By Gail Mangan, yoga teacher at Durga
I’ve had lots of niggly injury during yoga over the years, but an injured hamstring is my first since becoming a yoga teacher last year. It is also the first that when almost healed, reoccurred!
While I would prefer if it hadn’t happened, my injured hamstring reminded me that there truly is learning in every experience of you care to see it.
Here are the 8 lessons I learned from coping with injury during yoga:
1. Compassion is a game changer
When I realised that due to a torn hamstring, I would have to pull back in my personal practice and my teaching, I felt upset, frustrated and sad, as well as deeply annoyed with myself for being careless enough to get an injury during yoga, again!
Self-criticism flourished, as these initial feelings were joined by a harsh judgement that I was wallowing and I shouldn’t feel these emotions. After all, it was just a temporary injury, nothing compared to what many others have to face every day. So, not only was I suffering with my leg, I was also suffering with my judgements.
I slowly came to accept that my feelings are my feelings and judging them won’t make them go away. Once I acknowledged this, my judgement lessened and my frustration and anger softened as I developed compassion for myself. I wasn’t wallowing or indulging in self-pity. After all, this injury would affect not only my personal practise but also my teaching and I was entitled to be as upset as I wanted about that.
2. Closing my eyes improves my experience of yoga
During the first couple of classes I attended as an injured student, I was acutely aware of the fact that I had my knees bent or I was practically sitting upright while those around me were folding deeply with straight legs and no props. I felt frustrated and paranoid.
One day I got so fed up of looking at all the perfect poses around me, I closed my eyes. And guess what? I couldn’t see anyone anymore. They were all gone and I was no longer comparing and despairing!
Not only did closing my eyes mean that I let go of those around me, I also connected deeper with myself, with my breath and with the sensations in my body. I still close my eyes when I’m holding a pose. Although it’s probably best I don’t try that one while teaching!
3. Listening to your body is not as easy as it sounds
‘Listen to your body ‘ is a phrase that teachers say all the time. There's no doubt that it’s quite easy to listen to your body when it’s cooperative and it tells you that a posture feels good and it’s a good idea to go deeper.
It’s a different story when your body is begging you to ease back or come out of a pose. Unfortunately, that’s the message that needs to be heeded! Fortunately, hearing this message from my body a lot recently has resulted in my new found love of props.
4. Meditation is yoga
For the brief period that I was grounded, I missed practising. I wanted to be on my mat, so I sat on my mat and meditated instead of doing a physical practise.
In the past if I had done this I wouldn’t have considered it a complete yoga practice. I was confusing yoga, the yoking or the harmony of mind, body and spirit and asana, the physical practise.
Both can be difficult and frustrating at times, but both can also bring a feeling of being grounded, focused, calm, positive, productive and refreshed.
So, whether you choose to practise meditation or practise asana, it’s still yoga and you still feel its benefits.
5. I love props
I have always known that using props is hugely beneficial for alignment and comfort in poses and I have always offered them to students in my classes. However, there are certain poses in which I have never used props because I haven’t needed them.
While looking after my leg injury during yoga, I started using props, especially blocks in both standing and seated poses. I realised that using them improves my enjoyment of a pose. I now use blocks more than ever, not because I ‘can’t do a pose’ but because it feels better in my body, my alignment is safer and my body feel happier.
6. I have two legs
As all yogis know, poses feel different on each side of the body. For most people, one side of the body is more open, stronger or more flexible than the other.
When I was unable to use my left leg to kick into inversions, I started avoiding them altogether. Inevitably, I started to miss the invigorating freedom of turning everything on its head.
With reluctance, I began to practise handstand pushing with my right leg. For the first few frustrating days I was like a bucking bronco, my right leg just would not cooperate. Then one day it happened and I have been enjoying handstands and forearm balances more than ever because I have somewhat conquered my right leg.
It’s worth spending time and energy developing the less cooperative side of your body and one day you might realise that you have two ‘good’ sides.
7. Sometimes less is more
I’ve noticed that I’ve been feeling less tired after teaching a class because I now demonstrate less when teaching. Initially, this was because I physically couldn’t demonstrate many poses. Then I realised that demonstrating less meant I was observing my students more, adjusting more and assisting more.
8. Injury during yoga heals
This one is simple. Even if it does need a little help sometimes, the body has an amazing capacity to heal itself. I am grateful that I have never had a serious injury during yoga and that every niggle or injury I’ve had, no matter how difficult at the time, has healed and this one will too.