It seems a contradiction that many people are injured in the practice of yoga in spite of being a discipline thought to obtain the physical and mental health. Why is it produced? How can we avoid it? And although the best thing is to try not to produce it, what can we learn from it?
I recently broke a rib (I wasn’t doing any acrobatic posture, I was just playing basketball with some friends) and realized what could influence my practice. Even though I continued teaching and also being a student, I became much more aware of a huge limitation in my body. Although for many it would be a burden, a frustration or an obstacle that forces them to stop, in the end I have felt very grateful.
When I have shared this opinion in general is difficult to understand, how can you perceive as a blessing a constant pain and that prevents you? Because it amplifies my attention on the body, because it always gives me back my focus on myself, because it reminds me of the priority objective of yoga: to gain consciousness.
I know many people who have been injured practicing yoga, whatever the style, both in the static of the hatha and in the fluid of the vinyasa. It seems a contradiction that a discipline that seeks the integral health of the being and that is even used to recover from injuries can cause others. In the West there is the idea that yoga consists of a series of exercises and postures that the more complex, acrobatic and demanding for the body the more we advance in our path. Part of the problem lies in that conception, when in fact that is a very small part of what yoga means.
Why did we get hurt?
In general, there is no single answer to this question, but certain behaviours or preconceived ideas can be observed that encourage it. Many students believe that the more they stretch and the further they go in a better posture, the better they are doing their practice. As much as the body of signs of discomfort or of reaching the limit we push ourselves to go further. Sometimes the adjustments that we receive are not the correct ones or we do not make the variation more adapted to our physical capacities. The belief that effort is necessary and that flexibility is the goal doesn’t help either.
Sometimes it’s just an accident. Many others are for reasons beyond the pupil’s control, such as a forced adjustment by a teacher or an unintentional kick by another pupil. In general it is much more common the lack of attention of the own practitioner or the excess of force. In the end, whether it is a small tug or a serious muscle break, in the background everything comes from the same place: the lack of listening to something that our body has been warning us for a long time.
Pain is never a good sign during class. Obviously like any physical work the asanas carry a risk and at the same time put us in demanding situations physically and mentally. But there is a big difference between feeling tension and pain, between controlled force and excessive effort.
Then the injury and pain may arise during the practice, but not from the posture you are performing, not from the yoga itself, but from the experience you have during it. Because the tension of the body comes from your thoughts and the intention with which you perform each action. It is your attitude and your vital patterns that lead you to skip the signs of your body, it is everything that makes you who you are that makes you practice as you practice.
How to practice to avoid injury?
How you practice is what determines whether you can get hurt or not. This article by our partner Silvia Gallego explains very well how to approach the mat, what is the attitude of those who advance in the path of yoga.
You have to understand that yoga is not a physical practice, it’s not just that. It is a space of self-knowledge, in which there is no need or place for the ego, competition or the requirement to meet objectives. It is rather an inner, personal development that leads you towards well-being, not to conquer it, but to recover it as a state of your own that is already in you.
It all starts with attitude. How you treat yourself, with what intention and intensity you perform each posture. Basically how you treat yourself. You can be patient, treat yourself with affection and gentleness, not force yourself. You can learn to recognize your body, listen to your limits and respect them. As the Yoga Sutras say: sthira Sukham asana, the posture will be firm and comfortable. So that it does not take us to the extremes and gives us the space to quiet the mind.
That may be another key to avoiding injuries, to understand that yoga contains a philosophy. In Patanjali’s eight steps a series of premises are exposed with which to begin the practice. In the Yamas there is Ahimsa, non-violence, which in this case can be understood as not forcing yourself; Sattya, honesty or coherence: Asteya, not desiring what belongs to others nor comparing yourself; Brahmacharya, energetic moderation and Aparigraha, detachment from the result of your actions. By applying these ideas to the mat you realize that they can be transferred to the rest of your life’s actions.
Forget any targets. Take off your obsession with getting that stance that resists you. Open yourself to the possibility of just being where you are, breathing consciously. That’s yoga.
What I’ve learned from being injured
The injury has allowed me to return to the basics I started with in yoga. More than learning from new ones, it has given me back learnings that with time you end up taking for granted and it is good to recover.
I have remembered that the importance is in self-knowledge (svadhyaya), in dealing with patience, care and compassion. That practice is more than asanas and that they can be adapted to any body and condition. This has led me to look back at my students with more respect and to assume that my body and my possibilities are not those of the other.
Everyone is responsible for their own body and at the same time as a teacher I am responsible for my students and their experience. And that with self-care everything is prevented. As my teacher Gordana Vrajnes reminded us: “everything comes, everything passes, everything changes”.
When your body is limited you realize what it usually allows you and you don’t appreciate it. So I have learned to be grateful every day for what I can do and to be grateful for everything that happens because it leads to learning. We take many things for granted and you don’t need to lose something in order to value it. Thank now at this precise moment all that you are and do.
The practice should not be the cause of any type of injury. It should contribute to everyone finding their own way of integral well-being at all levels. May it lead us to focus our minds and improve our daily lives.
That’s why sometimes the injury can be the great master. It gives you back your conscious attention about yourself and your body in a magnified way, it lowers the ego that always wants more, makes you more humble and more grateful with life. I hope that all of us who follow the path of Yoga can remember these lessons without having to harm ourselves.