Lessons from a Yoga Injury
My philosophy has always been that if a student is in a lotus or half lotus position I will not provide physical adjustments. I know the knees are in a very vulnerable position while the legs are folded in lotus and I don't want to put any added pressure on the student during those times. So while on vacation in the middle of a wonderful Ashtanga class, I was surprised while practicing ardha baddha padma padmottanasana (half bound lotus standing forward bend) when the teacher came over and pushed me deeper into the forward fold. The adjustment got me further into the posture than I have ever been, but I have never been able to do the posture fully since.
During the 30 second adjustment my interior alarm bells were going off and I am sure I was not breathing. Upon exiting the posture I let out sigh of relief when my knee felt fine. Thinking it was a 'close call' I finished my practice. By the time I drove back to my hotel it was evident that my knee was spared, but my hip was not. The injury tore the tendons of some inner thigh muscles where they originate near the groin. I used the RICE protocol for injuries (rest, ice, compression, elevation) as best I could given the location of the injury. I imagined myself with an icepack on the left side of my groin held with an Ace bandage while I did a headstand, but opted for the ice pack only (hoping maybe the weight of the ice would provide the compression needed) and some pillows under my hips for elevation. I refrained from practicing anything that involved deep stretching of the hips for a few days and pressed on, hoping it would go away. Five years later, it has not.
Many times I have told students to not let injury keep them from their Yoga practice. As far as I'm concerned, something is better than nothing when it comes to Yoga and I have found that committing to do just one posture always leads to more. My general approach to Yoga when recovering from an injury is that if my leg is injured I work on shoulders, if my shoulder is injured I work on hips, if my energy is low I do restorative Yoga. And if all else fails I can still breathe and meditate. I refuse to let injury keep me from practicing, I may take it easy - but I still do some sort of Yoga everyday.
What I have learned:
1. Don't be afraid to speak up and trust your instincts. I do not blame the teacher who provided the adjustment, dwelling on the past is not productive. I could have asked the teacher to stop the adjustment, but I didn't. Speaking up, or rather not speaking up for myself has been a reoccurring theme in my life....I am working on that.
2. Focus on what you can do, not what you can't do. Pain presents me with the choice to cover it up, distract myself from it, use it as an excuse OR practice patience, mindfulness and the humbleness needed to modify my Yoga practice. I choose the latter.
3. Time in a yoga posture can do wonders. More patience, patience, patience.
4. My practice is not linear. Yoga has many dimensions and layers that are all good. Just because I cannot do a 1/2 lotus forward fold like I used to doesn't mean my practice has diminished. Yoga happens in the present moment anyway - it doesn't matter what I used to be able to do.
5. I have greater empathy and compassion for my students and their struggles. I now remind students that their practice is the most important one in the room, don't worry about your neighbors, always listen to your body, speak up if you need to (kindly, please), if the teacher is offended when you speak up that is not your fault, and if you can't breathe in a posture you shouldn't be there.
While I could do without the injury and the pain, this experience made me a better, more compassionate Yoga teacher. I realize even more how important it is to create a class environment where a student feels safe enough to turn inward, slow down and allow the present moment to envelope them long enough to reap the benefits of Yoga. In regards to my own practice, I begin again every day.