If you're like me, the first thing you think when you hurt yourself is "I'd better get to yoga!" Because Bikram Yoga is a therapeutic practice, it's designed to be safe and beneficial no matter what condition your bod is in! When injured all you need to do is gentle stretching without causing any strain or pain.
When you break a leg (like my mother-in-law, pictured below) or have another injury where you can't bear weight on a leg or foot, the standing part of class can be performed in a chair with tons of benefit to the whole body.
Here's how to do it:
Ami has been working on regaining full range of motion for her knee, which she injured in a skiing accident last year.
How will Ami get her forehead on the floor in Half Tortoise? Watch and see!
I started Bikram yoga when I was 39, feeling my body aging, still smoking, and scared of getting old and being sick. I suffered from depression most of my life and had been recently diagnosed with ADHD. Turned off by the many side effects of the medications being prescribed, I was interested in how mindfulness and yoga could help with rewiring the brain. Then a friend of mine turned me on to Bikram yoga while we were training for marathons. I loved the heat and the challenge, so I kept on going back.
I need discipline and good orderly direction to feel balanced in my life. Bikram yoga to me is like an ever-present life coach, always kicking my butt back into line when I have become too indulgent, too distracted, or too lazy. A bonus of my practice is that my friends say I look about 10 years younger than I am! When I am hurt, going to yoga helps me heal faster. I had a shoulder injury, and some inflammation in my elbow that were a bother, but when I stepped up my frequency, the pain went away. My pain flares up now and again, but now I know it’s just an indicator I need to get to class more often!
This past year I have experienced a great deal of grief and pain, but the one thing I have been most able to rely on is my yoga practice. It is unwavering and brings me great relief to know it is always there for me. Recently I have found myself crying in class, but Kay tells me that just happens sometimes. Yoga people (like Kay) tend to be loving and accepting, in my humble opinion after a few years of observation. I feel safe in the hot room and I can allow myself to cry when I’ve been holding onto things too long.
Yoga helps me to release and accept pain without taking it personally. Yoga has also helped me come to terms with myself completely. I am more able to accept all the parts of myself… experiencing depression, distractability and a very busy mind, as well as all of the great aspects. I understand myself more deeply through yoga.
“I took my first Bikram class in January of 2011. I did 20 classes in 2 months and was hooked. I worked as a Karma yogi for a few years at another local studio, which allowed me to maintain a steady practice regardless of finances. In 2014 my practice began to take a back seat after a significant life change and although I would hear the call to the hot room from time to time and find myself sweating it out periodically over the years, It wasn’t until this last summer ‘17 that I decided it was time to make yoga a priority again.
“I had been experiencing worsening shoulder pain as a result of a car accident and years of repetitive stress due to an active job and lifestyle in general. When I came back to the St Johns studio in August, I was in excruciating pain, sleeping less than two hours of broken sleep a night and let’s just say, my mood was suffering as a result. After 5 months of regular practice, I feel energized, my skin is softer and clearer, I am sleeping almost through the night which I classify as a miracle, and my overall mood has improved significantly.
“Because, this time around, I am focused on nursing my bum shoulder, I spend my time in class focusing on the details of each step of every posture and what that means for my body that day. With a few minor adjustments and a lot of hard work I feel myself becoming more balanced and stronger every day. Even if my shoulder or whathaveyou don’t do what I wish they could, I feel the healing happening and I am excited about that!!
“The mental benefits that yoga provides for me are invaluable. I cope with anxiety and depression that can become severe if I don’t care for myself well. Bikram yoga and the active meditation of participating in class is my number one exercise for good mental health. Let me never forget that again!!”
These photos were taken on Independence Day. First (the ones where my forehead is nowhere near my knee!) are what my Head to Knee and Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee poses looked like about 1 year ago, when my lower back was in continuous muscle spasm from lifting my baby the wrong way one too many times. The second photos in each pair are what my postures look like now- and also what they looked like just 5 days after my back injury.
I remember the date because I had to miss my good friends' wedding- I could not bear the pain of sitting in the car to get there. I could not pick up my daughter to hold her if she cried. For several days, I lost my independence. I could not cook my food, do my laundry, pick up a bag, open a door, or even stand for over a minute without severe pain.
What could I do? I could come to yoga.
And I did. I came to yoga every day for 5 days. I did very very gentle stretching. In many postures this meant I could only do the very first step or two in setting up the posture. I did not do any sit-ups. Even in the backward bending postures- and I think this part gets overlooked sometimes- I did not "kill myself," as is normally encouraged when practicing with a spine that's feeling a-ok. I got myself to the place where I could tolerate the pain, and I held it and worked my breath. My Cobra pose for example, where the instructions are to get the upper body off the floor until only the belly button is touching? I got my chin off the floor a little. Yeah. And that was my posture. It hurt! But I could breathe.
And when I let it go, I felt a wash of relaxation across my back, like my back was exhaling.
I wanted to share these images with you because I hope they will drive home the point our teachers are always making in class: when you're in pain you need to do less of a posture, you need to take it easy, sometimes you even need to skip a posture- and all of that is perfect. Especially for those of us who started this yoga without a specific physical limitation or pain, it can be difficult to translate what "doing less" means when we find ourselves practicing with an injury. These photos (the first in each pair) are an example of what it looks like to "do less."
