Well folks, I get up close and personal with Diane Lee, one of the world’s most influential physiotherapy educators. In this W.O.W. Chat episode, I ask Diane a personal question and she graciously accepts the invite and shares her story of struggle and how yoga (including the meditation aspect of yoga) has been instrumental on her healing journey and helped her reconnect with her Essence. She realized that she could still be well, even with a physical injury. She discusses the irony of a physiotherapist such as herself experiencing what it’s like to have unexplained pain and how it helped her be more empathetic towards her patients. This was a great chat filled with insights and inspiration.

Watch the 10 minute W.O.W. Chat HERE or read the full transcript below:

Shelly: [00:00:47] Welcome to my chats! Words of wisdom with people that I admire and respect. And today I have the Wowser, Diane Lee.

Diane: [00:00:58] Oh thank you, Shelly. Thanks for being here.

Shelly: [00:01:00] This is great. I know we’ve corresponded on Facebook for maybe 3 or 4 years, fellow Canuck.

Diane: [00:01:08] Vancouver.

Shelly: [00:01:10] Saskatchewan, born and raised… and in Alberta now. So, we’re western Canadians. Ok, Words of wisdom with Diane Lee. I think I want to get personal and if it gets too personal, and you don’t like it, then we edit it and we delete it and we don’t use it.

Diane: [00:01:31] That’s fine.

Shelly: [00:01:31] When we were just walking, you were talking about how you weren’t used to being the weakest link. And you started talking a bit about that, and then we had to set up for this, and we didn’t really finish. I think I kind of understand or at least appreciate where you were going with that. I’m wondering if you can maybe just share with us what you mean by ‘you’re not used to being the weakest link.’ And then what that means for you and even maybe how yoga has helped you.

Diane: [00:02:05] Sure. So I’ve had a really challenging last 3 years after a significant fall that sort of woke up a number of impairments in my body that I’d obviously been adapting to and had been fine with and one of them was my left hip. What’s happened over three years as it’s progressively gotten more and more arthritic until in the last six months, I’ve reached the stage where I can’t walk without a cane very far. I can’t do my asana practice in yoga anymore because my hip won’t extend. I have a 30 degree flexion contracture. I’ve got minus 15 degrees of internal rotation in my hip. And about a year ago, that really defined me. It was like, ‘I am only as good as my body is strong.’ And I’ve always prided myself on being physically fit for a relatively old woman and able to handle a lot of travel, able to sleep in crappy beds, able to eat as much as I want whenever I want. Able to drink as much as I want whenever I want. And all of those things have had to change and so I’ve been sort of placed into the position of that ‘chronic pain patient’ and I’ve sort of felt personally the catastrophizing — or the ‘they haven’t figured out what’s wrong with me, it must be really serious.’

It’s been interesting to have the physiotherapist dialogue in my head and the patient dialogue in my head at the same time. And it was my meditation practice that actually got me out of that funk in realizing that I can be absolutely perfectly well and not have a very functional hip; which is where I’m at now. But I am physically the weakest link at the moment. I can’t stand for very long. I can’t physically do a lot of things in vertical loading; but I’m a powerhouse on a reformer. So put me to put me horizontal and in pilates, and I’m still very strong. And it has been that success or that feeling of ‘OK, I still have that self efficacy through exercise and doing something’ even though it’s not walking, it’s not hiking. It’s not even standing for very long or sitting for very long. I found some part of it that sort of is really very very positive. I really believe that I am well in spite of what the future holds. So, I mean, I have a surgery. The date is not booked; but I have a total hip replacement in my future, which I never ever expected to have.

[00:04:33] And I guess, Shelly, the whole thing has been just really really empowering and really ’empathy creating’ for people who don’t have explained pain, because unexplained pain is absolutely the worst. But the skills through yoga, through physiotherapy, through movement training, that really have helped me find joy and be who I am again, has been mainly in this self reflection and meditation practice, breathing practice, controlling parasympathetic – sympathetic nervous system things, but also being able to be physical and being able to move again.

Shelly: [00:05:21] And something just came to my mind. You had said, ‘to find myself again’— and what came to my mind there is that we all don’t really have to ‘find ourself’ again. So here’s what I think: I feel like we have this true self, this space of impermanence, whatever that is, regardless of our physical function or age, our gender, our financial status, our job, our achievements, our accolades. There’s this space that’s your ‘You.’ And I feel like maybe we lose connection to it.

Diane: Yeah, that’s what I mean.

Shelly: So it’s always “there”, and we just have to sometimes allow the connection to happen; to move through what’s in the way of connecting. So ya, then ‘find’ it again; maybe it’s semantics.

