“If you’re going to continue doing CrossFit, you’ll need to have a breast reduction,” my very direct gynecologist told me one year as she performed my breast exam. It wasn’t that I hadn’t thought about it before, but the struggle was amplified by my newly active lifestyle.
Surgery, though? Too scary. Too expensive. Too much time away from work. Anxiety would play no small part in avoiding pursuing breast reduction surgery for a number of years.
Early Unwanted Attention
I remember being around 13 the first time I received unwanted attention for my shape. I was wearing a red bathing suit that my mom had ordered from the women’s section of a Land’s End catalog. Playing around a pool at a summer gathering with a bunch of my dad’s colleagues, grown men made comments about my body. I was a child.
It didn’t take long for me to consciously begin covering up. By the time I was in junior high, I was in a C cup bra. Baggy pants, men’s extra large tee shirts, and a collection of Chuck Taylors. It was a look. I navigated my awkward way into adulthood and eventually convinced myself that the way other people felt about my body was not my concern.
While I could navigate unwanted attention more logically, that young girl inside of me made sure my posture and clothing never revealed too much.
Discovering Yoga in an Atypical Body
I started practicing yoga in grad school with DVDs, and eventually made it to gym and studio practice as those options were affordable. I managed to avoid bouncing around very much until I turned 30.
Enter CrossFit. If finding a C cup bra for a tween was a nightmare, finding a JJ cup bra to hold me in for box jumps and burpees was a quest straight out of Dante’s Inferno. And don’t even get me started on bathing suits. This was when I shrugged off my gynecologist’s mention of breast reduction surgery.
But I was determined to move this body: To lift heavy things and put them back down, to practice every form of yoga I had time to try. For the first time in my life, I wore tank tops to work out. My family began to question my sanity as yoga leggings crept into my wardrobe.
The more I moved, the more I wanted to learn. The more I moved, the more I found I couldn’t move the way many people could. My shoulder flexion was crap. My ribs jutted out from beneath my heavy breasts as I struggled to move weight overhead. My neck and shoulders hurt, but that wasn’t new.
Finding Body Acceptance While Becoming a Teacher
In 2015, I decided to take my 200 hour yoga teacher training. To claim that I did not have to take time to process my body being the center of attention would be a lie.
I was able to study one-on-one with my teacher, Joni McCarran, who encouraged me to be honest with my students and develop my own voice in the classroom. Often this involved finding modifications that she was not familiar with. She gave me the freedom, encouragement, and resources to explore what teaching in my body would entail.
While I was concerned with stepping into a class and seeing confused looks of students expecting the teacher to be a certain shape (slender and lithe) and teach advanced postures, I began to develop my own realm of expertise. In 2016, I had Joni’s full support as I immersed myself in the Yoga Tune Up® teacher training, and a year later became a Roll Model® Method Practitioner.
As I boosted my anatomical literacy and self-care practice, my own aches and pains became harder to ignore. In my YTU final essay, I declared “I’ve got a real love-hate relationship with the trapezius. On the one hand, as a migraine sufferer, desk sitter, and carrier of mighty heavy bosoms, I am constantly turning my neck at some weird angle to stretch, adjust, or otherwise move the upper edge of my traps. Massage, yoga, therapy ball rolling, targeted mobilizations…the relief is generally brief at best.”
This exploration of my body allowed me to more accurately advocate for my own healthcare.
Making the Choice to Get Breast Reduction Surgery
In my 37th year, I made my final move. After six months of regular chiropractic care, which included a therapy routine and massage, I consulted with a surgeon. I submitted my paperwork to see if the years of shoulder indents, headaches, jaw clenching, skin fold rashes, terrible posture, and a constantly restrained rib cage (do you know what a JJ cup bra looks like?) qualified a breast reduction as “medically necessary” according to my insurance company.
The letter came a few weeks later; my life was about to change.
“Large Breasts” read the diagnosis on my chart. “No shit,” I thought. And away I went to prepare my body and my brain for what was about to happen to it.
Mindset and Practices to Prepare for Breast Reduction Surgery
As if her training and methods hadn’t helped me enough, Jill Miller took the time to hold space for me as I prepared for surgery: “Pray with your breath as you are wheeled into surgery, no matter what you are feeling, pray with your breath and remind your breasts that you love them, and that they’ve been a wonderful part of your life. You respect them and even when they’re gone, you appreciate all the lessons and life they’ve given you.”
