December 5, 2014

How Injuries Deepen Our Yoga Practice.

meditate morning yoga mat window

“Your injuries are blessings,” is something one of my yoga teachers once said to me.

When I heard these words, I thought to myself:

“Be grateful for something that causes me pain and impairment? You can’t be serious?”

When I decided to train to become a yoga teacher, I was fit, strong and dying to push myself further in my own practice.

I thought I would become a great teacher by learning more theory and doing better, harder postures.

Turns out, I was on the wrong track entirely.

I’ve always been a bit of a class-pet.

I did well at school. I was smart. I picked things up quickly and I knew how to perform. As I got older, it got a bit harder and I came across things that didn’t put me at the “top of the class.”

This really irked me.

(In fact, several times, I quit something I was perfectly good at and otherwise enjoyed.)

I stopped playing hockey at school when I missed the try-out day and was automatically bumped down to the “D-team.” I couldn’t stomach that, so I quit.

I dropped Biology in high-school because I got a C. Not a very useful attitude for real-life (something I had no idea about at the time).

Not being an “achiever” (and even more than that, not being recognised as one), was a scary thing for me.

The grown-up me knows better now, but I suppose there is still a part of me that wants that recognition. That gold star on the forehead that I loved so much as a little girl.

So, a few weeks into my yoga teaching course, I sprained my ankle pretty badly. I couldn’t do most of the things we practiced in class and I certainly couldn’t do them “better” than anyone else.

I tried to express (moaned about) this to my teacher. This was when she told me it was all really a blessing.

By then, I’d hung out with enough yoga people to know in theory what she meant, but the straight A’s, top of the class, “destined-for-success” little girl inside me didn’t want to hear it.

I smiled knowingly and agreed anyway. Deep down, I didn’t really buy into the whole idea that this irritating sore ankle was going to help me in any way.

You become better by doing better, right?

Years later, I’m still learning that this is wrong.

A little further into my teaching course, I found out that I was pregnant. As happy as I was about it, I remember my frustration at having to opt for the “preggy” modifications in training.

My dream was to be a rock star yoga teacher and as far as I could tell this wasn’t helping me get there at all.

But I stuck with it because one thing that comes from being a perfectionist with an over-achiever complex is that you don’t know how to give up.

And after a while, probably because fighting it was too tiring, I finally started to relax. I started to accept the niggling ankle and the growing belly.

I had to work around them and so I did.

And I found that I did get better.

I got better at adapting.

I got better at teaching because I couldn’t demonstrate.

I got better at being empathetic when someone found a posture difficult because I knew what that felt like.

I got better at getting inside my own body and feeling rather than thinking my way through.

A little while after having my son I started practising again. After a few months, I tried headstand. I’d never been able to do it free-standing before, but I floated up there in the middle of the room and I did it.

Because I knew myself better, my centre had shifted and deepened. I was present in my own body and a bit less in my head which meant that I could finally balance on it.

Now I’m about to have my second son. My belly is out-to-there once more and I’ve stopped teaching for now.

A few weeks ago, I tried going to a regular yoga class and had to leave because all the down-dogging made me feel like passing out. So, once again, I’m at that place of learning to accept my limitations and it feels a whole lot easier this time around.

I can bow out with so much more grace and understanding.

There have been other things since I started teaching that have broken me enough to make me better. My little physical injuries have been small-fry compared to the growing pains of motherhood, leaving the country of my birth (and all my family) to start over from scratch (not once but three times) and losing my younger brother to cancer.

My teacher was right. These injuries have been blessings. Even the worst of them. Even grief.

I’ve been able to teach my students better because I have a dodgy pelvis; because I feel so sad sometimes I don’t know what else to do but roll out my mat; because I get crazy-angry other times; because I’ve had one baby and am about to have another; because I can’t do all of the yoga postures in the book; because I have broken and healed and broken again.

And now, I’m sure that only a yoga teacher with a body and a heart that have seen injury can really teach this healing practice from a place of knowing.

Because everyone has injuries to heal and injuries that will never heal. And a teacher who understands that, is the best kind of teacher of all.


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Author: Khara-Jade Warren

Apprentice Editor: Brandie Smith/Editor: Travis May

Photo: Kahala/Flickr

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