In Caroline Myss's The Anatomy of the Spirit, she posits that every injury and illness we deal with teaches us a spiritual lesson. While it's extremely challenging to adopt this philosophy toward my own aches, pains, and various ailments, embracing injury with gratitude is an amazing thing.
While it's pretty strange to think about the concept in such a simple way - "Be grateful for your injury" - it becomes easier when I make a list of specific things for which I can practice gratitude. Here are just a few of them.
Until I injured myself, I was in the habit of going to 90-minute yoga classes 5 to 6 times a week in addition to training, home practice, and practice-teaching with friends. While devotion to the practice is obviously a positive thing, routines can get stale and burnout can happen quickly. Therefore, as much as it pained me to be away from my favorite classes, I am grateful for the additional free time that my injury afforded me. Taking forced "time off" from the more vigorous physical practice gave me an opportunity to establish a daily meditation routine and to explore restorative classes.
An injury is an opportunity to learn about the body. I hadn't given terribly much thought to safe forward folds or about how lower-back pain impacts various yoga poses. Through experimenting with different modifications, props, and substitutions, I now feel a lot more prepared to make recommendations to students with lower back pain.
I also now have a better understanding of my own anatomy, strengths, weaknesses, and limits. A lot of yoga (and most of life) is trial and error. Learning what makes my body feel not so good is as important as knowing what does make it feel good!
As I mentioned in Part 2: Modifying, when we're injured, our egos can really sting. We like to think of ourselves as invincible, strong, and advanced yogis. Here's the thing: we can embody all of these traits, but it has nothing to do with our physical abilities. Embracing practice with humility is no easy feat, but it's a sweet gift when appreciated. My appreciation for my fellow yogis, and my dedication to the practice, only enhance when I am watching in awe as others practice what is not physically accessible to me at this very moment.
Injury and illness are also very powerful reminders that we cannot take our physical abilities for granted, and that we should treat our bodies as gifts every day.
Nothing on earth has quite the same level-up effect on the ability to experience compassion like a good injury, illness, or painful experience. Going through these difficulties is universal and helps us relate better to one another.
In addition to amplifying my own capacity to feel compassion toward others, being the injured party allowed me to benefit from receiving others' compassion. I have been blown away by the care, concern, compassion, and support I have received from my classmates, friends, and teachers. It nourishes my soul to know that they have my best interests at heart and want me to heal!
Finally, having to take a big step back from my usual practice has taught me patience. While it would be nice to experience magic overnight cures, or a real-life fast-forward button, these things just don't exist. Not getting exactly what we think we want is a huge lesson in patience and trust. No setback lasts forever, and if you can look at a "setback" as a net positive, life is a whole lot happier.