Sometimes I forget that I had back surgery. Most of the time I’m just used to how my body moves (or doesn’t), but every now and then, someone reminds me with an innocent comment: “Abby, you have amazing posture!” or, “I feel like I have to stand up straighter whenever you’re around,” or sometimes, “You’re a yoga teacher? No wonder you have such perfect posture!” I feel almost guilty when I tell them, “Thank you for noticing, but it’s not the yoga – it’s the rods.”

Eleven years ago this month, my body was permanently altered. I went under anesthesia at Beth Israel North, and when I woke up, I had eleven fewer moveable joints, two new stainless steel rods and 22 ragdoll pinkscrews. My scoliosis had progressed aggressively over the previous five years, and surgery was an attempt to fix it for good. Most days, I am incredibly thankful for this permanent solution; sometimes, however, I feel a pang of regret: what if surgery wasn’t the best option? What if a new, less invasive surgery comes to fruition – will I pity myself for my impatience and antiquated rods? To add to this mental conflict, I have also had several yoga teachers express regret on my behalf when I tell them of my rods: “I wish you had come to see me before you decided on surgery!” one said; “Yoga is a natural way to correct scoliosis,” said another. Every time someone says something like this, I want to respond: Are you f*cking kidding me?! Do you think I didn’t try other solutions? Do you think it was an easy decision, gluing nearly half my vertebrae together and reinforcing them with stainless steel? But every time, in an effort to remain cordial, I smile and say, “Yeah, it was a difficult decision, but it’s too late to change my mind now.”

I am still learning how to reconcile my own view of myself with how others view me – or, more accurately, my perception of how others view me. Usually, I am happy with myself and my decisions, and usually, I focus on how I feel, rather than how I might appear.  But more often than I would like to admit, I look to others to validate my choices, to tell me what a good job I did, or to reinforce an inkling I have – positive, or negative. Sometimes I am so focused on how I come across that I find it hard to accept a compliment (a compliment, that, just moments earlier, I was hoping to receive). Rather than simply say, “thank you,” I find some excuse to diminish my skills, abilities, or even my posture: “Oh, I’m not really that good”; “It’s not the yoga – it’s the rods.”

The truth is, my rods aren’t solely responsible for my excellent posture, nor are my natural talents responsible for any of the good work that I do. It is all a balance of nature and nurture, innate and cultivated, acceptance and seeking. Whenever I am alone – whether I am cooking, doing yoga, scoli x-ray backscoli x-ray sidereading, singing, dancing, or sitting – I am deeply in touch with what I want and need; I accept my body fully for what it can do, and what it can’t, and I appreciate my challenges as much as my talents. With no one around to critique or congratulate me, my successes and failures are my own. Once I step into the world, however, I inevitably begin comparing myself to others: am I smarter, faster, less attractive, more adept, less patient, or just plain different? How much of me is fixed, immobile, permanent, and how much of me can still grow and evolve? When I let others’ assessments of me speak louder than my own, self-doubt creeps in. But when I stop seeking outside opinions, slow down, and listen, not only do I feel more capable of making my own decisions, I feel content with the decisions I have already made.

So, rods and screws in my spine, listen up: I know you’re in there, and I appreciate you. You are part of my body, no longer a collection of foreign objects, but an integral part of my skeleton. Some people may tell you (or me) that you don’t belong, but we cannot doubt our connection. We’re in this together. Happy Anniversary.

half moon pink

(Photo credit to Steve Kraft)

7 thoughts on “A Tribute to The Rods

  1. I understand the challenges when it comes to having rods especially if you live a healthy life style that may give limitations. I’m currently doing research on if yoga is safe for people like me with rods so this story is encouraging!

    1. Hi, Missshawna! So sorry I’m just replying to you now! I have found yoga to be extremely beneficial–a good down dog is about the only thing that can stretch my back these days! (Some eagle/ garundasana arms also do the trick…) How many vertebrae do you have fused? Was yours a result of scoliosis? Feel free to email me at if you want to talk more rods! 🙂

  2. Thank you for the response:) I only stop yoga because a friend’s chiropractor said it wasn’t a good idea and in fact said I should never do a down dog pose. O_O Yet after my surgery I wasn’t instructed on anything I shouldn’t do. So confusing! I have seven vertebrae fused more towards the top. It was for scoliosis. I’m having my chiropractor work on my lower back which is still curved. I would of had chiropractor treatment to hopefully prevent surgery if I would of know then what I know now. I can have a type A personality and don’t like limiting myself even physically. This is even more reason for me to keep trying yoga for the mental focus in slowing down in life. It has helped another friend of mine who has several health conditions. Were you as confused on finding safe physical activity after surgery?

  3. Hello together, I had last year my 2. scoliosis surgery. My first I had with 14, 6 screws and 1 rod by Prof. Dr. Zielke, the inventor of the screws technic instead of the Harington rod. I am from Toronto and had last September my 2. surgery, now with 46 years I have 32 screws and 6 rods. So, I am totally screwed up, but not screwed. I don’t regret my decision. I made a lot of Yoga, horseback riding, skiing and had 3 children after my first surgery. Coming to your point Abby, yes I have to learn again to accept my Eifel Tower – it really looks like it, because my hips are angered in, but really cool. However, I have so much less pain then a year ago. This time I didn’t grew, but I am pretty straight 🙂 I did my first downward dog, child pose and month ago tree pose. I think most important is to stay positive, not being scared and exploring – carful, but every day is a new one and opens a new door – ups and now the airport controls go off, I have a letter in my passport. There are some limits, but also a lot of solutions and a lot of learning in your new body.

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