Personal Reflections on using your practise to heal from injury
I know that what I want to happen isn’t always the best thing for me. The yoga of being flexible is not just a physical practise. Being flexible of mind and spirit is a much more interesting challenge. Sri K Pattabhi Jois said “body not stiff, mind stiff,” what happens in your mind affects your body and your practise.
I went to India a few months back, for four weeks I was working with David Garrigues and Ashtanga based teacher. Ashtangis take their physical practise very seriously, I planned to use this time to bolster and deepen my own physical practise. Thankfully David also turned out to be very well studied yogic philosophy & texts,and amazingly articulate on how to apply them. These wisdoms were able to help me in turn a potential disaster into a great learning experience.
Almost a week in, I was just starting to build momentum when I fell down a hole. A literal hole, on the side of the road. Just moving out of the way for traffic in the dark, and Bam, twisted ankle! ‘It’s not so bad’ I told myself continuing on my way, walking up a huge hill and back down to my apartment about 1/2 hour later. Must have been a heady mix of denial and adrenaline, but when I took my sandals off reality kicked in with a hot achy throbbing bite.
I don’t think I slept that night, I meditated on the pain, and contemplated the irony of traveling all the way to India to do Yoga only to be unable to do it. Yes there were tears of self-pity, I wondered if I would be able to navigate my travels at all. The intensity of the pain steadily increased to the point where I would rather crawl somewhere than hop to avoid the jarring.
I sent my apologies to my yoga teacher and once it was a reasonable hour called up my hotel manager to ask for help. Far from home and in a vulnerable condition, I found myself suddenly reliant on the kindness of strangers. I asked for some help finding painkillers and a trip to the hospital, all my needs were met with incredible generosity of spirit.
Energy healing/ providing me with a fridge to keep cold pack in/ bringing me food from nearby restaurants so I could stay off my foot; time, energy and kind attention all freely offered. I got a ride to the hospital and once I knew there was nothing broken or torn, I declined the advised cast in favour of freedom to move more freely if/ when I needed to. I was there to do yoga after all.
I let David know, and received the assured advice that I should come back to class as soon as possible. ‘There’s always something you can do’ Great advice, I know but still difficult to self apply when there is pain involved. I had come a long way to do this course, and it was a limited time window so I decided to get in gear and get back into it.
The three flights of stairs to get up to the yoga room were more intimidating than the practise. I know how to adapt a yoga practise but stairs are stairs and weight bearing was unavoidable, but my foot felt good enough to give it a go. My body usually heals fairly quickly, despite medical advice to stay off it for two full days I decided to listen to my instincts and do what I was there to do.
“You get up where you fall down, you don’t get up somewhere else. it’s where you fall down that you establish your practise.“
Deepening practise doesn’t only happen when everything is going smoothly, injury provided me an opportunity to renew my commitment to my practise on another level. I had to relearn everything from the beginning again asking over and over what works for me now, here in this moment.
Every injury manifest’s slightly differently, in each circumstance. The best way to navigate the ever changing nature of bodily living is with your own full kind and curious attention. There were days when I got it wrong, when I did too much too soon, and suffered the consequences, but slowly over time the net results prove positive.
My limitations required me to apply a new level of self-acceptance and presence to my practise. I discovered deep inner awakenings in very basic poses I thought had already taught me everything they had to give. I found my body changing through these subtle adjustments in ways that slogging through more difficult practises I had missed. But most importantly I rediscovered a pure and simple joy of a practise that is more about listening and learning than achieving.
In the end my plan to deepen my practise was achieved in a different way than I imagined. It required a willingness to be flexible, vulnerable and open. I love the ashtanga sequence, it is a highly intelligent system of awakening for a daily practise. I love the permission my injury gave me to adapt it to my needs rather than try to squeeze my practise into an idea of how it should be.
We are all gifted this sophisticated Bio-intelligent equipment for living called a human body. Born with the latest model developed over tens of thousands of years of evolution. A Human Being is no small matter, your body is a beautiful and amazing thing.
When there is pain and dysfunction your body can be your best teacher on how to heal. We all need to learn how to listen, and this is what a regular practise does. Practise is time spent developing intimacy between body, mind, and breath. The experience of increasing comfort and ease in my body, keeps me highly motivated to keep moving, listening and learning how to efficiently work with this living miracle of a body.
It took the full 3 weeks remaining of my intensive, to be able to do everything I could do before I started. In the process I discovered progress isn’t always linear, sometime you need to spiral right back to the beginnings to relearn things you rushed through in the enthusiasm of a new practise. Intent is more important in progressing in practise than intensity alone.
Every time I hear students say ‘I can’t come to yoga because I have hurt my back/shoulder/knee/whatever’, I feel a little sad. Yes there is a time for rest, but if your moving around in your daily life, your practise can only help increase consciousness of how you are moving. Spending time concentrating on learning through listening more precisely to what your injury can teach you about how to live and move with more ease and efficiency is time well spent.