I’m approaching the two-year mark since my yoga-injury occurred and within that time, I was able to carve out physical and mental space for reflection. When I got injured, my primary focus in the practice of yoga was physical postures or “asana.” I was not physically ready to do some of the poses that I was practicing but because I was so excited about the possibilities, I believe I misunderstood a lot of warnings that I was consistently receiving from deep within myself.
What I experienced is destabilization in my sacral iliac joint. This is the place where your sacral bone connects to the lower lumbar spine by fibrous ligaments. It is by design a very strong area since it’s responsible for bearing the weight of your upper body, but it also does not take much to aggravate this area. As someone who has hypermobility within my hips (which is determined through testing) my yoga practice wasn’t developing in a safe way by choosing to take advanced, fast-paced classes. Sciatica, lower back pain and an incredibly deep wound to my ego were the results. It was truly difficult to adapt to the abrupt change.
The experience is unfortunate, yes, but I am grateful for it because I believe that I had to go through it in order to learn to have more respect for my body and myself and ultimately to respect the practice of yoga asana.
Nearly two years later, I am over the hump of healing. I am back to a state of harmony in my mind and body and I have emotionally and physically healed from the experience, but it was not a simple task. It took a lot of courage to stop doing a practice that was aggravating my condition. My yoga practice was at the time, the antidote to a lifelong battle of anxiety and low self-confidence. Therefore, it required an even more uncomfortable willingness to be still, be mindful and begin a process of self-realization.
Serendipitously, a few new practices seemed to present themselves at the appropriate time, which helped tremendously during my phase of healing: Therapeutic Yoga and Ayurveda. I hadn’t given either of these practices much thought before since all of my attention was directed towards learning advanced yoga postures. Without the ability to practice the physically demanding, I had more room in my life for these new teachings.
On Yoga Therapy
Yoga therapy, as defined by the American Viniyoga Institute, is an approach to physical practice that “adapts the various means and methods of practice to the unique condition, needs, and interests of each individual – giving each practitioner the tools to individualize and actualize the process of self-discovery and personal transformation.” Viniyoga taught me to pay closer attention to the function of asana instead of the form. In his book Yoga for Wellness, Gary Kraftsow explains a common misconception in yoga –
Unfortunately, chief among the popular misconceptions about yoga (including among many practitioners and even teachers of yoga) is the idea that the value of each posture lies in achieving its precise, fixed form. Thus, the emphasis has too often been placed on superficial details of positioning and the development of the body in the direction of preconceived, external standards of perfection – and the forms have been crystallized into rigid, static postures in which the living quality of the asana is lost.
One of the most important questions I learned to ask myself is what makes my condition feel better and what makes it feel worse? It was through a daily conversation with myself that I learned to use yoga method and techniques in physically functional ways to bring a sense of wellness and to lean away from those that aggravated and worsened my situation. This more subtle approach to asana was so encouraging because I started to see results through the lessening of pain and inflammation. With hope restored, I believe that I had not lost my practice. Instead, I refined it by learning to use asana as a tool to stimulate health instead of increasing stress and most likely, reinforcing my bad habits.
Ayurveda is a traditional system of ancient medicine and healing via individualized self-empowerment through the learned awareness of imbalance within one’s self. An imbalance is typically in the form of dis-ease. The way one is able to determine imbalance is by looking at what is in excess based on the current state of diet and behaviors.
Ayurveda is one of the Vedic sciences, so it shares a lot of the same principals as yoga. One shared principal that I find fascinating is that it is a system of wellness through self-realization. Yoga is a triad of asana (physical postures), pranayama (breathing exercises) and meditation (sustained, prolonged focus) with asana being the most external practice and meditation being the most internal. Ayurveda is the study of the three original energies called Doshas – Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Here is a brief explanation of each –
- Vata = That which moves.
- Pitta = That which digests or transforms.
- Kapha = That which supports and holds together.
In order to understand them, you must explore your own unique external and internal influences to discover the root cause of an imbalance. Lifestyle and diet are examples of external and internal influences. Also, consider that each person is born with a unique set of qualities like personality and body type and that plays a big role as well. Once you discover the root of imbalance, you can begin by inviting in the opposing qualities to encourage evenness.
I started to look at my self from a doshic perspective — the qualities of my physical, emotional and mental state from the perspective of what balance feels like in contrast to what imbalance feels like. Another important question that I learned to ask myself was what am I inviting into my life that is aggravating and causing an excess of one or more dosha? What opposing qualities can I bring in to encourage equilibrium? What I discovered was illuminating! Here I am, a yoga practitioner with a predisposition to hypermobile hips and anxiety practicing fast flowing advanced yoga. I could argue that I was aggravating Pitta and Vata. It is no wonder that I benefited more from the slower more Kaphic practices like therapeutic yoga. This was a beautiful and intriguing piece of a very large puzzle that didn’t end there. Really, I had only just stepped onto the path of true self-discovery and self-mastery! I was given fresh insight in order to get closer to being able to close my own case.