Thanksgiving is has come and gone, but I’m still finding new appreciation in a most unlikely place: my injured low back.
I hurt myself in the silliest way possible: jumping off a waterfall and hitting the water in a weird way that wreaked havoc on my poor little coccyx, sacrum and low back muscles. This was a week and a half ago, and my back is still tender.
Injuries are frustrating; you’re suddenly incapacitated and in pain. You worry when you’ll heal and are angry that you got hurt in the first place. There are so many emotions that go along with the physical discomfort. Pair that with the fact that your normal endorphins that come from vigorous exercise are suddenly no where to be found because you can’t move. Awesome.
So many people come to yoga because of their injuries, working with chronic pain or tenderness. I’ve been so blessed in that I’ve never been seriously injured, and that my body is strong and flexible. Suddenly practicing with an injury has completely opened my eyes and put me in tune with a deeper part of my practice.
I’m a back bender; my spine is flexible in a way that allows me to go into deep back bends. They bring me so much joy and I feel invigoratingly free as I flip my dog or practice wheel variations or work into scorpion against a wall. With my sore back, updog is painful, but bridge is accessible. Camel isn’t happening, but wheel can if I engage my low abs–which you’re supposed to do in the pose anyway.
Injuries bring you instantly into your body. You are suddenly aware of how every movement feels, what muscles engage and what you can do without pain. As I’m carefully practicing at home, I find myself moving intuitively, breathing into sensation and stretching out where I need to. It’s interesting to note what poses are painful, and what I muscles I can engage to support my low back.
In many ways, this injury is giving me the insight into practicing poses with supportive alignment instead of relying on my spine’s natural flexibility.
Like I mentioned before, injuries are frustrating and scary. They can bring up tons of complicated emotions; from wondering to when you’re going to heal to anger at the fact you feel like you’re backsliding, and even the fear that you’ll never be quite the same.
Here is where you can practice trusting your body in its infinite wisdom: you will heal. Working through your injury is definitely WORK, but sometimes the hardest part of that work is being kind to yourself and knowing when to take it easy. Rest when you need rest. Move when your body calls out for it. Have compassion and respect for your injury and your body as it miraculously heals itself!
Continuing your Practice
Sometimes, the very first reaction to an injury is to rest until you get better. However, studies have show that extended bed rest can lead to longer healing times, decreased muscle tone, stiffness and depression from not moving around! Instead, resume your physical activity as much as you can, but don’t overdo it. Again, mindfulness is key here. Aim for practices that strengthen and support your injured parts, like your abs for an injured back or your quads for an injured hamstring.
Also, delve into other aspects of your practice–asana is only one component of yoga! Delve deeper into your meditation practice, or experiment with various forms of pranayama. Just because you’re limited in the poses you can practice doesn’t mean you have to abandon moving your practice forward. That forearm stand may have to wait, but maybe you begin to rock kapalabhati in a way you never imagined.
So that’s how I’m working through my back issue. And of course, eating lots of whole, nutrient-dense food to give my body the nutrients it needs to heal. What about you: has an injured part ever kept you from doing what you love? How do you keep your spirits up while you heal?