How Yoga Saved My Life
I'm ashamed to admit this: I used to make fun of yoga. I once even wrote in an article for a national magazine that only granola-crunching, Volkswagen van-driving, Birkenstock-wearing noodle necks (I did use the term "noodle neck") bothered with yoga, clearly because they couldn't hack a real workout. Of course, I had never actually practiced yoga; Down Dog was just a command I gave my pug. I am thankful to have lived long enough to know better. And when I say that, I mean it literally.
Two years ago I took my horse Harley for a ride in the Southern California canyons near my stable. That day I was particularly stressed and preoccupied with some now-forgotten problem. I hoped my headache would fade into the pounding of hooves as they beat across the trail. It is a remedy I've turned to throughout my life on hundreds of rides, since I was old enough to sit in a saddle. So when Harley balked at crossing a small creek, I was irritated and impatient.
"Don't be a sissy," I told him, jumping off to lead him through the water. "I don't have time to talk you into this." Harley seemed content to have me lead him, but when I skipped over a stone to avoid getting my boot wet, he suddenly reared back on his haunches.
Even as I write this I recall my shock and surprise when the bony force of his knee hits my back and the sickening feeling as I realize: My 2,000-pound thoroughbred is jumping the water. And he's landing on top of me.
There is a sense of being flung, as if caught by tornado winds, and then dirt in my mouth, then the odd beauty of the angle formed by my arm, reins still in hand, as it pops out of my shoulder. Strangely, I feel no pain, aware only of how mammoth my horse appears as he stands over me. His muscles quiver. I think his sweat drips onto my face; perhaps it is my own. As his body pulls away, I see the flash of a steel-shod hoof as it strikes downward. Then I hear the crack of something, loud as gunfire, and look to see the bones of my left leg snapped apart like dry kindling.
Harley's hind hoof had come through my left shin, cutting through the bones, muscles, ligaments, arteries, and veins. Three fingers' width of calf muscle and sinew formed a gristly hinge. I remember feeling above myself, observing the way so much blood can form a kind of adobe as it flows into the earth, the opalescence of exposed bone, the leg separate and unmoving at the side of a woman's body, which I recognized as my own.
I don't know how long I lay there before I screamed for help. Time had no measure. I remember thinking about a conversation with a friend; it was like a home movie playing in my head. I was lamenting a string of bad luck that had come my way; she wasn't sympathetic. "God touches us with a feather to get our attention," she said to me. "Then if we don't listen, He starts throwing bricks."
My blood pooled around me. Harley put his nose to my face. I thought: the brick. Finally, this is the brick.
I was saved by Edward Albert, Jr., an actor whose face I recognized, a disorienting fact that made me think perhaps I was in fact already dead and had been sent to a special purgatory for Los Angelenos. He kept me from bleeding to death by pinching the artery with his fingers; his daughter directed the paramedics to us when they couldn't find the trail. Edward never let go of my hand as we waited for the medi-vac helicopter to take me to UCLA's trauma center. "Your life will change because of this," he told me, "in ways you can't imagine now."