Notice that I didn't change a thing about the form or technique of the pose- I simply started slow and did step 1, then (maybe) step 2, etc, and stopped as soon as I needed to in the sequence. I did not concern myself with how my posture looked or felt before my injury, I just focused on what I could do right then. Since I've practiced through injury before, I knew this was the way.
This yoga is meant for healing as well as for prevention of injury- depending on our goal, we need to practice in an appropriate way.
I always see injuries as a gift and an opportunity to learn. Because practicing to heal injury means honing the invaluable skill of understanding and attending to my body's signals. Too much pain? Back off. Feels all right? Go for it, little by little. Too exhausted to go on? Lie down as long as you need to and enjoy the benefits of the hot, humid room. This skill can only serve me and it will never ever hurt me.
If you are hurting, there is only one thing you must do to start healing: come to class! Bikram yoga works amazingly for not only chronic conditions but acute injuries as well. Do not stay home and wait until you feel better- coming to yoga will help you feel better.
Using Bikram yoga for healing means coming more often and doing less.
For me, one of the hardest parts of being in debilitating pain was the loss of independence. I needed others to help me do things I wanted to do for myself. So I took the one thing I could do and the one thing I knew I had to do, and I changed everything around. That's my story, but it isn't unique. It is no more than cause and effect, action and reaction. The results can be replicated by you.
If you simply commit to caring for yourself during injury by practicing in a therapeutic way, Bikram yoga is sure to help you restore the independence of pain-free (or at the very least, pain-reduced!) living. And that is something worth celebrating!
"I decided to try Bikram yoga because I had recently gone through a challenging time in my life and my good friend, a Bikram yoga instructor, told me that Bikram yoga could help me get through it- emotionally. What she didn't know was that it was going to also dramatically help me physically, too.
My first Bikram yoga class ever was on February 23rd, 2017, at BYSJ. I tried other yoga classes about 10 years ago, but they hurt my back so I didn't continue. (I have a deteriorated disc in my back between L4 and L5 from a construction injury in 1998.)
Until 1998, I had worked in the field in construction as an equipment operator and a foreman. When I injured my back, it forced me out of the trades and I became a project manager. Ever since then, I have tried various treatments to help reduce the pain and increase my back's physical capacity. I did physical therapy, deep massage, chiropractic treatments, acupuncture, back braces, ice packs, hot packs, and lots of pain medication. Through all these years and treatments I don't remember ever sleeping more than a couple hours without flipping from side to side because staying in one position for too long hurt too much and would wake me up.
In 2012, I got in to see a back surgeon, and after performing an MRI, CAT scan, and a discogram, the diagnosis included disc degeneration, arthritis, bone spurs, and bone fractures. It was recommended that I get my L4 and L5 vertebrae fused together, because the disc between them had 0% containment of the dye during the discogram (basically there is no disc there at all!) and the entire area around it showed signs of arthritis setting in. I thought about it for a week, and then decided that I couldn't afford to take off that much work (6 month recover time), so I would go on as long as I could before having the surgery... I got used to living with pain, using plenty of ibuprofen daily to keep it tolerable.
When I went to my first Bikram yoga class, I was nervous and expected it to render me somewhat useless the next day, as many other physical activities could- but to my greatest surprise it did the opposite. During class, I was shocked that I was able to bend my back in every direction without it immediately hurting, and then after class I was waiting for the muscle craps in my lower back to kick-in, but they never came.
I was exhausted from the class, so I laid down on my back in bed expecting to turn over on my side after 15 minutes, and woke up 7 hours later in the same position- without budging an inch all night. This has never happened to me before.
Here is the exact text message that I sent my instructor friend the morning after, at 8:48 am: "OMG- I feel so good! I usually have a hard time sleeping and I toss all night. Last night I slept on my back and didn't even budge once all night! I was worried about the yoga hurting my back and shoulder, but it didn't. I'm planning to go again tonight. ;-). Thank you!!"
I have now attended 55 classes in 3 months and, without exception, I feel better every single time after class then I felt at the beginning of class. I have gone from taking 800 to 1600 mg of Ibuprofen a day, to taking it once or twice a week when I push myself at work or playing volleyball. In the mornings after going to Bikram yoga the night before, I generally wake up without any back pain, and when I skip a couple days without going to yoga I can't wait to go again. It truly has changed my life! I am grateful to my friend and to all the instructors at Bikram Yoga St. Johns for getting me started and creating a wonderful environment take motivates me to make it a regular part of my weekly routine.
There are many other benefits I have noticed from my practice, too. My flexibility has increased in every aspect to levels that I haven't had since high school (30 years ago.) The sweating and exertion makes me drink lots of water and want to eat better and choose healthier foods because that makes yoga easier the next day if I feel better. My cardio and lung capacity is much better. When I play volleyball, I can play almost twice as long now because my cardio and my back are stronger. My body is leaner and healthier-looking from sweating a lot, which flushes toxins and helps my skin.
Most importantly, Bikram yoga makes me want to take better care of myself. It has actually changed my inner motivation to live a healthier life. It is my personal form of meditation. Whatever stresses happen during the day at work, they all disappear when I go to yoga at night, and my mind quiets down and returns to the moment. I always leave the studio feeling peaceful and happy from the inside out. In some ways the major pain relief was just the beginning!"
HHY Founder, Yoga Business Coach, yoga-doer and life-lover, Kay Afif!