Injuries can be a blessing.
Yes, they are frustrating and no, a person should not go seeking one out. Yet injuries from our asana practice have the potential to be our greatest teachers.
Injuries help us identify areas of weakness in the body, so we then learn to work in a different and more meticulous way. As a result, we become much stronger practitioners. Working with pain requires a vigilance that is the cornerstone of meditation. Lastly, injury helps practitioners detach from placing emphasis on the body as their identity.
Injuries in sports or yoga practice occur when the body is being asked to do something beyond its limitations. This could happen in a number of ways. Some people forcibly push the body past a breaking point. Sometimes the body is tweaked accidentally by moving mindlessly or sheer misfortune. Even the most cautious practitioners get injured. Regardless of the circumstance, injury tends to occur in areas of the body that people underwork or overwork.
As an ashtangi and someone with both hyperflexibility and inflexibility, I have had a number of injuries over the years ranging from mild impairments, such as pulling intercostal muscles (the breathing muscles that run between the ribs), to more recently tearing a hamstring. Most of my injuries occurred early into my practice, and frankly, from pushing my body beyond its limits.
As the years have gone by however, I have learned to respect my injuries and really take the time to identify what I need to engage or back off of in order to prevent the injury from reoccurring.
When we get hurt, we have an opportunity to change the way we are currently practicing and become much smarter and more sophisticated practitioners.
In order to identify what may have caused the harm, a yogi must be very present in their practice. They must watch literally every breath and every movement to detect places in the body that may be compensating for areas that are stiffer or weaker. Practitioners must move more slowly to do this work, but also to not trigger pain. In this way, injuries can bring an extraordinarily meditative quality to the practice that is much harder to maintain when we are feeling healthy.
Injuries also help practitioners detach from identifying themselves as the physical practice or their body. The body is a machine. It will eventually break down; faster if not well cared for or if it is overworked. But we cannot control this process and when the break down does occur, it will not change who we are at our core. The body is just a body.
Regardless if we are injured or infirm, our essence, our innermost nature, remains unbroken.
Editor: Lynn Hasselberger