It wasn’t until this week that I found myself back on my yoga mat following a rotator cuff injury in June.
For five months, the pain in my shoulder made it impossible to ever imagine I’d make it back to my pre-injured routine. No more Saturday morning class, no more New Year’s malas, and definitely no more chaturanga (a pose involving body weight placed the arms).
After fourteen years of developing my practice, this was a crushing blow.
Since completing physical therapy, and lingering between I can live with limitations and I don’t want surgery, it became clear that in order to move forward, I had to rewind.
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Stepping back can be viewed two ways, either as failure or opportunity.
Not being able to function as I had, I was wallowing in the failure. Until my friend, the wonderful Jennifer Overbeke at Campbell Yoga extended herself, offering to help.
Returning to the mat with a very rusty part took me to the place where I began so many years ago, reminding me why I fell in love with yoga in the first place.
Starting at the beginning is a very good place to start.
Yoga Is For Everyone
Literally, every living, breathing person can do yoga. Young, old, injured or athletically superior, the benefits of yoga are very personal and powerful.
I’d experienced this often over the years, but never more profoundly than when attending a workshop taught by a wheel chair bound instructor. A few of the students in the class were also in wheel chairs, practicing right along side my teachers and classmates. We all worked ourselves into the same backbends, and we all fought our own limitations.
So much of what we fight against (physically and mentally) can be managed with yoga. Being able to connect the mind and the body makes inadequacies less inadequate, and problems less important.
Yoga Eases Anxiety-Thank You Mr. Iyengar
The first time I ever attended a yoga class was on the advice of a therapist who was helping me deal with, “Oh my God, I’m turning thirty!” anxiety.
Thankfully, I found an Iyengar-based studio (Iyengar is a form of yoga that emphasizes detailed technique and form). The Iyengar precision forces the brain to make intellectual expectations of the body, using the breath as the pathway to the proper pose. Focusing the mind through the process instills a sense of calm.
And don’t we all need a little more calm?
Be Where You Are
Years ago my single-girl lifestyle made it possible to take yoga classes four to five times a week. On the days I didn’t make it to class I would set up my mat in my bedroom, play music and light incense. All of that thoughtful single-minded focus made me very bendy. And I loved it.
But as my life changed to include a family, my practice slowed, and my children became the priority. My body changed, too, and I became less capable of getting into the deep bends and folds I used to savor.
A good yogi doesn’t mind, though, because the point is to be where you are. Working with Jen, I had no choice but to be okay with my limitations, which actually led to contentment about the moment in itself. What a relief to not worry about what is coming next.
Which leads into…
It’s All About The Breath
Being injured means that mobility is limited, calling for a restorative practice.
From a distance, a room full of restorative yogis looks a lot like a room of sleeping people. Being supported by blankets and bolsters, bodies fold into resting shapes, and the only movement is with the breath.
With restorative yoga, the supported shapes allow for meditative focus, (in my opinion) much more effective than unsupported mediation where the mind so easily wanders.
Restorative is a powerful practice that requires trust of the surroundings, fellow practitioners, and guides. There doesn’t seem to be much to it, except that there is.
Of course, an uninjured person has many more asanas (poses) that flow into one another, but the ribbon through all asanas is the breath.
Yoga for Healing
While I don’t expect my rotator cuff to miraculously heal itself, eight weeks of physical therapy reminded me that the phrase “use it or lose it” is the truth. The more inactive a person becomes, the more stiff the joints, the tighter the muscles.
Physical therapy wasn’t easy, but every time my arm was moved within the joint, and the muscle itself was stretched, the better I felt the next day.
Unlike physical therapy, where the movement is externally manipulated, yoga requires internal assessment, and eventually movement from within. Working with instructors who are trained in the healing art of yoga is imperative.
It turns out, though, that healing yoga and physical therapy do share a commonality.
Touch, it seems, is the magic in both.
One of the initial surprises of beginning yoga is the gentle, hands-on adjusting done by certified teachers. The first time a teacher asks if they can “touch you” is odd. We’re not used to being touched by strangers.
As you continue in your learning, having assistance while settling the body into proper placement adds to your knowledge, and eventually deepens your understanding. Whether it’s healing yoga, beginning yoga, or fast paced advanced vinyasa, touch is beneficial, and amazing.
There’s a Reason it’s Been Practiced for 2,000 Years
Yoga is foreign to many, and the idea of mediation, healing hands, mixed with Sanskrit vocabulary and (sometimes) chanting, makes our Western thinking selves a little uncomfortable. I was nervous about it, too.
Of course, an injury requires medical advice in order to determine the protocol for a weakened body. A person should never self-diagnose or ask a yoga teacher to do so, either.
Whether you’re coming back from an injury or just curious about getting started, the journey through yoga will be worth the initial, wobbly step toward the light.