a teacher, a lover, a friend and an animal mum. I was an optimist! I was flawed in many ways, just as we all are.

Today I have no idea what I am, all I know is that I am in recovery, everything about me is in recovery, my nervous system, my bones, my organs, my optimism, my body, mind, spirit, my marriage, my relationships with my friends. I am in recovery.

But what does that mean exactly to be in recovery? According to my cyber friend Recovery meanings

  1. The regaining of or possibility of regaining something lost or taken away.

(Yes – Dignity gone, Bones- smashed, normal life- changed)

  1. Restoration or return to health from sickness.

(Yes – Organs – working, Right leg- awake, bones-healing)

  1. Restoration or return to any former and better state or condition.

(Yes- The ultimate goal is to return to my former state of health, however I know there is impossibility in this. I have an artificial segment of spine- Note to self – make metal spine more pliable)

  1. Time required for recovering.

(Yes- 3 months and counting)

  1. Something that is gained in recovery.

(No- Hmm – Maybe – New perspective on pain)

  1. An improvement in the economy marking the end of a recession or decline.

(Hahaha – No economy has not improved, it is still in decline)

I am simply salvaging the wreckage of my disaster.

As a Pilates teacher trainer, I was always lecturing on safety, teaching my students and other teachers to remember injury is never worth the risk of being sloppy when it comes to teaching others.

Yet with my own life I was not so diligent. As a an Australian growing up by the beach I was always walking along the cliffs of Coogee, climbing the rock faces, cliff jumping and swimming in a harbor infested with sea life. The truth is I never feared heights, I never feared anything, let alone falling.

I know now the fall doesn’t hurt, it passes so quickly, in nanoseconds. The real pain comes in the days, weeks and months after. It comes in the disintegration and atrophy of everything you have ever known.

What happened?

Everyone asks this question, so here it is, the truth, no fairy floss. I scaled an outdoor rock climbing wall, unharnessed and unsupervised. (If what your thinking is that I’m crazy and stupid, yes I already know!) I am completely at fault. I climbed it all the way to the top only to fall all the way down. The impact shattered my feet, my pelvis and part of my spine.

Immediately after I fell, I knew something was seriously wrong, I rolled onto my right side in immense pain, feeling my bones move separately. I couldn’t lie on my right so I rolled onto my left side, again felling all the bones in my pelvis move separately. Then I waited with both hands on my heart, breathing focusing on the beating of my heart and my breath. I instinctively knew it would keep me here, keep me from going into unconsciousness, I could hear my friend panicking in the distance, calling the ambulance, he told me something was wrong with my feet, there was blood streaming out, pooling around me, and I focused on my breath, my heart.

“It is said in many yoga scriptures that there is a sound which is non-physical, and non empirical, which is transcendental in nature, and this sound is endless and unbroken in the same way that the heart beats faithfully and continuously from birth up until death”

I felt completely hypnotised by that sound and that breath, and so I waited for 45 minutes, completely broken and bleeding holding onto the only thing I could, my breath

At first the doctors were unsure if I would ever walk again, much later I was told that most people don’t survive the first night, (thank god no one told me that) The first priority for the emergency trauma team was to stabilize my spine, I had destroyed a vertebral body in the Lumbar region of my spine, it disintegrated into tiny pieces which exploded into my abdomen. I was rushed immediately to emergency surgery for a posterior spinal stabilisation procedure. This is where they insert metal rods on either side of your spine to make sure that the rest of my spine didn’t collapse into the space that had been left.

That evening I had 3 surgeries, inserting an external fixator to my femur attached to a 6 kg weight to pull my right side back into place. The final surgery was to my right foot, which unbeknown to me had ruptured through the skin and had partially come out. The foot was cleaned and inserted back inside my body, stitched and bandaged.

In the 6 weeks that I spent in hospital I had 7 surgeries, 11 blood transfusions and a tone of morphine and more drugs than I can imagine. I had another spinal surgery, were the smashed pieces of my Lumber spine were removed from my abdomen and that missing segment was replaced with an artificial cage, the intervertebral discs from T12 and L2 were also removed and these segments were fused together. I also had metal plates and rods inserted into my pelvis and pubic bone and a bilateral calcaneum reconstruction.

The shock!!!!!   “For all Voices” by Antjie Krog.

It breathes, becalmed

After being wounded

In it wondrous throat

In the cradle of my skull

It ignites….

By a thousand stories

I was scorched

A new skin

I am changed forever

I want to say

Forgive me, forgive me, and forgive me

I need to forgive myself. But when you’re lying in a hospital bed completely unable to move, in agony, it’s hard to find reasons to forgive yourself. I betrayed all the people I love, I betrayed myself.

