I tripped last year, and caught myself awkwardly. I didn’t think much of the ache in my back then; I just thought it would work itself out. But as days tuned into weeks and months, I began to realize that this ache wasn’t going to just “work itself out,” but was going to take some more intentional healing work.
Now I have been dealing with this lower back injury for the better part of a year. I have been practicing yoga since I was 19 (I turn 40 this week!), and have been lucky to have had virtually no injuries from my yoga practice. I have credited that with practicing a fairly gentle, mindful, and intentional style of hatha yoga. I have always believed in practicing and teaching a form of yoga that is sustainable to me and to my students – yoga that can carry us into our 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, and beyond.
So I have been working with chiropractic, acupuncture, massage, and of course, my yoga practice to help my back heal. Along the way, I’ve been learning and exploring a few things that I would like to share:
- Healing an injury is not always a direct path. It is sometimes 3 steps forward and 2 back. You start to feel better, get over confident, and then do too much. It is essential to be patient with yourself, and patient with the process of healing.
- There is more to yoga, much more, than the traditional postures. There have been some days when I was in pain, where all I could do was breathe deeply and fully, from deep in my belly to the top of my chest. Sometimes it has been to just lie down and observe the sensations in my body. It’s ok, that’s yoga practice too, no less than Downward Dog or Tree Pose.
- Our injuries teach us about ourselves. They teach us to see when we are striving or pushing, they teach us to slow down and notice, they teach us to listen in a way we haven’t to our body’s needs. My injury has taught me to see when I tell myself that I “have to” keep going, when maybe, just maybe, it’s okay if I choose to rest.
- Certain habits form in our bodies over years and decades, and they cannot be undone all at once. Awareness of these habits is everything, though. I have had some “ah-ha’s” in the Heal Your Back Series Kelly Valenzuela offers – in something as simple as how I move into and out of a forward bend. Something I have done thousands of times. But guess what? It’s doing that movement with a slight misalignment thousands of times that may have led to a weakness in that particular area for me. We never stop learning, even when we are a yoga teacher and we have been practicing for more than two decades. It’s important to stay open to investigating and learning, and using the resources of your skilled teachers and bodyworkers.
- My injury has made me a better teacher. Having dealt with pain and injury in my own body allows me to understand what it’s like for my students who have injuries or who deal with chronic pain. It has changed my language when I teach. Changed what modifications I offer and when, changed the pacing and the focus of my classes.
I recently read a nice article by yoga teacher Stephanie Carter, “The Upside of Injuries.” This passage particularly spoke to me:
“When you are injured, your injury goes from being your worst enemy to your best teacher. It will speak to you in very clear terms, and if you want to get better, you must listen. Respect the teacher by putting your ego aside and practicing in a pain free range of motion, always. If this means modifying and using props, do it. Forget about the perfect pose.”- See more at: http://www.yoganonymous.com/the-upside-of-injuries/#sthash.6Wj6wVC3.dpuf
Forget about the perfect pose: I appreciate that. A good reminder for all of us, whether we are injured or not.
Have you dealt with an injury and worked with it in your yoga practice? What has it taught you? Please share in the comments.