Giving thanks for an injury

20 Jan

In early December, I reinjured myself. I’ve had a nagging shoulder injury since college. I initially hurt it while swimming competitively (repetitive stress from 15 years of competition). Doctors have never been able to diagnose the exact part of my shoulder I injured. Generally if it hurts, I have to rest, elevate, ice and can take over the counter medications to reduce swelling if it gets bad enough. I have some strengthening exercises I learned in physical therapy over the years that help provide more stability. It is a chronic injury at this point, seeing as I injured it in 2000 and it continues to bother me. I have hurt it in yoga as well, typically when my shoulder gets overstretched and it becomes unstable in the joint. I did it the first time from practicing ashtanga for a year with incorrect shoulder alignment in my chatturangas, jump backs and jump throughs (shoulders rounding forward too much and dipping past my elbows in chatturanga). Thankfully, I’ve never dislocated it yet (knock on wood). Rest, strengthening, and a renewed focus on alignment typically help, along with lots of time and patience.

Needless to say, I was less than thrilled when I reinjured it, especially as it had seemed to be feeling so much better for the past year. Being injured makes me feel like a cranky toddler. I HATE being told I can’t do something. It only makes me want it more. At first, I spent a week trying to work through the injury and just pay extra attention to my alignment in class. This only exacerbated the issue so I decided I needed to give it modified rest. I couldn’t bring myself to do NOTHING, but I backed off my favorite inversion and arm-balance heavy classes, looking for classes that were more leg intensive and where I wouldn’t be (as) tempted to try handstands. Hey, I know myself well enough to know I can’t always resist due to that Type A part of me that will never go away 😉 I stepped up my strength-training from 1 time a week to 2 or 3 times a week, focusing on my shoulders. This seemed to work and my shoulder began to hurt less. Still, I was cranky about being injured and anxiously awaited being able to do what I wanted again.

After a month of modifications, I decided it was time to try my hand (or hands as the case may be) at inversional flow classes again.  A number of things happened when I returned to class, illuminating the lessons I’m learning from my injury this time around:

  • My injury has made me focus MUCH more on my shoulder alignment. I realize now how I came to hurt myself. It’s the age old yogi story of poor alignment in positions done over and over again until eventually they result in injury. I was trying to muscle my way into handstand (and other arm strength poses) by pushing out of my shoulders instead of remaining integrated.  I’m now relearning how to do all of the poses correctly: externally rotating the upper arms, hugging the forearms in, pressing into the inner hands, opening through the chest, and keeping the shoulders in the sockets. HUGE thanks to my teacher Krista Cahill for all of her help and guidance.  It’s very humbling. My arms are shaking and tired part-way through class when I do the poses right (oops). But it feels good knowing that this means I’ll build strength and be able to practice more safely in the future to prevent future injury. It also means I can share this knowledge with students as I teach.
  • I couldn’t believe how much just one month off of these classes decreased my strength. At first, it frustrated me, but then I was able to remember that yoga is about the journey. So what if I have to spend a little time reacquainting myself with some poses and transitions? It’s the process not the end product. Deep breath and repeat 🙂
  • I am more scared and tentative of inversions that I was. I was actually scared to go back to class, and poses that felt pretty easy before are challenging in a new way now. As it is, my biggest issue doing more “advanced” poses and transitions (e.g., crow to handstand) is my fear of falling. Part of this fear actually contributed to my injury. Instead of leaning forward and staying integrated in transitions, I’m afraid to fall and try to muscle through. Consequently, I often push out of my shoulders and round my back and chest, closing off my heart. My challenge now is to closely monitor myself and find that balance between listening to my body and stopping when I need to rest so I can build strength safely but not being so scared that I do poses incorrectly. Tricky tricky tricky…
  • By examining how I practice yoga off the mat, I realized that I have this tendency in other areas of life. I want to protect myself, but in doing so, I can open myself up to being hurt in other ways. For instance, I kept not wanting to sign up and take my last exam I need to take in order to get licensed as a psychologist because I’m afraid I won’t pass and I’m not ready. Granted, it’s important I study enough (which is what I should probably be doing right now), but I’m holding myself back from a raise and more freedom once I pass the test (plus way more free time since I won’t have to study any more). Another example is in love/dating matters. I am afraid of getting badly hurt again after bad break-ups in the past. As a result, I tend to be overly picky and shut myself off from taking chances thinking this will protect me. In a way it will because I’m not open to getting hurt. However, it means I’m missing out  on meeting someone special if I keep my heart closed. In order to truly protect myself and be safe, I need to move forward with confidence and with an open heart without being overly naive about situations in ALL aspects of my life.

So, while I still don’t love being injured, I am able to see what the process can teach me about myself and my yoga practice both on and off the mat.

Bakasana at Runyon Canyon


3 Responses to “Giving thanks for an injury”

  1. Marie January 28, 2011 at 1:55 pm #

    Hi Kristin! Nice post about injuries and yoga off the mat! And thanks for some great reminders regarding shoulder alignment. I am in the middle of my teacher training, and my teacher is an Anusara-inspired instructor, so we spend tons of time on alignment. You have a very clear and concise way of explaining things. Peace, Marie

    • K.O. Yoga February 24, 2011 at 11:32 am #

      Very belated, but I just learned how to reply to comments. Thanks Marie! 🙂 My training is vinyasa but I love Anusara alignment cues 🙂 I’ve found them so helpful for managing injuries!


  1. The Sure Way or the Fast Way « K.O. Yoga and Fitness - January 31, 2011

    […] Carpenter at Exhale tonight, I found myself thinking about this comic from the Sunday paper. As I blogged about a couple of weeks ago, I’m still recovering from a shoulder injury. The theme of class tonight was inversions, and […]

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