May 7, 2012
When an Injury Stops the Yoga Process
By Jeanne Heileman
In 2008, after spraining my ankle so many times that it started to feel as if my foot was no longer connected to my leg, I saw a doctor and he recommended surgery as soon as possible. I had basically torn the ligaments so that there was almost nothing left. When I did have the surgery, I had to have my leg raised for two weeks and then spent three months in a cast, a boot, or some concoction to continue the healing process. I knew in advance that I would not be able to practice yoga the way that I understood yoga to be. I also knew that if I did not find a way to practice, and ended up getting weak muscles and extra weight in my torso, that I would have even more problems with my back than already exist. So, I turned my upcoming recovery period into a laboratory to create a different kind of practice. Knowing myself, I knew that I would probably go through some dark phases where I just wanted to lay around and feel sorry for myself. So, wisely, I made a commitment to teach a workshop of whatever I created months later at a studio to ensure that I’d stick to my intention.
Thus, I began the journey of getting on my mat and noticing that I could lay down on my back. What can you do laying down? How can it be energetic instead of sleepy? I could also lay on my belly. Ugh! That means some Salabhasana work; a pose that has brought up so much anger and frustration that once I had the gall to tell my own teacher, Rod Stryker, that I didn’t like his sequencing and I didn’t think his class was a very good one. (!!!) With my limited range of abilities, I had to come up with a way to bring some heat and energy. Adding to my challenge, I was living in an old apartment that was colder inside than outside while this work took place over October, November and December.
After some clumsy attempts, I began to realize that doing forms of abdominal work not only helped me with digestion, it also increased heat and helped my breathing. By exhaling so much old air out, it was fulfilling to inhale. By sitting up in Upavista Konasana (the cast was big and heavy, so I couldn’t cross my legs in a normal cross-legged position) I found that I could do lots of lateral stretches and strengtheners that helped me breathe even more. Laying on my belly, I began to feel the benefit of Salabhasana. Being on your belly makes your diaphragm work harder to move down while inhaling. Once I got over the shock and started to play with the work, I found the digestive/eliminative organs got more stimulation. And then I found that I was able to fill my lungs and upper body with more breath. By doing both, my Salabhasana became more of a form of Pranayama than a physical pose. I put so much energy and attention on the inner activity, that, -gads!- I actually liked the pose! It lead to other belly backbends I could do much easier. And I could hold them for 1-2 + minutes with peace.
The results were fantastic. I found myself sitting taller in my meditation. I four that I was able to face the world, regardless of how unstable things were becoming. And I found that even thought I didn’t do “arm work,” nor standing poses, my legs and arms got strong.
I discovered that even with an injury, you CAN do yoga. You just have to adjust it. There is more to yoga than Sun Salutations and Standing Poses. I love my new practice and am excited to share it with others. Many tell me that they are able to go deeper into backbends. Students who have back injuries share that this is the only way that their back feels better. Those who have knee, ankle and hip injuries express their gratitude that there is still a way to pracice.
My teacher, Rod Stryker, has often expressed that Pranayama can happen IN a yoga practice, in addition to before or after. I realized I was doing just that and fully agree with him. Try the Core Yoga for Healing practice on YogaVibes and don’t let the abdominals scare you. There’s more to our core than just the front. And by working all areas, you end up breathing and living much brighter!