Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Diary of an injured yogi

Day 1
It's been 7 hours and 15 minutes since my osteopath took away my joy (to paraphrase totally the opening of Sinead O'Connor's classic song). After treatment for a shoulder issue set off by assisting a student in class, but exacerbated by my customary daily yoga practice and regular swims, I've been banned from doing my usual exercise for 2 weeks. Two whole, long, tortuous weeks.
Two hours after treatment, I was sitting on my studio floor planning my classes for the next day, desperate to do some practice myself, feeling like a wilful child who immediately is driven to do what they're told not to....
So, I got the bolsters and blankets ready and did an hour's restorative, carefully draping my wounded body over props to ease my sorrowful mind!

Day 2
It gets harder. I teach four classes on Thursdays usually, fortunately the beginners' course requiring a fair bit of demo is not happening in August, so the instruction side of the job is fine. But generally after teaching two early morning classes, and getting on with other work in between, there's a dip in the day where energy levels flag and I would normally go for for a swim, or do some yoga or a random class to inject some liveliness before the evening sessions. Not today. Sigh. It's a hot day and the pool beckons. I ignore its call in favour of ice and the small localised physio exercises prescribed. Then spend 20 minutes in yoga nidra. (Yoga sleep... for the uninitiated, yoga nidra is a brilliant tool for simultaneously calming and energising the body and mind. The body rests while the brain stays focused on the breath and the body.)

Day 3
Friday is my day off and usually starts with a swim, lots of fast crawl mainly, followed by some backstroke. When he's off, my son swims with me, so we plan an escape, and head to the Kent coast picking up my sister on route. Yay a day out. That should do the trick! We walk along the promenade as far as we can and explore, working up a sweat. But we are by sparkling water on an almost empty blue flag beach. My son dives in. It is too much, I wade in for a paddle and try to swim without using my arms! It's a very short splash and not satisfying in the least! But we're cool :)

Day 4
My Ashtangis are so brilliant they do not need me to do more than talk them through and give individual alignment guides. We've been going through the 8 limbs and (after a few weeks staying at Dhyana, the 7th limb, practising moving meditation) we've reached Samadhi.... Bliss! So today they are tasked with practising with ease, as if every movement is bliss, followed by totally letting go in Savasana. I try to learn from my students and be at ease with where I am in my non practice, and take joy in everything else the day offers.

Day 5
Today is a low point. I am feeling very stiff despite restorative yoga and gentle lower body stretches along with meditation, yoga nidra and the localised physio. It's incredible how physical activity really lifts the spirits and lack of it does the reverse. I ice before a bath. No substitute for a good yoga session.
My Sunday morning students are a lovely, understanding group who notice the strapping (it's hard to miss, see pic!) and make it their task to stop me doing anything that might delay recovery. We really slow down the pace and make the class more workshop like, working on specifics each student feels they need or wants to do. It's amazingly uplifting, especially when the students tell me it's one of their favourite yoga sessions ever.
Sadly and selfishly, I wish I could be a student In a lovely, considered class, so spend the next couple of hours looking up workshops to book into for when I'm fixed! I have lots to look forward to ;)

My restless body gets the better of me and I go for a run... Something I haven't done for years since a knee injury changed my past exercise patterns! My son tells me I could just as easily strain my shoulders running: "arms are part of the running process doncha know." Don't you just love know-it-all offspring? Off to teach again.... Guess what? Shoulders is today's theme!

Day 6
There is another, sartorial, problem with having one's shoulder taped up in a bright pink cross-cross pattern — what to wear? In some classes, I have opted for short-sleeved Ts or long sleeve...but it is summer. Some of my favourite yoga tops clash horribly with lurid pink and I don't want to give my students yet another source of distraction! Invariably the sight of the strapping has prompted discussion on shoulders, arms, good alignment and upper back strength, which has been excellent as a teaching point, especially in vinyasa classes. Is also good for students to know that their teachers are human, and we all need to respect the body while injured and healing. In any given class there is always someone working with an injury or health condition, learning to back off, listen to their body (sometimes unwillingly) ... and to their teacher advising them of modifications, rather than trying to practice as usual regardless. I shall listen to my own advice ;)

Day 7
It's another 5am start with an evening class at the end. The evening mixed ability class often need me to break down and show many of the postures, so my gorgeous son volunteers to come along so I can use him as the body to demo if need be! He is becoming a real yogi. And no he doesn't usually come to my classes... but both sons did yoga with me every day on holiday at their request, and they love individual instruction at home! I hope to encourage him along to more classes soon...

