Injuries are a part of life, we’ve all experienced a paper cut as we re-load the paper into the printer or have accidentally splashed boiling water on our hands while making that cup of tea. Our hobbies are no different, many runners experience shin splints, and those who enjoy weight lifting can be susceptible to different issues. Even yoga is not exempt from the chance of an injury occurring, but is there a way we can minimise our chances of getting hurt and how can we ensure that we recover properly afterwards?
We’ve all been there
I’ve had a handful of injuries during my yoga journey. Each time I hurt myself, I was aware at the moment that I was on the border of what my body was comfortable doing and I choose to push through and continue. I was determined to ‘get the most’ out of my classes and to ‘nail’ a new posture, despite my body not yet being capable of attaining the position. The result of my desire to keep on ended with a surgery two years ago. At that point I gave up working on external postures and started to work from the inside out.
As a yoga teacher I can understand how it feels to walk out of class with an injury and make it my number one priority to encourage everyone to work within their own comfort range. I try to achieve this by focussing on non-attachment to the outcome of the posture and guiding my students towards their edge while focussing on the breath and sensations that arise within the body.
Taking a step back
In my classes I offer a variety of options in many poses, to cater to the wide array of abilities within each class. But I also watch a lot of people, push beyond their current range of mobility in a desire to reach the end pose. This worries me, because I don’t want anyone to get hurt but I still want to provide a suitable challenge for those with more flexibility or experience.
Yoga can be a great challenge both mentally and physically, but it’s the ability to detach our egos from the practice that takes us out of the realm of a nice wee exercise class and into the practice of yoga. When I face a posture that I cannot (yet!) attain or one that I don’t feel comfortable attempting outside of my own house, I take a step backwards. I slow down and go with an ‘easier’ option. My ego is well and truly out of the picture and I honestly don’t care who sees me not going for the full pose – my safety is more important to me than keeping up with the bendy Wendy in the corner.
Many yoga injuries come from attempting things we are not yet ready to attempt. This could be due to existing injuries or tightnesses, but also given the prevalence of Social Media, there is often a desire to keep up with the Jonses. There will always be someone in the class who is bendier than me, who has more strength and grace and basically doesn’t look like Bambi on ice. But I’m ok with that, I’ve let my ‘issues’ go and found a way to move forwards, enjoying my yoga journey from my own point of view and not in a competitive manner.
I still have things I would like to achieve, postures I’m working towards, but I’ve learned how far to push myself safely and listen carefully to the feedback from my own body. I tune in and this helps me to work from the inside out. This is real yoga.
Prevention is better than cure
As is often the case, ensure you don’t get injured is much better than trying to fix it after the event. The best way to do this is to constantly check in with your breath and your body. If something doesn’t feel quite right (you don’t need to know what or why) then it probably isn’t right for you at this moment. Take three more slow, deep breaths (if you can) and then slowly and carefully move out of the posture.
Your yoga teacher is simply a guide who is recommending poses in a particular order for you follow. This doesn’t mean you have to do exactly what they say. You are in control and can take any modification offered, even if the teacher has not invited you to do so. Entering a modified posture is a step on the road and you will receive many benefits from this without having to push yourself too far.
Yin Yoga is an ideal example of a yoga class where you remain completely in control of your own experience. Throughout the class you have the choice to remain in a posture for longer than guided, if it benefits you, or to move into a resting pose such as pentacle or child’s pose before the teacher invites you to move. Listening to your own body and honouring your experience is the highest form of yoga, and your best way to gain insight into your own mind. It also affords you the opportunity to progress (or not) at your own pace.
Can we fix it?
What happens if you do get injured? Firstly, tell your yoga teacher, they should want to help or offer advice to get you back on track. It’s not moaning or complaining to the teacher if you find 5 minutes after class to say, ‘I think I’ve hurt my … during class tonight.’ Due to my own tightnesses and imbalances, I have a team of people I turn to, when I need help getting back on my feet. I am happy to recommend a Sports Massage therapist, a physio, Personal Trainer, and Acupuncturist. They are all people I turn to time and again, and because of my working relationship with them all, I know that they can help.
From a yoga perspective I would look to modify future classes to ensure we’re not exacerbating the injury but supporting recovery. This could mean recommending the use of props or suggesting a few supplementary stretches to incorporate into your daily routine. Often resting can be a massive healer and then coming back to class and making small changes to support the recovery process.
It’s not all doom and gloom
Injuries along the way are valuable teachers. They highlight when we’re pushing too far, and often remind us to take things slower and change or perspective. Thinking about why you decided to go to that yoga class in the first class and noting the benefits it’s brought to your life. Taking time away from the physical practice of yoga and focussing on pranayama (breath work) and meditation can allow you to continue your yoga practice, while your body rests. There is always something you can do, but it’s important to take things easy, ask for advice and take things slowly. Recovery is a journey, but one that will be rewarding if you take the time to honour your injury and allow it to run its course.