Injuries can be our best medicine
I first came to ashtanga yoga quite broken although I didn’t realise it. I was 22 when I decided to try yoga. I had been training in the gym, swimming, running, paddling canoes – you name it I was doing it and I felt really fit and strong. I walked into my first ashtanga yoga class and quickly realised there was still a lot of weakness, pain and stuckness in my wrists, shoulders and lower back resulting from an accident I was in at 17. I was humbled but excited by the challenge.
Over the first 5 years my yoga practice slowly healed those injuries and there was no more pain or ‘stuckness’. Fast forward, another 6 years of very little injury and my practice feeling great and then out of the blue, I hurt my back. I sprained one of the facet joints in my vertebrae picking up a small pile of yoga mat bags for the studio. It was a huge wake up call that I hadn’t fully healed. I had been ignoring a few niggles that had been around for a while. I was young and just thought they would just go away eventually. I was very wrong. That sprain was devastating and also led to getting incredible hip pain that would wake me up at night. One physio I saw said it was about time I gave up yoga as I was getting too old. I was 36! Thankfully I didn’t listen and found another physio and eventually an osteopath who both believed (like me) that I could and would get better.
Over the next 12 months, with lots of treatment and working with my husband Harry (who is a genius when it comes to rehabilitation) I got better. Pretty much the same month my back felt completely renewed, I fell pregnant. And everything changed again. I could no longer do even the simplest of things I had been working on for over 13 years! I had to modify everything! Plagued with intense morning sickness that lasted all day, painful sciatica, hugely swollen and sore feet my practice had to change dramatically and I just did what felt good, which sometimes meant staying in bed all day. I let go of all expectation. At first so frustrating but eventually totally liberating!
After I had Elsie it was time to get my practice back or actually start from scratch and build it all over again. Surprisingly to me, my practice came back really quickly and better than ever. But a few months down the line, my old shoulder injury from the accident was back worse that ever – a shoulder impingement had developed from breastfeeding and I couldn’t even lift my arm without sharp stabbing pain in the joint. Here we go again! I felt like I had gone backwards 15 years…And to top it all off a ganglion had formed in my wrist and I was unable to take any weight through my right arm. It’s now been a good six months of slowly working with therapists and Harry and my practice and I am getting there. Far from fully recovered but I can feel vast improvement.
I only tell you this story of my ongoing issues not for sympathy but to show that working with the physical body is a never-ending process. It teaches us that nothing is permanent and the only constant is change. What you could do last month will vary greatly with what you can do next month, next year and so on.
What I do know is that the body always wants to be the best it can be. It is always adapting, changing, and figuring out ways to come back to full health and balance. Instead of giving up we need to surrender to what is happening . The difference is that we have faith in ourselves and the practice that things will improve.
When we do get an injury we need to listen to our body and do whatever it takes to give it what it needs to restore itself. Most just push through and hope for the best. Others just give up or worse, listen to someone who suggests to give up. I thought I’d give a small list of the things I would suggest when you come up against and injury….
- Rest – when you first get injured the key is to rest. Your body can go into shock when you suffer an injury or trauma and rest is the best way to let the nervous system know that it’s ok and you are going to take things slowly. This will ensure everything around the injury site relaxes too. Give yourself permission to take some time out and let things settle
- Modify – after a good amount of rest, start moving slowly and gently and modify everything. This is where an experienced teacher is like gold. They will be able to guide you from their own experience and knowledge and work with you to get you moving as soon as possible. The mysore class is the best format to take things at your own pace and work one to one with your teacher. The yoga practice is one huge toolkit filled with ways to help you help yourself.
- Harry Normand – I can’t even tell you how good he is. He has worked wonders on my injuries using massage and postural engineering. Harry has the experience to get you moving pain free, the enthusiasm to keep you positive and most importantly the faith that you will get better even when you feel disillusioned and frustrated. Check out what one of our regulars Frank reckons about Harry’s work here. (scroll down to the bottom of the page)
- Surround your self with believers. I’ve heard it all. If I had listened to half the things I’ve been told by therapists, doctors, teachers, I would be hiding under a table somewhere scared to move. Hang out with people who are positive. Seek out friends/therapists/teachers that believe in you. Ones that inspire you and you look up to. Not those who focus on what you can’t do and make you feel bad. I’ve had therapists make me feel like giving up and crazy for wanting to do the things I want to do in my practice and that have tried to break me down by focusing on all the things I can’t do. There are too many ‘health’ professionals out there that talk the talk but do not walk the walk. But the good news is there are some really great folk out there too. Keep looking until you find them.
- Nourish yourself – Eat good food. Drink lots of filtered water. Reduce caffeine, sugar and alcohol. We need to heal that injury on a cellular level and it all starts with the food and drink we are consuming. I don’t advocate any particular diet as I believe everyone is metabolically different. What works for some doesn’t work for others. The key is awareness of how different foods affect our own bodies and energy levels.
- Breathe – like nourishing ourselves with food we also need to fuel our cells with oxygen. Practice breathing into your belly and switch on the healing parasympathetic nervous system.
- Have faith in yourself and use your own body’s wisdom. Spend some time sitting quietly each day and ask your body what it needs. It may not tell you straight away but eventually it will start to communicate with you and share its wisdom. Our bodies are so wise but we often don’t allow them the chance to speak. If you do this enough and on a regular basis your body will start to tell you what it needs more and less of.
- Be kind and Let go. Try not to get angry or upset about the injury. It’s happened now and often is just a random accident that you had no control over. Imagine if it happened to your best friend – what would you say to them? How would you make them feel better? This is what we need to do for ourselves. We need to start treating ourselves the way we would treat our bestie and show ourselves that same compassion. Don’t let the injury define you or consume all your energy.
I have faith that I can feel pain free and do all the things I want to do and I have faith that you can too.