Have you ever gotten into a yoga routine, only to be sidelined with an injury a few months later? Maybe you took on a 10k race with too little training and pulled a hamstring. Perhaps lifting your squirming two-year-old out of her car seat caused you to strain your back. It could be that seasonal responsibilities (raking, shoveling, weeding, gardening) have your shoulders and hips all out of whack. Whatever the cause of the injury, stopping yoga because you’re injured is a total bummer.
But I’m here to let you in on a not-so-little secret:
You actually DON’T have to stop practicing yoga when you get injured.
There. I said it. In fact, I’ll take it a step further and strongly suggest that instead, you increase your yoga practice when you get injured.
Say whaaaaat? Now I know you might be thinking that intense stretching or a strenuous workout may not be what you need to help heal your injury, and I am certainly not suggesting that you recklessly pull and kick and stretch and push your way through an advanced yoga class. What I am suggesting, however, is that you consider yoga to be a form of therapy, a modality of healing that will help you recover from your injury while it simultaneously keeps you in shape, both physically and mentally.
Let’s really think about what happens when you continue practicing yoga after sustaining an injury:
- You connect with your body on a deeper level because you’re listening to what it’s telling you, if it hurts, when to back off, and when to push forward.
- You stay in shape. Plain and simple you continue your yoga routine, so while there may be certain moves or postures on which you have to go easy, chances are there are many others on which you continue to improve.
- You stay in your yoga groove. Even if you can’t do much in class depending on the injury, you continue with your habit and routine of simply going to the yoga class. I often say that the most challenging posture is just getting yourself to the studio. Once you’re out of the routine of practicing that one particular posture, it’s very hard to get back in.
- You heal your injury. And this is the biggest perk of all because the yoga, while keeping you in shape, is helping to give the injury the circulation, the stretching, the weight-bearing, and the balance that it needs.
Of course you’ll want to talk to your own yoga teachers about how to best modify or moderate certain postures depending on what you have going on in the injury-department. Practicing yoga when injured is actually a great exercise in getting one’s ego in check because you may realize you can’t do everything, nor should you in order to heal.
I’ll never forget being so proud of my own mother when she hobbled into her hot yoga class with a broken ankle and practiced two times a week for the 8 weeks she was in a boot. She pulled a chair over to her yoga mat, sat down, and did what she could. While everyone else in the class was standing, she sat and did the upper body movements to the best of her ability. Talk about humbling.
Something to consider when you get hit with an injury that disrupts your yoga: many people start yoga in the first place because they have an injury. That was true for me. I was plagued with running-induced stress fractures, and I needed something, anything, that would help them heal but also give me a good sweat. I couldn’t just sit around and wait for the injury to go away on its own, I needed to take charge and help it heal myself. More than ten years, two marathons, and several half marathons later, I have remained stress fracture free, and I credit yoga entirely.
Bikram Yoga, the style of yoga that I teach and practice, is comprised of 26 postures and 2 breathing exercises. The specific way that this series of postures is put together acts like a prescription and a physical therapy routine all in one. The postures, since they help to increase circulation throughout the entire body without any impact on the joints, create a healing effect. The amazing aspect about yoga when it comes to injuries is that if something hurts, you can back off, do a little less, and still receive tremendous benefit.
Yoga is not an all or nothing deal. You don’t have to (nor should you!) do 100% of the posture in order to receive the benefit from the posture, especially when you have an injury. A little bit goes a long way. Less is more.
Does that make sense? You can be the most beat up, beginner, inflexible yogi, and still receive maximum benefit from the postures simply by attempting them the best you can. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It certainly doesn’t have to be pretty. It just has to be.
So if you get injured, don’t stay away from your yoga class. Get yourself to the studio. Ask your instructors for help. And treat your practice like a form of therapy and a dose of medicine that will help you heal.