In my nightmare, I was climbing, in complete darkness, hearing the voice of my friend in the distance. I keep climbing, the sky, black above me, the sun, eclipsed by the moon; I feel the peg come loose and I start falling, falling into nothingness, the feeling of my body heavy in the air, I land, smacking into the earth and immediately my body shatters into thousands of minuet pieces, they break off into the air like dust, and I’m gone.

Screaming I wake up, sweating, my heart racing, my sheets are wet with perspiration; they smell of anesthesia with its plastic consistency of morphine and fear. I am unable to move, to even lift my head, I start crying, and a grief I have never known before descends. I am grieving my life, my spine, and my bones. Everything I used to be. I almost lost my life.

Forgive me, forgive me, forgive me

I am changed forever,

Forever, scorched in scared skin.

The Resistance

3 months later I look back at that afternoon and wonder if I had known, known it all already, what would I have told myself?

If I had a moment to tell, a younger reckless version of myself the truth, no illusion, no delusion, what would I say? Would I of saved myself?  And if I had chosen to listen where would I be now?

The 1998 Movie “Sliding Doors” staring Gwyneth Paltrow is playing at the forefront of my mind. In the movie Gwyneth’s character effortlessly slides between parallel storylines that show what happens if she does or does not catch a train back to her apartment.

I wonder what my parallel storyline would be, if I had chosen differently, like any sensible human being. My parallel self would have continued with my summer plans. I would of cycled Uganda with Gulf for Good for my honeymoon, spent a week surfing in Sri Lanka and finished the summer at my best friends wedding in Beirut. Yet I lay immobile in hospital for 6 weeks, and then began the slow process of learning everything again. Learning to go to the bathroom, learning to sit, and roll over onto my side, learning to swim, float, and move my leg, that was so damaged. Unlike the movie, fate, the inevitable force that guides our destiny, brought me here, and unlike the movie I have no other parallel story, although my mind was swimming in the mud of resistance unable to grasp the grief I had caused myself, my body was in reformation, resistance was futile, there is no other choice but to accept this fate and surrender to the intelligence that exists within me.

This intelligence supersedes religion; it supersedes anything we consciously know. It is the knowledge that each of our cells holds within its being, its the information of life, and its will to survive, heal and continue. When my mind had given up, when I wanted to surrender because continuing was too hard, to painful, to dark, my body kept going, each cell was continuing to do everything its DNA had encoded, it was the information of hundreds of years of wisdom. And so I felt all the things that were not directly related to healing, turned off, I couldn’t read, I couldn’t remember conversations I had 5 minutes earlier, I couldn’t watch movies, I couldn’t eat.  I was a vehicle of recovery with the soul purpose to heal

Stabilisation or Collapse?

When something like this happens to you, it’s amazing to hear other people’s stories, two stories that continue to play in my mind is one of my friend’s brother who fell down the stairs and passed away. The second is of a man who also fell only a few metres from a climbing wall and was paralyzed from the waist down for the rest of his life.

If this was their fate, what purpose does fate hold for me?

Its too soon to know the true outcome of my accident, and the cost my body has paid. I have so many questions, which I know time will answer in due course. Will I ever walk normally again? Will I be able to have children, will I be able to run, ride a bicycle and climb? What purpose does my life have?

I remember Dr Boris’s words, “No more extreme sports, never again, we have put you back together, do not ruin it, I don’t want to see you back in this hospital” He said this in his jovial tone, laughing yet completely serious.

Yet my life was all about sports, I ran with the roadrunners, dived the Aquarium in Dubai Mall, Climbed Kilimanjaro, and Machu Pichu, I rock climbed, bungee jumped, surfed.

In the “disaster clean up phase “ I realise, I have two choices to stabilize or to collapse, to live in despair or to rebuild.

I choose to rebuild. (With harnesses)

I am a yogi in recovery,

Searching for the truth,

I am in the war of my life,

Forgive me, forgive me, forgive me.

Xxx ~ Caroline Leon

P.S. Thank you everyone who was there to support me, My husband, family, friends, to the doctors at Rashed Hospital for saving my life, my students and the pilates and yoga community. It brought me so much comfort to know that every single day someone was here to hold my hand and endure this with me. I never thought so much love and kindness would come from this place in the desert which I once called superficial and shallow, I know now that notion was misguided. Thank you for all your support, I am bound to you all because although this has been a small act of kindness for you, for me it has been the war of my life, Non-will surpasses this.

To follow my story and read more about some of the therapies I have used over the last few months visit

Therapies used/tried in the last few months to heal yourself.

  • Osteopathy
  • Accupuncture
  • Physiotherapy
  • Vitamin C Flushes
  • Vitamin C IV
  • Ozone Therapy
  • Infrared Sauna
  • Crainial-Sacral Therapy
  • Reiki
  • Pilates
  • Hydrotherapy
  • Chiropractor
  • Superfood
  • Vitamins
  • Juicing
  • Compresses
  • Gerson therapy
  • Sound Therapy
  • Meditation

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