by Janna Leyde
My dad has been referring to his left foot as ‘the drop foot’ since 2007. Drop Foot? What is that? As the Mayo Clinic defines it: foot drop is an underlying neurological, muscular, or anatomical problem. It may cause you to drag your foot on the ground when you walk. In some cases there is need for a brace.
My father’s drop foot was the result of spinal surgery intended to correct his scoliosis, which had worsened since the accident. The surgeon clipped a nerve leaving my father without feeling in his left heel. And my dad’s drop foot was needy—an uncomfortable plastic brace, a bigger left shoe than right shoe, and caused him trouble walking, balancing, moving through his day.
An example, excerpt from He Never Liked Cake:
It took my father twenty minutes to use the restroom—four minutes inside and sixteen to walk the twenty-five yards of the Macy’s aisle from Shoes to Home Furnishings and then down the short bathroom hallway.
“Dad …” I said on our walk back. “You gotta get in shape. You can’t even walk anymore.”
He stopped in the middle of the aisle and starting doing a rudimentary foot-lifting exercise. “I can’t get my foot to work!”
“Yes, you can! You are using it right now!”
“No I’m not!”
“Yes, you are!”
“The other foot! I’m using my right one!”
He was frustrated with me, still the same ditz, the same clueless kid she was at thirteen.
He walked ahead. I watched him a few steps—the uneasy, repeated sequence of slump, pitch, drop, and drag … slump, pitch, drop and drag … Snails did it faster.
“Well, yoga will help,” I said, catching up to his side. “Honestly, Dad. Yoga will help with that. Your heel, your balance, everything. What do you think?”
“Yoga is interesting.”
That scene in Macy’s was three years ago. Today, the brace is stored at the top of my parents’ coat closet, all of his left shoes match his right shoes, and he walks just fine.
Magic? No, just yoga.
The first time I got my father on his mat, boy was he annoyed with that drop foot.
“I can’t. It won’t. My heel is numb. It’s impossible. YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND!”
We were getting nowhere. He was mad, but he was right—I didn’t understand. I don’t have a drop foot. I don’t push into my back heel in warriors and not feel my back heel.
“Your foot works!” he said.
It does, and I have no clue what he feels like, but I am learning how to work around things that don’t work for me. Yoga and life keep teaching me that some things you just cannot change. So you either get stuck wishing on the impossible, staying angry at what is—or you figure out life and yoga without that thing you simply cannot have the way you want it. On a bigger scale: I cannot have my old dad back. On a smaller scale: my dad can’t have his foot back.
So we stopped our yoga-ing and had a chat about how to live, work, and yoga around the things we absolutely cannot change. The only answer seemed to be: focus on all the things we don’t want to change, all the things that don’t need a fix, all the things that are already working for us. We agreed that we would both not focus on the drop foot—no one was even allowed to say drop foot, and he was to try to find other ways to balance in harder poses and other ways to find grounding if he had to step up or back on the mat.
Six weeks later, back in New York, I called him to ask about his drop foot.
“I don’t feel that foot anymore,” he said. “Well, I can’t, but now I don’t concentrate on it. And your mother says I don’t need to wear my brace. ”
Janna Leyde is a yogi and writer living in Brooklyn. When she’s not on her mat or at the front of the room teaching, she is working on publishing her first novel, He Never Liked Cake, a coming of age memoir that tells the story of growing up with her father’s traumatic brain injury. Oscillations: A Yogic Exploration of the Brain offers her perspective on the practice through the lens of the complex human brain.