Yoga and working with injury

You’ve got an injury, a reaction, a restriction. You didn’t ask for it, but it happened.

Sometimes you can do the sensible thing and take time out with lots of rest and come back to normal life when the injury has fully cleared up.,


But often life isn’t perfect, you still need to maintain some mobility. Here are some tips to help you cope. I’m assuming that your injury is not life threatening and that you are following the advice of medical professionals.

Don’t give up! You have the power to help yourself. If you are giving yourself a hard time about being less than perfect, reflect on the fact that every great athlete, dancer, yogi or body worker has at some point had to cope with injury.

Accept that the injury has happened. Accept that your life has changed in a way you didn’t want or plan. Acceptance doesn’t mean that you have to like it.

You have a body and at the same time, you are more than your body. It means you can still be your authentic self despite having a body which is not working at full potential.

Many of the usual ways of dealing with injury contain an inherent opposition. ‘Powering through’, ‘gritting your teeth and carrying on’ suggest a mind over body or a mind against body type approach. If this works, great. For me, finding ways of getting my mind to work with my body is preferable.

Give yourself permission to feel whatever you feel. And that means whatever you feel, whether it is sulks/trantrums/blaming/self pity/relief, even if you believe them unacceptable or weird. There’s a story about Pablo Cassals, the great cellist, who mangled his hand on a skiing holiday. He admitted later that his first response was to think “thank god I don’t have to play the cello”. Self compassion is likely to be in very short supply at this point. Anything you can do to decrease beating yourself up is welcome.

Once the injury has happened and there is pain, the flight/fight/freeze response will start to kick in. It will partially numb your sensations but accept that your body IQ has just dropped. A lot of thoughts about movement are just wrong as your body is fighting between what was and what is.

Accept help when it is offered, you need it and you will surely return the favour at some point in the future.

A mistake is to try and move like you are not injured. Your body will fight back and you get’ll upset.

Affirm that you can still move very freely and at the same time accept a reduced range of motion or an adapted range of motion. For example, with a leg injury, do smaller strides and maybe a slower pace. You can always find the fluid uplift from the earth and surrender of weight to the earth, even in moments which seem impossible. Take time, trust the life force and move. And if you fail, it’s OK, you’ll get it another time.

Things take longer, small distances become scary. Give yourself more time for your body to organise itself in the transitions between positions. For example, take a couple of breaths before moving from sitting to standing.

Accept that your muscles need to move through slightly different pathways. Take time to allow those new pathways to emerge, don’t rush. Your mind expects that you move in a certain way. You’ll feel confusion during the process of allowing these new pathways to emerge.

Persuade all the muscles crossing the injured part to keep moving when you move. Again, never force this. Sometimes the muscles just need time to freak out and lock up.

Accept that there may be pain. Let go of the tendency to avoid the pain or get into it. Notice your reaction to the pain, take time to reassure yourself that you are managing your body in the best way you know how. If the pain is persistent, seek help. The internet is a good resource for instant tips but also make appointments with your doctor.

Use pain killers, but don’t train on them. If you need to do something athletic which outside of normal daily movements, avoid using pain killers if you can as they can give you a false confidence.

And finally, make a commitment to explore the lessons which need to be learned at some point in the future when you have healed enough to listen without judgement to what your body needs to tell you.

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© Kevin Saunders, Yogaground 2012

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