In the weeks before surgery, guided by Jill’s advice, my practice was focused on manipulating my rib cage through breath, movement and self-massage. My Coregeous® ball traced the outline of my torso, pulling and kneading my tissue. I was ready.
When they wheeled me away from my family to begin surgery, I inhaled, I exhaled. Praying may not be the right word for me personally, but it felt right to acknowledge and thank my body as Jill had so beautifully suggested.
What Happens During and After Breast Reduction Surgery
Bilateral breast reduction mammaplasty by the inferior pedicle technique leaves large incisions horizontally under the breast crease and into the armpit area, vertical incisions from the areola that continue under the breast to meet up with the horizontal incision, and incisions all the way around the areola (which have been trimmed to match the smaller breast). Holy wound-healing, Batman!
I am not a squeamish person, but the first time my mom and I removed my bandages, I nearly passed out.
I knew what to expect. I had watched videos of the entire procedure and had probably looked at hundreds of post-surgery photos at that point, but something about revealing your own body after it has been taken apart and put back together is shocking.
The surgeon had removed 721 grams of my right breast, 690 of my left, and sewn me back up. My mom, a retired nurse (and probably a saint), was equal parts amazed and concerned with my significantly smaller “frankenboobs.”
Between the nausea, swelling, bruising, seeping wounds, pain, and exhaustion, it wasn’t hard not to move for the first week or so after surgery. But I had prepared myself well nutritionally and with years of movement, so after week two, I wanted to do something other than lie around.
Self-care Practice to Heal From Breast Surgery
Jill had told me in our email before surgery, “your RIBS are the big deal here. Do not let your intercostals or obliques go fallow, keep them moving!” Aside from breathwork, my first forays into movement after surgery included gentle twists, neck CARs, laying on my Coregeous® ball, and rolling my feet with my Original Yoga Tune Up® Therapy Balls.
I pondered on my Instagram account “Do you know how stretchy the skin of your mid/low rib cage needs to be in order to breathe and twist and reach and move your arms over your head?”
My flesh was healing, but tight and inflamed, and because I was interested in healing well, I was patient with it.
At four weeks, I was cleared to begin practicing yoga and lifting things over five pounds again. At six weeks, I was cleared for exercise.
Since I had the tools to listen to my own body and recognize my limits, I was able to modify my workouts and practice at the studio. My Coregeous® ball was my best friend as I resumed rolling my ribcage all over her.
The first time I was able to place her between my shoulder blades and fully extend my spine in a backbend over the ball, I breathed deeply, expanding my rib cage with my intercostals, my abdomen elastic, my torso unencumbered by a tightly-bound cage of underwire, I was elated. I could hardly believe the body I was breathing in.
Recently, I received my own “before” photos in the mail because I had requested them from the surgeon’s office. While I had tracked my healing progress through photos, I had none of what I used to look like. I didn’t hate my body, after all, it had served me well, but why would I photograph something that caused me so much physical and emotional pain?
I slid the photos out of the envelope marked CONFIDENTIAL. I was shocked. How had I managed to do so much in that body?
4 Months Later and I’m “Ready to Dance Around”
Before surgery, I saw a lovely bronze statue of a nude woman leaping for joy with her arms over her head. She seemed to be looking down and celebrating her own beautiful form. I mused on Instagram “I’ve learned every lift, asana, exercise, and technique I know inside this capable but restricted body.” I wondered if I might celebrate my new form.
“I’m just a magic skeleton driving a meat wagon with too much weight on the front, and I’m ready to dance around,” I posted.
By the time this post is live, I will be four months recovered from my breast reduction. My incisions have healed nicely, and I continue to massage them regularly. I have returned to CrossFit, and am learning about all the new things my body can do without that extra meat on the front.
I can now identify with my students who have recovered and healed from surgery, and I bring to my classes my own story of how my self-care practice enabled me to pursue something that had previously terrified me.
The bronze statue I saw at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art was called Joy of the Waters, by Harriet Whitney Frishmuth. I visited her recently, and because I have no fear of acting a fool in public, we got to celebrate together.
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