A couple of summers ago, I decided to ambitiously tackle my garden. I was not only about to face the weeds in my backyard, but also the long-growing botanical invaders that seemed to develop into trees. I had my work cut out for me. I got up early one morning on a day off. I whistled as I worked, grabbing my garden tools and showing those weeds who was boss. Then I got to the big one. The one that needed a shovel. The one where the roots seemed to go to China and back. I took my garden claw and I twisted and I pulled. I got that sucker out of the ground. I also slipped my disk. As a yoga teacher who taught and practiced almost daily, this was devastating. I could barely do child’s pose, let alone the “impressive” poses that showed the world that I deserved my profession.
The year where I focused on my healing taught me a lot about my yoga practice and how there is a whole lot beyond asana. I dearly hope that you don’t need an injury to learn the following things:
- Tame your yoga ego. As much as we may say “Namaste” and preach self-acceptance in yoga class, our egos are tough animals to tame. Admit it: you are secretly impressed with yourself when you look “better” than anyone else in the class. When you are injured, everyone is better than you. You have to look at what else you bring to the table and what else yoga is to you besides hypermobility.
- Breathing and meditation aren’t just adjuncts. They can help you heal and help you to still your racing mind that is wondering when you are going to get better and if you will ever be the same again. They stop the world for a second to make you realize that there is a whole other world within.
- Small and subtle wins the race. In our culture, we have been taught to be big, to be loud and to be the best. When our bodies ache or request some tender care, we have to embrace the meek, introverted part of ourselves. We have to really listen. We discover muscles that may be imbalanced or weak that may be in a corner of our body that we were too busy bulldozing past. With or without an injury, give your body the benefit of the doubt and just listen.
- Get out of your yoga rut. We do what we are good at, whether we are strong and powerful Ashtanga yogis or soft and flexible yin yogis. Even if it means pushing you out of your comfort zone, try the opposite side of the coin. Our mild asymmetries and structural imbalances may become apparent in a different pose or different pace.
- Come to the class with your body. Ahimsa is the principle of nonviolence to all living things. My big insight during my injury was that ahimsa included me. This meant that even though I was technically no longer a beginner, the injury was bringing me backwards to a beginner’s body. In some classes I could do 20% of what was required. I appreciated each pose that was available to me and didn’t push through what wasn’t. By truly respecting where you are as opposed to where you were, you not only have the capacity to heal but also the capacity to grow as a yogi and as a person. My yoga injury was the deepest example of Svadhyaya (observation and self-study) that I have ever experienced. I developed constant inner reflection and compassion and remembered that my love affair with yoga is just as much about my mind as my body.
Picture Credit: Benjamin J. DeLong