I hear plenty of reasons why students can’t come to the studio to practice. The one I hear the most is, “I’m injured.” And as I sadly, (figuratively) crawl after them, I (mentally) yell, “But that’s WHY you need to practice!!”
Unfortunately, most people view yoga as a fitness trend. What they don’t know is that it’s a magical, unicorm serum for injury prevention, injury rehabilitation, and physical therapy.
I recently injured my left knee during a snowboarding trip. It was a beautiful family vacation to Telluride, Colorado. And the trip was 99% perfect except for this one mishap.
As I got off the lift for my last run, I noticed my front binding was broken, offering zero support for my foot. But it must have been 2 miles to the bottom of the mountain so I took down the mogul run I elected for with a broken binding and my left knee doing the Chubby Checker.
I limped for nearly three weeks after. But I was limping to the hot room to put my faith in yoga therapy. I didn’t speak of it to anyone outside my yoga bubble because I knew those horrid words “doctor,” “surgery,” and “painkillers” would come up. Ten years of a committed Bikram Yoga practice has taught me that the body can heal without pills.
For 5 weeks I couldn’t put my full body weight on my left leg. Yes, that means all of my favorite postures— Standing Head To Knee, Standing Bow Pulling, Toe Stand— I couldn’t do.
The knee lost most of it’s ability for flexion so the pain of bending past 90 degrees was unbearable. Fixed Firm looked more like I was attempting the Cat/Cow pose. My knee lost its ability for extension as well, so keeping my knees locked even through the two sides of Half-Moon was too much. I’d have to come out of the posture, bend my knee to relieve it of pain, then get back into posture. I could not cross my legs to sit “Indian Style.”
Six weeks after my injury, as my knee started to heal, I could put pressure on my leg, but only for several seconds at a time. I began attempting Standing Head To Knee and Standing Bow, setting up the posture and coming back out, sometimes more than 10 times on one side.
My bengal tiger strength and focus were trained on precise alignment, proper joint loading, and an intense listening for any pain that warned of going too far.
Fixed Firm evolved from Cat/Cow variation on all fours to something more recognizable to a Bikram student. My hips still hovered 4 inches off the ground. I still pushed off the floor with my hands to prevent moving too deep. But slowly and surely, with the magical “compress and release” of Bikram Yoga, my knee regained mobility and the excruciating pain lessened.
The entire healing process took almost 5 months. It was slow, and at times I hated being in class because all my ego wanted was to “do the whole posture.” But the complete 360 my body took amazes me and reaffirms my love for and faith in Bikram Yoga.
It is always okay to come to class with an injury because Bikram Yoga is not a sport or your weekly cardio class. It is therapy, maintenance, and rehabilitation. The therapeutic process of practicing yoga brings much needed circulation and nutrients to injuries to help them heal faster and more effectively. Yoga really is the best and only painkiller I’ve ever needed. Don’t hesitate to ask any BYF teacher for guidance on how to modify postures.
Alignment and breath are your main focus, always, but especially when you’re injured. Depth and intensity can then be adjusted and varied for your current condition. Trust and patience are going to be mandatory to see progress.
Thinking back, the trip was actually 100% perfect because it took me down another scenic route in my yoga journey. It taught me how to connect with my body in a different way. It helped me listen to my body more intently to differentiate between sensations. It forced me, once again, to be humble and it proved to me, again, how powerful this yoga practice really is.