We all suffer physical injuries from time to time, but they can be a very discouraging and deflating occurrence. I recently ended my extended holiday relaxation binge and finally started getting back into a regular asana practice.
After a few classes, in an unrelated weekend incident I badly strained my lower back. It’s an old and familiar muscle/sciatic injury, but I’ve been hobbling around the house for the last eight days barely able to move let alone be active. I am really ruing the fact that my new found motivation and discipline had been cut short by a physical impairment. What can we do to find the positives in these situations rather than be subdued by the negative?
I think I have been dealing better it with it lately, I’ve come to realise the benefits (purpose even?) of this poorly timed stroke of misfortune.
I’ve had no option but to carry on without the inward fixations of my physical practice, and focus fully on my ‘outward yoga’ for a change. It’s changed how I approach problems, people, and peak hour traffic, to always try and make a positive difference. Kind of like my mind and my heart are finally in full control of the ship. I know with patience my back will get better, and as a result of this little lesson from the universe I’ll have so much more heart to bring into my practice, when I finally get back on the mat! But in the meantime would love to hear some yoga wisdom on how to handle it.
Dear Avoiding Asana
Your tale of woe is oh so familiar to me (and probably every other yogi or athlete reading this). When we are used to being able to use our bodies for a physical exercise, an injury can floor us. Emotionally and physically. A bad injury can start to define us and this is the trap that we need to avoid at all costs and to your credit, it sounds like you are in that boat already.
I have a similar back injury that likes to knock me on my butt once a year. This year it was crippling. Couldn’t walk, couldn’t pick up Frank (let along chase him around the house at lightning speed), couldn’t practice yoga, couldn’t stop feeling sorry for myself…you get the picture.
So do you know what I did? I went to a three hour yin class. Those in the know of how to look after injuries with yoga are currently cringing. I’d booked this class a year ago, it’s with a bit of a superstar yogi and I was so desperate to have my precious yoga time that I went despite my back being at its worst. This class involved holding forward folds for five minutes or more and often the instruction was ‘don’t move a muscle, do not come out of this pose’. I’m an adult. I should have put my big girl boots on and come out of the poses or even better packed up my mat and left. I didn’t. I was at the hospital the very next day not being able to stand straight. Yes my friends, I am a numnut sometimes.
The reason I tell my sad sack tale is because I want you to know AA that I’ve been there, I know how it feels when you are back on the mat after a long time away and then an injury occurs and it feels so unfair, so annoying, so frustrating and so upsetting. I should have handled my injury with grace and patience but those skills deserted me in my fear of letting the injury define me. I learnt some big lessons!
So we all need to find the middle ground when faced with an injury of this sort. We don’t want to be gung-ho and pretend we are fine (aka me) but we also don’t want to let the injury define us. You don’t want to be introducing yourself ‘hey man, I’m AA with a bad back’ (insert sad face of dejection and sorrow). Because when we start to tell ourselves we are a victim of misfortune we start to become a victim of misfortune.
We need to do exactly what you are doing, use the injury as a lesson. Listen to your body and what it needs to heal and use this time to practice a different type of yoga while you can’t make funny shapes with your body. I would like to suggest the practice of Svadhyaya for you AA. This is the sacred study of yoga scriptures and texts but also the sacred study of the self through these texts.
You can start this journey today if you like and read the story of the sage Ashtavakra. I’ll give you a super condensed version below and if you like what you read, message me and I’ll tell you where to read more.
Ashtavakra’s name means ‘one having eight bends’. When little baby A was in his mothers womb, she would go and sit by the ashram where she lived and would listen to her husband chanting the Vedas. One day, as she listens to her man reciting the Vedas, baby A has a conniption in the womb eight different times because he hears his Dad making eight mistakes. When Mama tells Dad what happened, Baby A’s loving father curses hum to be crippled in eight different places.
I’m skipping a major part of the story now (his Dad drowns and baby A grows up and seeks revenge but that’s not the bit I want to focus on now). So baby A grows into one of the seven great sages. He has no concern over his disfigurement and crippled body. He is totally, completely content. He is a man at peace. So much so that when Ashtavakra is healed as a grown man, he feels no different than he did before. Despite his crookedness, he feels whole.
Despite your current sore back AA, you are whole. You are the exact man you were before and you will be the exact same man once you heal. So find a place of contentment and patience while you allow that to happen. What a blessing to have the time to do some yoga off that sticky blue rectangle. It’s time to delve into the real stuff, the juicy stuff of yoga! And your physical practice will be all the more powerful for it once you return to class.