Navigating an Injury: Don’t Let It Get between You and Your Mat

Navigating an Injury: Don't Let It Get between You and Your Mat

Just like any other athlete, yogis who practice āsana get injuries if they aren’t careful, and yogis are certainly not immune to slips, trips and falls — especially as the weather gets icy. If we are really unlucky, even yogis can get involved major accidents or have to endure an operation which can put us out of action for quite a while. But these things don’t have to get in the way of yoga. 

To Āsana or Not to Āsana?

Image Credit: vaXzine on Flickr.
Image Credit: vaXzine on Flickr.

My first advice for anyone with an injury or pain of any sort is avoid any positions that hurt. Actually that really is the only thing that you need to know if you are practicing with an injury. Sounds easy doesn’t it, but what does it mean in practice?

  • Modify, modify, modify — Choose variations of a pose that don’t load the bit of you that is injured. Maybe Sphinx Pose instead of Up Dog for sore wrists. Try Triangle Pose with your top hand on your hip if stretching your arm up hurts. Use Sukhāsana or sit on a bolster when a leg injury means Lotus isn’t comfortable. The possibilities are endless.
  • Try something different — If vinyasa normally features a lot in your practice, consider trying a less dynamic style of yoga on some days. Maybe Yin Yoga (with it’s emphasis on stretching) to complement your dynamic sessions if this is more comfortable.
  • Prānāyāma and meditation — Both are elements of Patañjali’s 8 limbs of yoga and bring a wonderful balance to your practice when you are fit, as well as being great when you are injured. Time spent in prānāyāma or meditation rests the physical body and helps it to heal. They will also help you to manage the stress and anxiety that being injured inevitably brings.

See Also: Help! Which Yoga Style to Practice?

Take a Steady and Comfortable Seat

Substituting a chair for a zafu or the lotus position can make some aspects of yoga accessible when being able to roll out a yoga mat to practice seems like an impossible dream. After knee surgery I was able to keep up my regular prānāyāma and meditation practice using a chair long before I could roll out a mat again. And rest assured, you will gain all the same physiological and psychological benefits on a chair as you do on the mat — it really isn’t second best.

Image Credit: Anne Wu on Flickr.
Image Credit: Anne Wu on Flickr.

You could also consider developing a chair-based home practice. This is ideal if you have painful lower limbs or find getting on and off the floor difficult. There is lots you can do on a chair:

  • Seated forward folds — Just like the standing version, exhale on the way down and inhale on the way back up.
  • Seated cat and cow — Place your hands on your knees and inhale to draw your chest up between your shoulders then exhale to round your upper back into cat.
  • Seated twists — Place your left hand on right knee and right hand on the seat next to your left buttock. Inhale to sit tall then exhale to twist to the right. And vice versa to the left.
  • Eagle arms — Just like in the full expression of Eagle Pose but without the leg balance.
  • Cow Face arms — Still a lovely shoulder stretch when done in sitting.
  • Sitting TādāsanaGrounding through your sit bones instead of your feet and everything above that is the same as in standing.
  • Sitting side bends — Inhale arms above head and interlink fingers. Turn palms to ceiling and exhale to bend to one side; inhale to return to centre and repeat on other side. Keep grounding through your sit bones throughout.

See Also: What’s The Buzz About Seated Yoga?

What about When Things are Really Bad?

Even if you are confined to bed, as long as you have control over your breathing, you can still indulge in a little prānāyāma. Simply breathing slowly and deeply into your belly with some diaphragmatic breaths, in whatever position you are in, will reap rewards. The stimulation of your parasympathetic nervous system will reduce your heart rate, improve your digestion and still the mind. And the calmer you are, the quicker you will heal.

Meditation is a viable option when you are immobile too — and it can be done in any position. Lying, sitting, rolled on to your side, guided or not guided, meditation is an opportunity to escape the predicament of your physical body and nourish your energetic body. Escapism? Maybe, but escapism with added benefits.

Opportunities or Threats?

Image Credit: Images by John 'K' on Flickr.
Image Credit: Images by John ‘K’ on Flickr.

Though it is, undoubtedly, a challenge to keep a positive outlook when recovering from injury or illness, these times can really be an opportunity to try something new. To explore another of the 8 limbs of yoga or maybe a different style of practice. Your body will thank you for it and you may surprise yourself.

If I hadn’t worn out my knee with too much running, I wouldn’t have needed knee surgery. The knee surgery put an end to my āsana for a week or two so I turned to prānāyāma (while sitting on a chair) and guess what? I loved it! I suspect that I would not have sacrificed my precious āsana time to try it if I hadn’t been incapacitated so it really was a blessing in disguise.

So, if you are currently ill or injured, don’t give up on yoga — try something new. I’m certain you’ll be glad you did.

Sally Schofield
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