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!
HHY Founder, Yoga Business Coach, yoga-doer and life-lover, Kay Afif!