Growing through it: Injury management

As a teacher of yoga, I see and speak to a lot of people with injuries and quite often, back troubles. Now, I’m not a doctor and this is not a research paper, so I don’t know the exact reason for this, but our modern lifestyles are really busy but pretty sedentary. We spend a lot of time sitting slumped in office chairs, cars, craned over our phones and even hunched over on the toilet, possibly reading this.

This position that we find ourselves in often results in the slow loss of core strength, hunched shoulders and weak back muscles. Perhaps you’ve decided to come to yoga to help alleviate those aches and pains or you’re starting yoga as a preventative measure? Here are some things to keep in mind if you’re dealing with an injury or an old one becomes apparent to you when you’re starting yoga.

Tips to Starting Yoga with an Injury (any kind):

1. Ask a Professional and let your teacher know.
Make sure your doctor knows and is OK with you taking up yoga and when you get to class, always inform your teacher if you have a diagnosed or pre-existing condition or injury. Your teachers can’t cure you, but they can probably help you avoid poses or movement patterns that could exacerbate the issue and give you postures that might help.
2. Listen to your body.
I know, I know! We read and hear it all the time and it sounds easy enough but it’s not. Use every yoga practice to cultivate your (cue useful German word)“Koerpergefuehl” or “the feeling for the body”. Yoga is physically challenging but it is not exercise in the traditional sense. You can’t win at Yoga. If you can learn to tune in to how your body feels, and the changes that are happening, you’ll learn to know when to stop. Accept your boundaries.
3. Mind, What’s the Matter?
When you’re avoiding a posture, you have to be brutally honest with yourself and ask – does it hurt me or am I just too afraid to try? Remember, even with an injury, nothing is permanent. Your body changes with age, lifestyle changes, and new forms of physical activity. Always be open to the possibility that something might shift or open up, but don’t expect it to happen! Never push through pain – there is nothing to be gained. Practice with awareness and joy and accept what comes.

Newbies with Curious Aches and Pains.

You’ve just started yoga and you have a niggling aches and pains? An old knee injury creaking and squeaking all over the place? Maybe your muscles are adjusting to a new movement pattern? Or it’s dawning on yoga that yoga isn’t just for girls? :)

1. Observe.
If it gets worse and makes practice uncomfortable, change or modify postures to suit your body and see if the discomfort goes away. Observe and try to differentiate between discomfort (because things are changing in a good way) and pain (because this is bad for my body).
2. If discomfort becomes pain.
If the pain bothers you and affects your daily life, seek appropriate medical care from a doctor or physio. Inform your teacher that something is up and they should be able to give you modifications. Also, work with your teacher to change your approach so your practice becomes more like ‘research’ and less like a final exam where you feel pressure to perform!
3. Keep practicing but carefully.
Your yoga practice should be enjoyable and something that adds to your physical and mental well-being. This is where growing a daily yoga practice can do more than regular exercise –  it can be a tool that helps you to be kinder to yourself while simultaneously more observant of your tendencies.

Yoga can change your life if you let it. Over time you’ll find yourself hating the shape of your car seat and considering being THAT person who sits on a pilates ball in your office. While the physical changes happen, let your yoga practice be more than the postures. Use the time you practice to do the internal work; allowing change, growth, acceptance and renewal.

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