7 reasons why my shoulder injury was my greatest Yoga teacher
When I guide a Yoga class I continuously remind students to honour their bodies and resist the urge to be ambitious. Up until recently I thought that I was following my own advice but it wasn’t until my chronic shoulder injury resurfaced that I was forced to really listen to my body. In the process of healing and nurturing my injury I learned a deeper meaning of Yoga practice for the body without being outcome focused. Even if you’ve never had an injury, these seven points are applicable to all of us.
1. I discovered new things in the foundation poses
When you start Yoga, it can be really exciting and joyful to be learning something new and to feel connected - a sense of belonging. Sometimes that excitement makes us really eager and inspired to continue to grow our practice. We see our teachers who we look up to demonstrate arm balances and back bends and we want them to teach us those too. Amongst all the fun and excitement of Yoga, the biggest challenge can be to spend time in some of the less glamorous poses. When you have a shoulder injury, you can’t do many things on your hands but one thing I could do was be on my hands and knees. To an experienced Yogi this is quite basic but only if you aren’t working in the pose. When you make a conscious effort to align your shoulders, arms, collar bone, spine and hips and activate your Bandhas (pelvic floor muscles and core) to maximum potential it can be a much more challenging experience. We always have room to intensify even the simplest of poses and in doing this we explore and discover what’s happening in the body more truthfully which better prepares us for the next variation. Allow yourself to just be at the stage you are at and explore it without constantly pushing to the next variation. If we continuously practice Yoga in that state, we’ll never really arrive in a pose because we’ll be stuck half way between the one we are in and the one we want to be in.
2. I could clearly see my attachments
In Yoga we talk about cultivating non attachment. The Yogis believe that the less attached we are to the things in our external world, the more content and adaptable we will be internally as the external world continuously changes. I’m not going to try to pretend that I’ve mastered non attachment. I’m not even close but I could probably identify my attachments more readily since having to re-create my Yoga practice. During my weeks of absolutely minimal shoulder use for healing, I couldn’t do any Vinyasas or down dog. For at least four weeks (maybe six) I had to stop doing something I’d done regularly for years which very quickly made me feel completely alienated from my Yoga practice. It soon became apparent that I was attached to the idea that my Yoga practice needed to be strong and based on the Vinyasa sequence for me to feel fulfilled. During the transition phase of accepting my new situation and moving forward, many other attachments were revealed to me. Sometimes we aren’t even aware of what we are attached to until we are deprived of it and this was the case for me. I became aware that I was attached to an ideal, a belief that not only wasn’t serving me but it wasn’t true.
3. I found new ways to be motivated and inspired
In the early stages of healing my shoulder when I was very limited in what I could do physically I lost a lot of motivation and felt uninspired to practice Yoga. I stopped attending my usual classes and even avoided my home practice. Sometimes we need to try on an outfit to really know that it doesn’t work. Not practicing Yoga, for me, wasn’t working so I had to find new ways to motivate and inspire myself. I moved my focus to standing postures and extensions (back bending) and started to really focus on alignment, muscular activation and of course breath work in the poses that were accessible to me. Yoga is endless. There is always plenty we can do even when we are physically limited. When we free ourselves from our expectations and ideals we are available to just get on with it.
4. I developed a new appreciation for Nina my teacher
Nina is a legend. When I was injured I stopped coming to classes because I felt like I would be a burden to the teacher. When Nina hadn’t seen me for a while she replied to a message I had sent her asking if I was at least attending any classes so that someone was keeping an eye on me. Well I wasn’t but that prompted me to come back to her classes. Nina is an anatomy expert and relentlessly meticulous about alignment and safety in Yoga. The best thing about Nina is that she gets to know each student and offers specific guidance according to their individual circumstances. That’s a pretty tough thing to do when you have a room full of different bodies with different requirements. Nina allowed me come to class and leave after only an hour, gave me a discount (which I tried to refuse) and kept a close eye on me, offering me lots of variations tailored to my physical state. Thank-you for your kindness and care Nina, you’re a champion.
5. I could do more Yoga classes per week without being shattered by a million Chaturangas
After coming to terms with the changes I had to make to my practice I soon realised that Yoga without Chaturangas was delightful. Instead of being sore and shattered the evening after an Ashtanga session I could actually do more Yoga the same day. This was particularly useful when I went to QLD to visit my favourite Yoga studio. I usually have such a dilemma trying to decide which classes to attend because I want to spend as many hours with my teachers as possible during a short visit. However, this time I had so much more stamina to attend between two and four classes per day just by not doing any Chaturangas. Without an injury, it wouldn’t have occurred to me to just cease Chaturangas during a class. I encourage everyone to challenge their ideals of what they believe to be the best practice for them and test whether it’s really true by giving it up for a while.
6. Much more awareness during practice
Ever find yourself day dreaming during Yoga? Or do you sometimes find yourself caught up in thinking about some current event happening in your life and quickly try to refocus on your practice? It used to happen to me all the time but not anymore. The type of shoulder issue I have is one where I don’t necessarily feel pain or discomfort when I am harming my shoulder until later that night or the next day. In the early phases of healing my shoulder I messed up a lot with thinking that my shoulder was fine to do a handstand or forearm balance and it feeling fine at the time but then later on realising that it wasn’t. I had to concentrate and really quieten my mind to tune in to the subtle effects that each movement had on my shoulder, being sure not to push it too far. There is always more room for cultivating awareness, becoming quiet and listening to our bodies.
7. More understanding and wisdom as a teacher
I am grateful for what my injury taught me because it gave me great insight into managing an injury and what sort of experiences students might have during Yoga when they are injured. If everything comes easily to you then you are less likely to understand other peoples’ struggles with adversity. Now I have all of these new experiences that allow me to better understand my own practice and therefore more likely to understand my students’ practice.