How To Practice Yoga With an Injury

How to Practice with an Injury

“Alright. You’re not allowed to raise your arms over your head or make any uncontrolled twisting motions with your spine.”

This is what I was told during the first week of my Yoga Teacher Training. After experiencing intense chest pains for weeks prior, I had finally given in and went to a professional.

I was not thrilled to learn that my rib had slipped out of place, impacting all the surrounding muscles, nerves and fascia. Hence why any lifting, bending, twisting, deep breathing, coughing, or sneezing would send sharp, stabbing pains through my chest and back. If I had gone in right away after the first symptoms, they could have popped my rib back into its proper place. But since I’d waited, I had to be scheduled for three more appointments spread out over the month.

I needed to rest and heal. I did not, however, have time for that. I had a full schedule to complete 250 hours of intensive training in four weeks.

And so... I was resigned to sitting through daily yoga classes without actually moving. Watching all my fellow trainees practice-teach with one another, taking painkillers between lectures and workshops. At first, I was miserable. I felt like I wasn’t getting anything out of the training. Every day, we would go over individual postures, in depth, and learn alignment and variations. But I couldn’t participate. I considered dropping out and starting again when I had more mobility.

Mentally, it was hard to relax and accept things, because I couldn’t use yoga as a tool the way I usually do. Yoga is my meditation, my life force, how I stay calm and connected with myself. I’d been preparing for this intensive training program for months. This was my chance to deep dive into the yoga that I love, and I was supposed to just sit on the bench for four weeks?

I sat there, frustrated, in pain, for a full week before one of my teachers looked at me halfway through a very dynamic, cardio-heavy flow class.

“This is the most humble of practices.” She said, smiling. Her kind words shifted my perspective completely.

For the first time, I saw this injury as an opportunity.

An opportunity to meditate on what it means to be grateful for the body you have been given, in all its varying forms. A chance to understand when we take our bodies for granted, and to completely dive into the mental aspect of yoga. For the subsequent three weeks, I sat through 1-2 classes per day, observing the ever-changing quality of my thoughts and physical body.

My fellow trainees were supportive and kind, and I felt such a strong sense of community as I recovered, meditated, and expanded my practice without physically practicing at all. We brainstormed how to create and teach an inclusive yoga class for people with similar injuries or ailments. We studied the philosophy, history, and importance of yoga and teaching a strong class. We learned that experiencing injuries, issues, and aliments first-hand can help you to understand your students on a deeper level and teach a better class, designed with every body in mind.

On the other side of it now, graduated and teaching my first flow classes, I can recognize and accept the injury as a challenge and opportunity for growth. In hindsight, I think I received a unique trainee experience and I am no longer wishing for something better. I plan my sequences and classes to be accessible and open, and I encourage my students to practice mindfully and at their own pace, following their own breath. As a student, my own practice feels so different from before. It feels new, more intentional, and more conscious than it had before.  

So my question for you is:

How can you refresh your practice, your perspective?