Confession of yogi: I have been practicing yoga for almost 30 years, teaching for 8 years and in October 2018 I had my first yoga accident. Some of you might think nothing to be proud of – BUT – I LEARNT VALUABLE LESSONS which I would like to share.
Half hand stand was always a pose I could do with confidence – until – one Saturday whilst I was teaching and demonstrating I lost my balance and fall onto my left shoulder, causing a swollen tendon and nerve impingement.
Brief background to the accident
I got bad news on the Wednesday of that week and was still working through the issues on Saturday. I was determined to teach the best class I could because I am a professional :)!
On this Saturday the strap around my elbows was a bit tight, I was not quite comfortable in the spot I was demonstrating. An inner voice was saying ‘do not lift your right leg off the wall’ but I did and fall onto my left shoulder. I jumped up quickly, felt some pain but I knew no bone was broken. I finished teaching the last 20 minutes of the class. My students were concerned, they recommended cream to buy and helped to put on an ice pack.
I visited my trusted physiotherapist as soon as I could (Vicki from http://www.myspineandbodyphysio.com/) and started on the exercise routine she prescribed. It was to remove my fear of movement, to mobilise the joint and to strengthen the muscles in the shoulder. I am still doing these exercises daily.
The mobility quickly returned but the movements are still not smooth. It was recommended to modify my yoga practice. At the beginning restorative yoga replaced general practice. By Christmas I tried inversions like shoulder stand and it felt good. I also did THE half handstand without raising a leg. My confidence has suffered!
What does yoga philosophy teach us?
Yoga is more than the poses what Westerners mostly focus on. It is a whole way of life. The philosophy was written down in Sanskrit by Patanjali more than 2,000 years ago. He defined the eight limbs or stages of the yogic journey in the Yoga Sutras (chapter II.29) and they are the following:
- Yama – ethical disciplines – living in harmony with others;
- Niyama – rules of conduct – living in harmony with yourself;
- Asana – postures for mind-body connection;
- Pranayama – breath control;
- Pratyhara – withdrawal of the senses;
- Dharana – concentrating on a single point;
- Dhyana – mediation, uninterrupted flow of concentration;
- Samadhi – pure bliss, fully conscious and alert – no ‘I’ and ‘mine’ exist
Quoting BKS Iyengar ‘When the eight disciplines are followed with dedication and devotion, they help the student to become physically, mentally and emotionally stable so that she/he can maintain equanimity in all circumstances’.
In every yoga conference, workshop or course I have attended we were told to practice and teach all eight limbs of yoga.
Where did I go wrong?
The first stage (Yama) the ethical disciplines (amongst other things) include non-violence or non-injury in general. It of course includes no self harm. On the day I did not follow this. If we are not gentle with ourselves how can we be gentle with others?
As they show on the airline safety demonstrations: first put the oxygen mask on yourself then onto others who need help.
The second stage (Nijama) includes study one’s own self. I might have studied myself but I ignored the findings on the day.
My advice for safe yoga practice
- Listen to your body. You know your body better than any teacher, you know what sort of day you had prior to coming to class;
- Accept where you are on a given day. We bring a different body every time we step on the mat;
- If a pose gives you sharp pain or you are not comfortable in it come out of that pose;
- If you have an accident seek professional help as soon as possible. Depending on the advice you receive – either rest for a while or start the rehabilitation process and work on it diligently. As they say ‘you are worth it’;
- Accept that in our age healing takes longer.
Enjoy your yoga practice!