Last month, eight colleagues and I faced our Intro II assessment for certification as Iyengar yoga teachers. Before commencing, the assessors asked us about injuries or health issues: “Do you have anything new to report?”
When my turn came, I said, “Nothing new to report.” I entered the exam “healthy.” Secretly, however, I knew my real answer: “Nothing new, except the usual stuff.” In other words, even 100%, I’m always aware of my potential trouble spots.
In the past decade, I’ve sustained one major injury (rotator cuff tear) and a bunch of little tweaks and twinges. I tell myself that active people inevitably sustain minor injuries. But is this true?
Why are some people “injury-prone”?
Have you noticed that some people are inexplicably “injury prone”? Among yoga students, one might report new problems every other week, while another might never mention anything. (This tendency does not correlate with ability or flexibility, by the way.)
My first idea is mindfulness: Do injuries result from preoccupied or scattered behavior? Do people invite accidents? An acquaintance once said that when she finds herself stubbing a toe or stumbling on stairs, it’s a sign that she must pause, take deep breaths, and gather herself.
Next, I wonder if some people are hypersensitive to pain. The same tweaked knee might bother one person more than the next. After all, people vary in tolerance levels for deep massage, intense aerobic training, invasive surgery, freezing weather, and hot chili peppers. Regardless of your sensory awareness/tolerance level, perhaps the main thing is be sensitive during the activity, not after, when it’s too late and damage is done.
The likeliest reason might be overzealousness. Possibly, intense students end up injuring themselves because they willingly, eagerly push to their limits. They never allow R&R, and they ignore warning signs.
Are injuries preventable?
So, can people be intensely active and yet prevent/avoid injuries? My injury history (very abridged sample below) indicates yes:
- Rotator cuff tear A few years ago, I tore two rotator-cuff tendons by slipping and falling on my shoulder. What was I doing? Walking around photographing fall leaves. Instead of bracing myself, I held onto my camera; my shoulder took the hit.
- Hamstring strain Six months post-op, I resumed yoga classes full force. I also volunteered as a student in an Intermediate Junior II assessment (and did more Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana than ever). Soon I felt twinges at my hamstring origins. Too much, too soon.
- Neck/upper back stiffness post Sarvangasana Last month, in the run-up to my assessment, I suddenly tripled my usual Sarvangasana hold, doing recorded timed-practice sequences. Again, intensifying a pose should be done incrementally.
And so forth. Of course, you might be more mindful than I–and still end up injured. I’m not implying that we’re always the perpetrators of our aches and pains! We’re also ruled by genetics and chance. Even fully mindful, stuff happens.
Next: when faced with injury – can it be considered as a personal injury or not (find out details at Costa Ivone, LLC), and what do you do?
Image: Bizarro comic, The Peace Lily
This post is dedicated to my colleagues in Vancouver. We all passed our Intro II assessment in April. We couldn’t be more diverse, in body type, age, profession, personality, and birthplace (spanning four different countries!). But we all, in one way or another, have dealt with pain.
This post resonated with me so much. I have a very cranky right knee, hot and swollen with a probable meniscal tear… I rest, push the envelope a bit more, get frustrated, etc. The wheel of suffering. But doing or not doing yoga is just a small part of it. When your activities of daily living are impacted it is impossible to ignore pain.
Thanks Luci, I enjoyed your writing as always. Living a very active lifestyle I am always working with some sensitivities in my body, from mild to intense. I’ve accepted it as part of who I am and the work I’ve chosen to do. That being said, the restorative work we’ve learned in our yoga training has been invaluable for me. It offers me a way to work deeply in the body without strain or pain, and is often now how I recover and heal from my other work.
I too enjoyed a quick read of your post. Thanks Luci, wish I had more time, but may later. Georgia
Another great post – I look forward to the sequel! [ congrats on your certification 😉 ]
If I understand what you’re saying – that people are injured or in “pain” either because you may be: 1. pushing too hard, 2. hypersensitive to pain, 3. not watching what you’re doing – then I have to tell you that my experience is different.
Sure, a lot of people push too hard because there’s this “idea” of “perfection” or the “perfect posture” out there usually perpetrated by those whom postures come easily because their body is relatively aligned in the first place, so you strain and push to achieve whatever the posture of the moment is (kapotasana, vamadevasana, even padmasana) to the point of injury.
But you can not confuse those “hotdogs” with people who genuinely struggle with the physical practice daily legitimately.
I speak from experience. After years of practice, I still struggle with postures that may seem easy to some but for me are a constant challenge even with my years of practice. And it’s not because I don’t know my body or I don’t practice correctly. I’ve been taught by the ‘best’ and I’ve been a teacher for 14 years and a practitioner for 30+.
The best thing I ever did for my practice is to teach myself (I felt comfortable doing this because I had gone to a lot of workshops, trainings, years of classes/practice, etc.). Teaching myself allowed me to not have to “answer” to anyone but myself when I struggled with a posture. I heard “but why can’t you do that!” so much that it made me feel awful about MY practice.
The best thing you can do as a fellow Yogini/Yogi, a practitioner of yoga, and Especially as a teacher is to Accept yourself and those yogini/yogis around you in the place that you’re all at. Really, until you know your body, mind, and heart intimately, you’ll never really know what’s going on for you. This takes Years of Real concerted practice. And you can not ever really say you know someone else’s body and struggles – ever.
So you slipped and hurt your shoulder and you went back to class “too soon”. So what – really. That is your organism. That is what you do as you. Simple. It’s really neither here nor there.
You are “perfect” the way you are even if ‘your Kapostasana’ for example, “sucks” in your eyes or anyone else’s. Realize. It’s beyond the doing.
(if you want to know more about my practice plz visit:
Thanks for your comment, Christine. I agree that injuries aren’t necessarily self-generated, hence my mentioning (in the post) factors such as genetics and chance. We all have everyday challenges (regardless of injury) that might be a lifetime’s “work.”
I was focusing less on innate ability (whether we find asana “hard” or “easy”) and more on where we go from our unique baselines–whether we progress safely or somehow hurt ourselves. Two people with exactly the same ability (or lack) can have very different experiences in the long run. In Iyengar yoga, safety and moderation are all-important (hotdogging is not the norm!)–so pushing too hard is actually a more subtle “error” than my words might imply. Keen students might simply practice a lot, experiment with prop set-ups, increase hold times, etc–seemingly innocuous things that can go awry. I wasn’t talking about “pushing” in the way that you might’ve imagined.
Like you, I have poses that I’ll always find challenging. But, practicing them, should I feel pain? If I cannot do the full (“textbook”) pose, I do a preliminary or propped/modified version. In Iyengar yoga, one must do an appropriate pose that promotes the right physical/physiological/mental actions without pain. If I’m injury free and yet feel pain in a pose, I’m probably an inappropriate version.
Finally, re my little injury history, I was just sharing a few personal examples of pain that could have been avoided (Yoga Sutra 2.16).
PS You are based in Toronto; are you a Leafs fan?
I want them to win for sure. 🙂
Yoga is complex (as we know) and when teaching and writing about it, our words can sometimes illuminate and/or cloud the teaching so it becomes a “should”. I am very familiar with Iyengar along with other traditions and know its technique is to advance gradually. i like having dialogues and exchanges as much as possible about yoga. Even what I write sometimes doesn’t exactly come out as well as I’d like – and as if we were face to face talking about this stuff. Plz feel free to dialogue on my blog Luci – I’d love some feed back. Keep doing what you do. Peace! Christine