I was out for a catch-up dinner with a girlfriend a few nights ago, and the conversation shifted to a recent purchase I just made. The words I spoke would have been completely foreign to me a few years earlier: “I bought a great pair of loafers the other day that work for my arthritis, fallen arch and bunion”. This is not a conversation I would expect to have shortly before my 30th birthday.
She is also the same friend who took me to my first yoga class after my accident, or as I call it – The day my practice shifted on and off the mat.
I will never forget that class; only 5 months earlier you would have found me in class, giving it my all, never backing off or listening to my body because my ego was in the driver’s seat. I would always hear Sherry say that one of her most powerful classes was one where she spent the entire class in child’s pose – until that first class back, I never fully understood how that could be.
Integration started in the class and child’s pose was served up – I tried to get into it and couldn’t. Well, not like I was used to. Pain shot through my knee, and my ego received a necessary reality check. I was given a foam block to put behind my knee to lessen the pain but that modification didn’t help. The second modification offered was to lie on my back and bring my knees in as close to my chest as I could. That variation was my child’s pose for the next while.
I eventually was able to ease back into traditional child’s pose with a foam and then after a while longer the foam was not needed. For a while fear would kick in and I would stay in my safety zone. Even though I knew my body was ready to try a little more the fear in my mind would stop me. There are certain poses I still have trouble getting into and if it is a damp day, there are poses I avoid all together. One thing I have learned is to slowly start to try and incorporate some poses you avoided back into your practice. If not, the “but I am injured” tape may get stuck playing in your mind. If this happens, you will miss out on growing and exploring your practice.
Child’s pose was my first fearful pose I tried, next came Warrior 1. For anyone with a knee injury, Warrior 1 can be a very difficult pose. When coming into Warrior 1, I will take a shorter stance to take some pressure off of my knee for a few breaths, but when going into the pose for one breath I come into a crescent lunge as not to jar my knee. The key is to grow your practice in a way that will serve you best, which is a lesson that hopefully will stick with you even off your mat.
Below are some tips on how to SLAM through a practice with an injury (I enjoy a good acronym J)
Speak up – let the teacher know that you are working with an injury. They will be able to suggest modifications to take the strain off of that part of your body. This will also let them know if they should/shouldn’t assist you in a certain pose and can watch alignment in what could be challenging poses for that injury.
Listen – Your body has an innate way of tell you what poses are not serving you. Honestly, listen to your body for the difference between pain and sensation (which sometimes get confused). Stop listening to Ego’s voice (this was the hardest one for me to learn, but I am SO grateful I did). When you do, your practice will grow on and off the mat exponentially.
Ask – The best way to get new information on things is to ask. If you see or know someone working with a similar injury, ask them what is working for them and what isn’t. Everyone has different bodies but this is a great starting point. Some of my favorite modifications have come from other yogis I have talked to before and after classes
Modify – You will learn quickly what will and what will not work for you, and this can be different each time you are on your mat. Take a modification, use some props or opt out of the pose; do whatever will serve you best. By taking care of yourself, you are offering up your courage to do so to others who may not feel comfortable doing so alone. Blocks and bolsters will be your best friend.
At Halifax Yoga we are blessed to have the Real Ryder bikes. If you have a knee injury, these, along with a regular yoga practice, can help tremendously. The first activity I was cleared to do, even before I could walk again, was to bike because it will strengthen your quads and there is no pressure or strain on your knee.
Some of the best advice I can offer up from my experience is to try and stop seeing an injury as a negative thing and start to see all the positives you will gain from the experience. I see mine as a blessing, because with out it I would not have developed this amazing connection with my practice or myself. I stopped letting my ego run my practice and now let my body and breath take the lead … and really isn’t that what yoga is all about!
~ Sarah Pellerine