About once a week — ok scratch that. About once a day, someone will tell me they can’t practice for a couple months because they injured (fill in some body part).
I usually follow up with a sad attempt to tell them that Bikram Yoga will help them bounce back faster than going back to their couch for two months. A sad attempt because I know they’ve already made up their minds that yoga is a “workout” and the doctor always said no “workouts” when injured.
After a decade of being in the hot room and practicing through all different stages and phases of my life, I’ve experienced the kind of natural healing that can happen with consistent, mindful practice. I’ve also witnessed it in thousands of other students that I’ve taught or practiced next to. Why not you?
I think one of the top reason why students feel they can’t practice when they’ve injured themselves is the fear of making things worse. And I agree, if you practice the way you normally practice when you feel 100%, you will most likely make things worse. Forcing your body into positions and pushing through an injury doesn’t work. But taking a step back to practice with more awareness of pain and sensations, doing, as Bikram says, “to the best of your ability, you will get 100% benefit.”
A good place to start when you’re dealing with an injury is the basics. Remember when you first started Bikram Yoga, you actually made an effort to listen to the instructions? Somewhere along the line, you probably stopped listening for the words but instead started to listen for, “blah, blah, blah, change.” And your practice shifted into a mindless autopilot.
So let’s go back to listening because it’s a key element in continuing your yoga practice while you have an injury. Okay, I get it. Your teacher says the same damn thing every time you come to class, but TRUST. You WILL pick up something every time if you just listen. Make a conscious decision to pay attention to each line of instruction.
The best way to approach The Dialogue, always, but especially if you are nursing an injury, is word by word, and step by step. The instructions build on each other like you would build a skyscraper. Take it layer by layer. Don’t try to add the top floor before you’ve built the foundation.
For each posture, listen for the first instruction. If you’re able to do it easily (read: with controlled breathing, good alignment, calm mind, and no sharp pain), then add the next instruction. If you can do the second instruction easily, add step three. Keep adding layers until you come to an instruction that you’re unable to do for one reason or another. Then you just hold the posture there.
Don’t worry that other students are continuing to add layers. This is your class so do the postures only to the best of your ability. Keep in mind, the class is not about creating a perfect-looking posture. It’s about creating a posture that is perfect for you in the present moment.
When I severely injured my knee in a skiing accident, I couldn’t put my full body weight on my left leg. All I could muster up in the balancing postures was to pick one foot off the ground for 5 seconds and place it back down. Two weeks later, I was able to add another 10 seconds, before placing my foot back down. I kept adding time until I could finally do something that resembled the postures, and even then, only for 5 seconds.
Do a little bit at a time, and keep adding layers when you feel ready. Also, stop worrying about what the other students think or that your teacher is judging you. It’s not their yoga class. It’s yours. So do you.