I woke up on the ground with my skin pressed up tightly against the steaming Arizona sand. The sun beating down upon my cracked head with all eyes on me, waiting for any movement from my body. There I was, smashed into the grand canyon floor by a falling rock.
I had been working in the Grand Canyon on a volunteer trail crew for the summer of 2017, trying to find my life’s path and purpose in the great outdoors. I spent nine days at a time being fully immersed in nature and the next five days off in Flagstaff, Arizona, where my work provided free group housing to all the volunteers. From sunrise to sunset, I lived outside with all the birds, bees, and plants. Accompanied by little to no phone reception, it was a complete dream, I know! And the perfect opportunity to learn some valuable yoga life lessons. Freedom, liberation, no obligations, no bills to pay, the great outdoors and mother nature. What more could a girl want?
Despite all of the perks that this job offered, I felt alone and powerless. Sure, I was enjoying nature but was I making a difference? Was I helping anyone? I couldn’t convince myself that I was. Every day on the trail, swinging a pickaxe and shoveling rocks felt purposeless for me. Sidenote: I am very grateful for all the national park services workers. They make the parks possible! But for me, I felt like I was living for someone else’s dream. Who can relate? Undeniably, my time here in the canyon was over. It was time for me to embark on my next free-spirited journey to find myself.
I remember this day perfectly. I woke up overheated in my sleeping bag with a pit inside my stomach. I put on my boots and walked to the pavilion where my crew would cook breakfast over a propane stove as the sun rose. Circled by the pot of cowboy coffee, they all gazed up at me upon my arrival and asked me if I was okay.
Was it that obvious that I felt out of my element?
My lips quivered as I explained to them something about today was off. Something inside me was telling me not to hike down today and to play sick. Was it my intuition? My ego whispered to me that if I played it sick, I would be looked at as lazy, so I went anyway and pushed my intuition aside.
I sat behind a giant rock most of the day. I even napped, feeling so disconnected from my life, my body and the present moment. Behind the rock I watched perpetual rain clouds form over the rusty canyon. I prayed for rain, knowing that if it rained we could hike out early and I would be one step closer to these nine days being over.
An hour passed and rain droplets began to fall and I smiled. It was time. My crew hiked out. I put my headphones in, turned on Bridge over troubled water by Simon and Garfunkel and began the trek. Upwards and out!
My feet moved as fast as they could as I thought about getting to the top. This is when reality hit me, and hit me hard. When it rains in the canyon the hardened side walls turn into flowing streams of ancient mud. Embedded in the canyon walls are giant rocks. When it rains, the mud moves around the rocks and disperses. The mud around this one specific rock, decided today was the day to let it all go, and then there I was, listening to Simon and Garfunkel, smiling, and then, nothing. Darkness, stillness, complete silence. Just me, bleeding and motionless.
I was life-flighted out of the Grand Canyon during a thunderstorm. The pilots had to land, because of intense winds, and then ambulance me as fast as they could to Flagstaff hospital. All I remember is waking up on the canyon floor and laughing for a moment, at the irony of the situation. I had begged to get out of the canyon. Praying, journaling, speaking out loud my desire to escape the canyon because I was unhappy.
My desire had been answered. Be careful what you ask for because you never know what form your wish might come in.
I wasn’t expecting my life to come to an absolute HALT. I was hospitalized for two weeks with seven broken ribs, a broken scapula, a chest tube for my collapsed lung. I had skull surgery so the doctors could clean my fractured head. The nurses gave me breathing exercises so I could begin to heal my ruptured lung, which I later discovered to be pranayama- a yogic breathing technique used to calm the mind and body. That was one yoga life lesson – breathing heals.
In this newfound state of stillness that the universe had sprung on me, I had no choice but to rest. Every single movement was a deep ache in my bones and spirit. I almost died and I felt like I had some weird role in it. This stillness sparked a deep and longing curiosity for understanding. Why did this happen to me? How did I survive a rock hitting me in the head at full speed? With no brain damage? I pondered these questions for the next three months as I recovered in my bed, in a room I shared with six other girls.
I refused to go home because I was adamant about healing and then working on the trails again. It’s funny how we think we know what we are going to do in the future; how we plan everything out according to what our current selves want. If this taught me one thing, it was this. We don’t have one set purpose in this life. We all have many purposes. Why was I so stressed about finding the one?
During months of physically healing, I built up enough motivation to begin to work on my mental state. It was an opportunity to learn some valuable yoga life lessons. The stillness had brought up a lot of new perspectives for me. Ample amounts of introspection can lead to places of confusion or places of clarity. I needed to find clarity, so I began to lay on my floor every day and meditate. I laid in savasana and just breathed. I then slowly began to stretch gently, in ways that were nurturing to my body. Another yoga life lesson: movement is nurturing.
Some days I cried as I stretched, remembering how fast I used to push my body. I had been taking my body for granted without even realizing it. I remember looking in the mirror and picking out pieces of myself that I saw could be better or more beautiful. Now I thank my body for working with me, keeping me upright with a beating heart and healthy insides. What more does anyone need? Sure, we all need the essentials to live a comfortable life, but we get so caught up in loopholes of thinking we need to look perfect, be the best, and liked by everyone. Its time to show more gratitude to ourselves and get rid of lack mentality.
It was here I began to learn many valuable yoga life lessons. I started doing my yoga practice, in a shared room with six other girls on an old carpet. Glamorous right? Yoga isn’t glamorous really. It is about breaking yourself open so you can push past boundaries that you’ve set for yourself.
From this injury, I healed faster than all the doctors predicted, surpassed a shoulder surgery they thought I would need since I lost 75% muscle mass from my broken collar bone (thank you knees down chaturanga!) and ultimately, overcame mental blockages and learned to love myself a little bit deeper than physical appearance. The healing experience taught me a new perspective and many yoga life lessons.
After I healed, I went back and hiked the trail down to the spot where this happened. I thought I might be testing fate, but I did it. I made peace with it and moved on.
Yoga isn’t about the pose all of the time. It is about those yoga life lessons. The simplicity of getting caught up in how the physical asana looks externally is almost funny, but what is important is how yoga makes us feel. Not what we look like, but what is happening to our minds. Through this, I learned to slow down, breathe deeper and look at life through a new perspective. My biggest yoga life lesson: That yoga is how we react when life throws us into chaos or throws a rock down to crush your skull…
So to you, Grand Canyon, the place that almost killed me, thank you for teaching me so many yoga life lessons. Thank you for showing me how to deepen my breath and take life a little bit slower.
Author: Annie Godin
Hello, my name is Annie Godin. I am a nature lover and yoga teacher living in Phoenix, Arizona. After the accident, Yoga became my everyday healing tool. I completed my teacher training in the summer of 2018 and have been teaching since! In my free time, I love to make art, write and cook delicious meals with the people I love!
Me today: Following my passion for teaching yoga and sharing my story!