Day 8 (& day 9)
Before I can whinge about the lack of a morning swim or miss doing my own pre-work yoga, a teacher friend rings frantically on the way to her docs after an accident and asks if I can cover her classes for 48 hours while she takes enforced rest. It must be something in the summer air. Her classes are pregnancy, mum and baby and recuperative so are actually not a problem at all to cover in terms of strain on my shoulder, and it stops my afternoon dip of energy before my evening classes as I don't have any time free to mope or space to dip! Nineteen-minute yoga nidras have become more important than an afternoon cuppa these days. And of course more refreshing!

As any pregnancy yoga teacher will tell you, expectant ladies are a joy to teach with their own special calm energy and body awareness. There were some newcomers among the group, still trying to cling to their old practice and lifestyles as much as possible. I recognised one mum-to-be from strong vinyasa flow classes, wishfully reflecting on her favourite inversions and finding it hard to concentrate on preparing her body for its new role — strengthening and supporting her developing bump (and baby inside) while softening her approach to her physical activities. The mindset has to change as much as the body shape! Then the mums with their precious babes, desperately wanting to get back in shape, and almost reluctantly giving themselves permission to take it easy, working with the breath, nurturing and appreciating their noodle bodies for what they have been through. Working slowly, intelligently and enjoying where they are. Mmmm, the synchronicity of the week's added sessions is not lost on me.

Day 10

I miss the meditative head-clearing quality of swimming, not to mention the physical exercise. Every time I walk past the local pool and get a whiff of the chlorine, I linger and sniff, like a junkie with withdrawal symptoms. When I roll out my mat, or one for a student, which is several times a day, I get the same wistful feeling. The textures of the mats, blocks, bricks and belts... Yes, more junkie paraphernalia, but I can create a lovely welcoming pile for a restorative session. Sitting and meditating is undoubtedly good for me ... For everyone, but I, well my body, cries out for a balanced practice. The yang to my yin.

One of my evening students told me he'd had to give up his long swims, along with his plans to do a river swim because that had caused a shoulder injury, despite working on technique. He looked really fit and well and mentioned that, yoga apart, he'd taken to walking everywhere. Miles to work, to social engagements and home again, it's meditative and he gets sweaty.

Day 11
Sigh... I am going for a long, long walk... I might be some time.

Day 12
I'm bad. I really had to swim..... I used floats and propelled myself forward with my legs alone... really! And found a way to incorporate my physio in the water. I feel so much better and focus easily on the day's work and classes ;) one of my students asks for some leg and feet exercises she can do sitting down at work or when travelling, so I plan and practice some joint strengthening leg and foot work to email her.

I have the irrational worry that my arms will quickly weaken like the old yogi ascetics (Sadhus) who strapped or held one arm aloft until it withered. Surely a few Pawanmuktasana-style hand stretches can't interfere with my healing shoulder blades?

Day 13
While it certainly isn't necessary, or advisable to stay on your mat and do the postures in front of your students while teaching, there are a couple of times when I have come unstuck. It's perfectly possible to give verbal cues, sketch out a pose or get another student to demo when necessary, but sometimes you really need to bring home a teaching point, and show exactly what you mean. Invariably it is the hardest postures when this is called for and trying those without first warming up properly with your own practice is awful for the body...  The next morning, a couple of students are just not getting the idea of what muscle groups to use and what floating rather than throwing themselves up means, or indeed when to back off and respect limitations, especially when English is not their mother tongue, and no amount of gentle assists sink in. I do not want them to risk pain or injury and instinctively I show them the arm balance we are working on...going in and out in stages several times until it sinks in. I am bad. I vow to learn more languages.... or at least several key yoga words in a few of the main ones. Could someone please start work on that app now?! And of course I also vow to go back to icing and being kind of myself.

Day 14
While having injuries of any kind is not ideal, the good thing is the opportunity it gives to observe our bodies. Watching which postures (or actions, and this includes carrying bags, kids, sitting, standing, cycling, shopping, housework) cause discomfort in the injured area. It can make us far more mindful...stopping, listening, being completely present as any good yogi should be of course! BTW my two weeks' abstinence from big practice has been stretched to three, although I can begin very gradually to bring in some gentle yoga to my home practice, observing how this feels at the time and afterwards. This is really hard! It is so tempting to go join a class or get up and sweat, but I will (try to) stick with my gentleness and observing for now....