Today I am going to chat a little bit about practicing yoga when you are injured and/or recovering from an injury.
First and foremost, I am sorry if you are dealing with an injury. I have been there and understand how frustrating it can be to not be able to fully use your body. The most important thing to remember though, is that you are doing the best you can, and your body will take time to heal. Just because someone else may heal faster or take longer to heal, does not mean that your path will be the same. Injuries are unique, so it is important to take care of yourself and listen to your own body. Sometimes listening to what your body needs is easier said than done though, so here are some tips to keep in mind when practicing yoga (or other forms of movement and exercise):
1. Please find a physical therapist that you trust!
This, by far, is my top piece of advice. When I broke my arm back in 2018, I was told that I might not be able to do certain things again (like fully bend or extend my arm). However, as soon as I had my splint taken off post surgery, I walked right into a physical therapists office. As a result, I progressed ahead of schedule (don't worry, there were and are still plenty of ups and downs), and most importantly, got over a lot of my fears and trauma from what happened. A physical therapist will be able to guide you and safely push you, as well as give you various options for exercises and movements to do in order to heal.
*I understand that physical therapy can be expensive and not always covered by insurance. However, if you can get even one appointment, try it out (or discuss exercises with your doctor). I have met people with similar injuries to mine that stopped their therapy or did not go, and they still cannot move as well, even though their injury happened several years ago.
2. Prop up
I LOVE using yoga blocks - injured or not! Take advantage of blocks, straps, bolsters, pillows, blankets and anything else you have handy. Don't be shy either! Does lunging forward with your hands to the ground cause too much pain? Then take the lunge with your back knee down and stack several blocks under your hands to prop yourself up. If you do not have blocks, a stack of books is a great alternative. Light weights are also a great tool! Have wrist pain? Hold onto the weights in poses like down dog to keep your wrists long.
Check out the video below (video is part of the Yoga on Demand platform, so you will need to login to access) for different ways you can use props and modify movements:
3. Put your arms and legs wherever is comfortable for you
Have a broken arm or shoulder injury? Then only do the lower portion of a pose. For example, you can do warrior 2 legs but keep your hands at heart or at your hips. Have a lower body injury? You can kneel in lunges or warriors, or sit in a chair and just do the upper body movements.
*Note, if getting your heart rate up is something you needing to avoid at the moment, then do not lift your arms overhead. Movements with arms extended overhead can cause your heart rate to go up faster.
4. Mental vs. Physical Healing
Many injuries are acute and have a time frame for how long they will take to heal. However, what often gets left unsaid, is how long it can take you to mentally recover. Even two years later, I still get some anxiety around my arm.
I do not have all of these answers to this one, because it can be difficult to mentally overcome an injury. The most important thing to ask yourself is, 'am I avoiding this pose because I am injured and it causes pain? Or am I avoiding this pose because I am telling myself I got injured before and I am now scared?' It can be hard to differentiate. Often times, when we injure ourselves, we get so caught up in what happened, that we go into full defense mode and prevent ourselves from doing things that we can actually do. This is also where a great physical therapist and doctor can come in handy, because he or she can safely challenge you and help you play your mental edge.
5. Take it slow and see how you recover before adding in more
When you begin to workout again and take yoga classes, please take your time. You do not have to jump right into a 60 minute power yoga class. Maybe try a few poses and see how it feels. Then maybe add a 15-30 minute class in once or twice a week and notice how your body recovers over the next two days. It is NORMAL to be quite sore after and the next day. If after 24 hours your soreness decreases or goes away, then what you did was most likely okay. However, if soreness lasts longer than 24 hours, then that is your bodies way of letting you know that you pushed it a little too much. When I began lifting some weight again (all of 3 pounds), my arm would be really sore right after, but then it would recover quickly. However, when I tried jumping up to 5 pounds shortly after, my arm locked out for 3 days. As a result, I knew I needed to stick with 3 pounds a little longer and slowly build up.
6. Healing is not linear
I love the image below so much. The first day I walked into my physical therapists office, there was an image just like this one in the waiting area.
It can be hard to accept that there will be bad days - in fact, there will probably be several - but don't beat yourself up. Stick with it, rest when you need to rest (and I mean lounge on your couch, Netflix everything and REST), and in time, you will begin to heal.
A note on pregnancy:
No, I am not saying pregnancy is an injury! However, your body is going through changes (I mean, you are growing a freaking human), so there may be times when you will need to modify and/or change up how you practice. Belly getting big and in your way? Don't forward fold all the way or widen your stance in poses like chair. Extensions like locust or bow a no go? Take bridge or camel. Lying on your back no longer an option? Stay in camel or take some cats and cows. And of course, for your savasana, lay in any position that is comfortable and safe for you (some more pregnancy and postpartum videos and tips will be coming too).
The most important thing to remember is that every woman is different! I have had women practice power yoga with me, with few modifications, all the way up until their due date. On the other hand, I have had pregnant women in my classes who slowed down or stopped practicing all together because it was not making them feel good. Both routes are correct. As long as you are listing to your body and your doctor has given you the all clear, then you can move in a way that is good for you.
I hope this was helpful, yogis. Every injury and situation is truly unique, so feel free to send me an email if you have any specific questions, but again, make sure you are cleared to exercise by your doctor. If you are not there yet, then take advantage of this time to rest.