How to practice yoga with an injury

How to practice yoga with an injury

There will come a time in most yoga practitioners life when you will find yourself injured. This could be for reasons completely unrelated to yoga, overuse, overstraining, receiving a bad adjustment or just plain old bad luck.

So what’s a yogi or yogini to do?
Sometimes you can still continue to practice asana or the physical part of yoga just by modifying a few poses. Other times complete rest is the best option. As someone who has had a stubborn yoga injury as well as the unrelated bad luck of breaking my foot, I thought I’d share a few tips on what worked for me.

Rest
If the injury is very inflamed and very sore, sometimes it’s good to take a break from your physical practice and rest.

Some people immediately stop practicing. In some cases that’s necessary. Some injuries might be so inflamed that resting it completely is the best thing you can do before you start rehabilitation. Others work through the injury. I opted to work through the injury initially but it soon became apparent that all I was doing was making it more angry.

I went to see a physio therapist and followed his instructions to a T. After several months I still didn’t see any improvements and began to realise that while his treatment might have worked for others, my body wasn’t responding to it. I eventually found an amazing physio who has encouraged me to continue my practice, albeit modified while providing me with some exercises to help build up strength in areas my body is weak in.

Modification
When I broke my foot, the rest of my body was fine I just couldn’t put any weight on my foot for a while. This is where I modified my practice. I adopted a more restorative practice in the beginning, making sure to give my body some rest while it tried to heal.

Once the foot was feeling a little better, I began to modify by popping a block under my leg so I could come into Table Top. I still tried to keep off the foot so my focus was more on seated postures.

Once I could put some weight on it, I incorporated a few standing postures to help with my rehab and to build some strength back into that leg and foot. It was a slow process which changed daily depending on how the foot felt. The important thing is to listen to your body and your health professional.

Focus on the other limbs of yoga
There’s so much more to yoga than just the physical poses. See this as an opportunity to explore and deepen your pranayama (breathing) or meditation practice. When I broke my foot, my meditation practice was pretty sporadic, but it provided the perfect opportunity for me to learn how to sit each morning, even just for 5 to 10 minutes and meditate. Fast forward a couple of months and I now can’t imagine not meditating each day.

So don’t dispair and think you can’t practice when you’re injured. It’s all about listening to your body and adjusting your practice to suit your needs at that time.

Your first yoga class

Your first yoga class

Yay! Congratulations on booking your first yoga class!
You might be excited or even nervous (don’t worry, I still get nervous whenever I attend a class at a new studio). The good news is, your nerves should disappear as soon as you walk in the door. But if you’re still unsure and wondering what you’re in for, I’m here to set you at ease with a little list:

General etiquette:
While in class, it’s polite to make sure your phone is switched to airplane mode, or at the very least silent. Of course there are occasions when you need to be on standby and that’s completely understandable. In those instances, just let the teacher know so you can keep your phone close.

Try to avoid eating a big meal just before class. Either eat a few hours before, or after. This is to avoid feeling uncomfortable, especially when doing twists. I have firsthand experience in this, trust me.

Pain is never an option. Try to move mindfully into each pose and avoid pushing into extremes. If any pose causes any pain, immediately come out of it and let your teacher know. They will be able to provide you with another variation to suit you.

While in class, teachers might offer physical adjustments. Good teachers always ask first before they assist you. Please remember that you are allowed to say no. If a teacher adjusts you without asking, definitely let them know if it’s not ok.

Clothing:
As you will be moving around, wear something that’s comfortable and you can easily stretch in. I’ve worn some ill-fitting tops to class before and it’s less that ideal to spend most of your class adjusting your clothes.

Definitely bring something warm as well for Savasana / Rest at the end. This can be a warm tracksuit top or a shawl. If it’s a cold day or night, make sure to keep your socks close by too so you can make sure you’re super toasty.

What to bring:
If you have your own yoga mat, it’s always a good idea to bring it along. Not all teachers have extra mats and those who do will need to disinfect the mats after every use.

If it’s a particularly dynamic class and things get a bit sweaty (pretty much any class in summer here!), bring a small towel with. They are great for placing at the top of your mat to prevent hands from slipping plus you can also use them as an eye pillow during Savasana.

Any big pieces of jewelry, watches or rings that get in the way is best left safely at home.

Arriving:
Try to make sure you’re on time for class by arriving 5 to 10 minutes earlier. This will allow your teacher to sign you in and also provides you with time to ask any questions. While teachers know life can happen and sometimes people run late for class, it’s always nice to be able to start on time. If you’re late, firstly try not to stress. Most teachers will still let you join the class. Once class is over, just make sure the teacher signs you in.

Please let your teacher know if you think you might be pregnant or if you have any injuries. You might need to adjust your practice to ensure you’re moving in a safe way.

Don’t skip Savasana:
I know, for the first few classes it might feel tempting to leave as everyone gets ready for Savasana but please resist the urge. There’s a reason Savasana is considered to be the most difficult yoga pose, and that’s because so few of us are able to take a few minutes of our day and lie still. We have so little opportunity in our day to soften our muscles and allow our bodies to recover that we all need to practice Savasana each day. The pose is there as a little thank you for your body for working hard throughout class and to begin to practice calming our minds. This is the moment we begin to reconnect with ourselves before we head out into the world again.

Leave the ego at the door:
I know this one is easier said than done, even for yoga teachers. It’s always tempting to compare ourselves with our yoga mat neighbours. They might be more flexible, or not confuse their lefts with their rights (for some of us it’s a daily struggle) or not lose their balance at all. But it doesn’t matter, because in the end yoga is an individual practice. The person you wish you were as flexible as might have hyper mobile joints and struggle to maintain stability in poses, or might be pushing their bodies beyond their capabilities.

It’s important to listen to your body and to remember that each day is different. What you could do yesterday you might not do today, or you might be able to do more today. By approaching your practice with no expectations, you can really focus on how your body feels in each pose in that moment and adjust accordingly. Remember, this is your practice, your time and your body.

Most importantly of course is to remember to have fun. I always have a laugh at myself when I lose my balance in a pose and fall over. Then I try again.