Diane: [00:06:21] Yeah. So, here’s me: here’s mental language, physical language and emotional language. And I was stuck for a while in this physical language. “I have to fix my hip to be better” – that my hip has to be better in order to be better….. And I was just seeking; I was seeking help everywhere not realizing that better was always there.

Shelly: [00:06:42] Yeah. And so did you find then for a moment that when all that was going on with the hip, that you did feel that you were identified with that?

Diane: [00:06:52] Absolutely. Ya absolutely.

Shelly: [00:06:52] Yeah. And if I may, talk about myself for a second. One thing that I’m working on is not trying to measure my value and my self-worth with what I’m doing, like my achievements, what I produce. That’s just been a few years I’ve been trying this. Because I don’t know any other way. And not even related to work necessarily, but even just in life in general: if I’m not producing or achieving, then, what am I? And I’m working on it. And when you were talking about the physical…

Diane: [00:07:36] It’s exactly the same.

Shelly: [00:07:36] Yeah. And that’s where the yoga has helped me and particularly the meditation part, and mindful movement. And just coming back and connecting to purpose, to meaning. And here we are at the World Congress on Abdominal and Pelvic Pain, and I think one of the main messages for me and the people that I work with that live with pain, is, it’s all about finding that connection to your purpose and meaning and your true selves.

Diane: [00:08:07] Oh so true. I was in South Africa in June at the WCPT. I can’t tell you the number of people that came up to me and they said ‘wow, you look amazing Diane, why are you moving so poorly?’

Shelly: [00:08:21] Really? People said that?

Diane: [00:08:22] Oh yeah. Oh Yeah. They say “you’re radiant, you’ve lost all this weight; you look really well; you look amazing; but….you’re not moving really well. What’s going on with the hip?” In the outside world, that isn’t me. The judgment of: “You can’t be well if you’re not moving well” was a huge lesson for me.

Shelly: [00:08:42] Oooo, there are the Words Of Wisdom. “You can’t be well if you’re not moving well.” And that’s NOT AN ACCURATE statement!

Diane: [00:08:42] It’s not. But it’s a common belief. It’s a common belief and it’s one we fight all the time. You can be well. Because wellness doesn’t mean that you don’t have physical challenge.

Shelly: [00:09:02] Ya, and we could go on, like, what’s the definition of “wellness?”.

Diane: [00:09:08] Ah totally.

Shelly: [00:09:08] I don’t think we’ll go into that. I have an idea of what wellness means to me.

Diane: [00:09:08] Well, then there is also this personal challenge. “You’re supposed to be this Lumbo-pelvic hip expert and you have a hip problem you can’t fix.” Right? That’s the internal dialogue.

Shelly: [00:09:31] That you created? Your narrative?

Diane: [00:09:31] Ya, ya, my language. Then, a year ago, when I wasn’t sure if it was my back driving my hip or my hip driving my back or my pelvis or whatever it was; I saw a spine specialist because I’d had an injection in my back that had made my pain go away for like two weeks. I didn’t pay enough attention to what movement was happening; but anyway, everything came back. So, he was assessing me (and he refers people to my clinic all the time). He just looked at me in standing and said, “whoa, are you ever crooked! What’s going on with you? You’re supposed to fix this stuff. How come you’re not fixing yourself?”.

Shelly: [00:10:06] That’s really exactly what he said, and that’s not just your perception/interpretation?

Diane: [00:10:10] No, that’s exactly what he said. He looked at me and he went, “I send people to you to fix this.” I was really sort of thinking, “I know and I haven’t been able to fix this. What is this? What’s going on?” And that was at the time when it wasn’t really clear exactly what was driving it. My hip needed to degenerate a bit more to actually show me what it was. And now I’m in a really good mental, emotional state and physical state as well. It’s just, I walk with a cane. I walk with a limp. And that’s going to change. It’s not forever.

Shelly: [00:10:46] Everything’s impermanent.

Diane: [00:10:46] Everything’s impermanent.

Shelly: [00:10:47] Except for our inner space that’s permanent.

Diane: [00:10:52] Ah, Essence. Essence. Essence.

Shelly: [00:10:52] Essence! Ohhh, thank you, Diane! This is fantastic. Words Of Wisdom: Diane Lee!

Diane: [00:10:59] Thank you. Good to see you.


Diane Lee is a Canadian physiotherapist that has been teaching internationally for decades. For more info on Diane and her work, please visit www.dianelee.ca

For more Words Of Wisdom with other phenomenal guests and topics, please also check out my other W.O.W. Chat episodes!