Coping with Injury: Modifying (Part 2 of 3)

This is the second in a three-part series on dealing with injuries both physically and mentally. Read Part 1 here, and check back for Part 3 soon!

Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional and do not recommend beginning any program, modification, or therapy without consulting with your own care providers. Every person's body and injuries are different; here I am sharing what's worked for me.

Being injured means making smart changes in your routine. This can be challenging, but is always a learning experience. As I mentioned in Part 1 I've been having lower back pain, which has impacted my physical practice and my emotional state.

Modifying the Asana

When we talk about injuries and modifications in yoga, adjustments to the practice springs quickly to mind. With some creativity and an open mind, this can be addressed fairly easily. 

Naturally, the necessary modifications will depend on the location, severity, and nature of your injury. My nebulous "(very) low back pain" which I suspect is a pulled muscle in my sacral area -- again, not a doctor! -- means no forward folds, back bends, or deep twisting right now. The most comfortable positions for me right now are reclined poses: supta baddha konasana (reclining bound angle pose) is my favorite. I take a restorative version of it using blocks under both of my knees, since my hips and legs are pretty tight and I don't want to add any strain to my lower back.

I'm also digging supported setu bandhasana (bridge pose) - just a very slight lift of the hips onto a low, thin block on its lowest setting. This gives me the tiniest inversion while providing tons of support to my sacrum, where I'm feeling my injury.

Another pose I've been clocking a lot of time in is legs-up-the wall. My goal is to gently stretch out my hamstrings while keeping a neutral spine position. I have to keep a bit of a bend in my knees to keep it comfortable, but I adore this restorative pose. It's extra comfy with a folded-up blanket or cushion placed under my sacrum.

 

Modifying Expectations

Here's where it gets a lot harder. As much as injuries can ache in my muscles and bones, it seems to sting even more in my ego. It's difficult as a driven and dedicated yogini to suddenly stop going to my routine classes. My ego acts especially injured when I do go to class and I feel ashamed to have others see me not doing many of the poses. 

What's important to keep in mind here is that you are not on the yoga mat to impress, and you're definitely not auditioning for a Broadway musical about asana. (OK, maybe a Bollywood one.) Your yoga teacher wants you to be safe and to listen to your body. Your classmates also don't want you to get hurt or to re-injure yourself. The yoga community is a supportive one, and we all come together to build positive energy as a group.

Another thing to remember is this: no one is 100% healthy all the time. Everybody gets injured and gets sick, so everyone understands how frustrating it is. Do not worry about others seeing you in your time of injury or perceived weakness. On the contrary, you may be inspiring them to listen to their own bodies and practice humbly and safely.

Modifying Goals

While goals of "mastering" poses, holding them for longer, and strengthening muscles are common among so many yogis, goals too need to be modified in times of injury and illness. If your sankalpa (intention) for your practice is purely physical, such as "practice full handstand," you may need to change your focus when hurt. Here are some purely physical goals and how I've edited them to fit my current state.

  • "Hold urdhva dhanurasana for 8 breaths" becomes "Do what feels good to my back."
  • "Take a challenging class and give it my all" becomes "Listen to my body and rest as often as needed."
  • "Take 5 hot vinyasa class this week" becomes "Take restorative classes and allow my muscles to absorb self-love."

If you're uninspired, a great intention is: "be my best self in the present moment." This is what I tell myself before meditating and before doing even the gentlest restorative practice as I'm recovering. My best self listens to her body and doesn't push it beyond its limits. My best self is smart about how she uses energy and takes measures to restore it.

In Part 3, we'll talk about an attitude that isn't usually associated with injury in our culture: gratitude. In the meantime, please leave comments if you're injured and let me know what your strategies are for coping. And if my classmates are reading this - I'll need all the support I can get this weekend!

Namaste.

(Continue to Part 3 here.)