Recently I injured my shoulder while doing yoga. Again. If I remember right, this would be the fourth time in about 3 years that I’ve had shoulder injuries as a result of either my dance or yoga practice. Yoga injuries are tough for a lot of reasons. Explaining an injury to someone who thinks yoga is “just a bunch of stretching” can be frustrating. And if you treasure your home yoga practice, living without it can add stress to the difficulty of the injury. But don’t despair; yoga injuries have a lot to teach us! Here are a few lessons I’ve learned from my recent down time.
Listen to your body. And not just when you’re on the mat. It’s easier to pay attention to your body’s signals in yoga class, an atmosphere designed to help draw your attention inwards. It’s another thing altogether to hear my body begging to move when I’m caught up for hours in the latest buzz on the internet, or to notice how physical habits like the way I always lean to one side when I sit can create areas of tightness and imbalance. If we aren’t aware of what’s going on in our body most of the day, we leave ourselves open to injury when we do our yoga practice.
Injuries do not equal personal failure. I will be the first to admit that I am incredibly hard on myself. I know my shoulders are prone to injury, so when it happens my ego takes every opportunity to punish me. “Why did I do that? I’m so stupid!” But that kind of attitude is not only unhelpful, it’s also wrong. Sometimes injuries happen, it’s just a fact of life. I am not a bad yogi, or a bad person just because I have an injury. And neither is anyone else who has an injury. So if you find yourself engaging in negative talk, take a deep breath and send yourself some love. That will make the next bit of advice a little easier.
Take it easy on yourself. There is no shame in resting an injured part. Doing chaturanga after chaturanga when you have a sore wrist, or forcing yourself into urdhva dhanurasana when you’ve injured a shoulder isn’t going to help your practice. In fact, it could set your healing time back by days or weeks. Better to modify poses, or leave some out altogether, until your body is ready for them. The same advice holds true when coming back to your practice after taking a rest. It can be tempting to try to pick up exactly where you left off, but the body may need some time to readjust to the practice. Ease into your practice, using modifications and yoga props when necessary, and your body will let you know when it’s ready for more.
Be patient. Healing takes time. There is nothing I wanted to do more while resting my shoulder than to get back to my regular practice. But whenever I tried, my body quickly reminded me why I took time off to begin with. As difficult as it can be, patience is key when nursing an injury. Instead of getting antsy about what you can’t do, celebrate the poses you are able to do. Use your healing time to treat yourself to poses you enjoy, as long as they don’t aggravate your injury, and it will make the healing time much more pleasant!
Find the opportunity in adversity. So you can’t do your vigorous vinyasa practice? How about trying some restorative yoga? Or using the time to develop a meditation practice? There’s more to yoga than asanas, although I may forget that sometimes. You can do yoga while singing (mantra practice), breathing (pranayama), or sitting quietly with your pets (meditation). So instead of feeling down about what you can’t do, try something new. You might just find a new practice to add to your repertoire.