So a few weeks ago I got injured… cry cry cry. I am sure many people imagine I injured myself while practicing yoga. But no, actually, it’s silly. I was in a rush and I fell down the stairs! For the first few days I could not lift my right arm up without feeling pain. Then a week later I attempted Downward Facing Dog and couldn’t even do that without pain. Slowly slowly my body began to heal but during this time I went through different stages of mental and emotional rollercoasters. So here I thought I would share some things I learned during the last few weeks:
1. How To Be Adaptable
The style of yoga I practice (Ashtanga) requires a lot of movement and strength of the arms and shoulders. This was out of the question for me during this injury. There’s no way I could practice this way without being in a lot of pain. Because I could not maintain my daily morning Mysore (Ashtanga Yoga) practice I had to get a little creative and learn how to modify my yoga practice. To be honest, I didn’t even practice yoga at all for about 2 weeks (I know, OMG). I didn’t want to risk making my shoulder worse but I also didn’t want to just be idle and do nothing. So I figured why not do something that doesn’t require using my arms & shoulders at all. So… I went on a big hiking trip! I started going to the gym and learned how to use all the cool machines that work out your legs. I attended acroyoga jams and worked on just basing people. I even joined a class at the gym called ABT (Abs, Butts, Thighs) haha. Then as the shoulder started to feel a little better, I began to enter my yoga practice again but I had to REALLY modify and be extremely mindful of each and every movement. For example, there were even a couple of days that instead of Down Dog I would be in Table Top Position so there is less pressure and less extension of my shoulders. Being adaptable in this way also taught me to really pay attention to my body and to each and every sensation.
2. The Ego Is Often In Disguise
Although I hate to admit it, part of the reason why I didn’t attend the Mysore/Ashtanga classes for the first two weeks of my injury was because I was embarrassed. In my mind, I thought that I could not be seen in the Mysore room doing this weird, weak, modified version of Ashtanga. People in the room have high expectations of me to “perform” each posture to perfection because I am a teacher at the studio. Even though in theory we are all just focusing on our own practice, I was afraid people in the room would judge me and think that I am not good enough or qualified to teach there. But I really do love this practice so much that I could not stay away from it for too long. So I had to find a way to deal with it. To set my ego aside. To be OKAY in my own broken body in front of my fellow Ashtangis. To know that people will judge me yet to still show up for the practice anyway. And to truly feel that I do not have anything to prove to anyone. This is MY practice.
3. Finding The Edge & Limit
There were many moments where I was so tempted to push myself a little more. “Oh today I can do downward facing dog again, hmmm, shall I try a handstand??” Or another day I thought, “Oh today I can do a handstand with only a little bit of pain, hmmmm, shall I try Hand To Hand (this is an acroyoga move where you handstand on top of another persons hands which can feel a lot more UNstable)”. There were moments where testing my limits felt really good and I was learning to control certain movements within my shoulders capability. But there were definitely some moments where I pushed it a little too far and might’ve even slowed down my recovery process. One moment that stands out to me was during an acroyoga jam, a very strong friend asked me, “Hey want to do standing hand to hand?” This is where the base is standing up, and I jump into a handstand on top of his hands. Immediately a voice in my head said, “No, Carolyn, do not do that. That is an AWFUL idea right now.” But another voice in my head said, “Oh hell yeah, huh, what shoulder injury, who’s injured? Not me! Let’s go!” So you can probably guess how that story ended. It ended with me feeling lots of pain… for many days… yup.
4. Enter the Mind Of A Beginner Again
I teach a lot of beginners in my yoga classes. Many of these people struggle with new postures that I might introduce to them. They struggle for many reasons. Sometimes the body is stiff or lacking in strength. Sometimes the body just hasn’t built certain movement patterns or muscle memories for these new postures. For whatever reason, everyone has their own challenges that they are dealing with. During this time that my shoulder was injured, I was able to feel again how a beginner might feel the first few times that he/she steps into a yoga class. Feeling the feeling of not being able to do postures the way the rest of the class is doing them. These moments of pain, of struggling, and of facing challenges helps us as teachers to develop love and compassion for other people who are also struggling. BKS Iyengar writes in his book, Light On Life, “When you have known pain, you will be compassionate. Shared joys cannot teach us this.”
5. Be Grateful for the Little Things In Life
That day during my recovery process that I was able to do downward facing dog again with minimal pain, I laughed really hard because I was so excited. I never thought I would be so excited about being in downward facing dog. It’s a posture that I often overlooked, often thought of as simple and easy and here I was getting emotional about being able to fully extend my arms in this posture. I was SO grateful for this… down dog! But it just reminded me that there are many things in my life I often overlook and don’t appreciate enough. But life always finds a way to remind us of these things!
So it’s been about a little over a month now since that day I fell down the stairs. My shoulder isn’t 100% back yet but it’s getting there. I still need to modify my Ashtanga practice a bit but am able to do most of it now. I have a new appreciation for my body, for my practice, and for the life lessons that yoga continues to teach me after all these years!
If you are also struggling in your yoga practice due to an injury or for whatever other reason, just know that you are not alone. Hang in there and know that there is something to be gained from this experience.
Om Shanti Shanti Shanti, yo!