Articles Tagged with: injury
The distorting prism of pain

I’ve been suffering from something for the past three years that has had a profound effect on the enjoyment I get from practising yoga. It has caused me to question why I practise on numerous occasions and has almost led to me throwing the towel in altogether. In fact, if I wasn’t responsible for teaching at the shala I don’t know if I’d still be practising. It’s self-evident that in order to teach ashtanga yoga one has to practise it, so it is that responsibility that has kept me on track. I have all the students at the shala to thank for that.

Those of you who know me personally (and those of you who read this regularly) will probably know that, in 2014, I developed a very large herniated disc in my lower back which kept me from being able to practise or teach (or sit, walk, or lie down comfortably) for just over three months. It was a long (and expensive!) journey back to practising again that included a lot of help from a really fantastic physiotherapist who understood my love for the practice.

On a side note I have noticed over the years that many practitioners, when they get injured, are reluctant to see a doctor or physiotherapist out of the fear that they will be told to stop practising yoga. If you find the right professional then you can really work together to keep on (or return to) practising. So I always encourage people to get help from someone outside the ‘yogasphere’ rather than blindly continuing with an unhealthy pattern of injury followed by partial recovery.

Anyway, with the help of my physio, Xavier, I was slowly able to re-introduce the asanas over a number of months (albeit none of them looked or felt much like they had done before). Since then I have been practising regularly (with the exception of the odd day when the trappings of having two small children have made it impossible).

At the beginning of my return to practice I was just happy to be able to move my body through some of the asanas and to breathe deeply. Slowly though, I began to realise that the practice didn’t feel the same as it had before. And it wasn’t just having back pain that caused it.

The back pain was just the beginning.

The real problem, the thing that kept me from enjoying my practice and made me want to give up was:

 

FEAR!

 

I was so afraid of injuring my back again that I couldn’t switch off from it and just enjoy practising. I was so conscious of the memory of the pain I had experienced that I couldn’t allow my mind to go to that quiet place where the asanas just flow from one to the next. Citta Vrtti Nirodhah? Forget it!

But I kept practising. Because I know that my life is better when I practise than when I don’t. And if you’re teaching, you practice!

Then, a few weeks ago, it happened again. That pain returned. Excruciating pain. And off I trudged, back to see Xavier again.

But it was different this time. On putting me through a few tests he informed me that it wasn’t the same problem. In fact I’d be fine in a few days. Oh and by the way, that disc problem that you had is not there any more.

I realise now that I was so identified with the pain of a herniated disc and with recovering from that pain that I never noticed that, actually, it wasn’t really there any more. The fear of the pain had become more powerful than the pain itself.

So here I am, a few weeks later, in fear-recovery. My outlook has changed and I’m enjoying practising more than I have for a long time. The fear is still there of course (it’s hard to let it go) but it’s not as strong as it was. I feel like, with time, I might even be able to return to practising with the same intensity as I used to; to really let go, surrender to the practice and enjoy the experience on a daily basis.

I have always loved practising ashtanga yoga but sometimes I felt like I was playing with fire. I sometimes thought I was stupid to keep practising despite the pain I was in, but I always kept going. I feel like I’m entering a period in my journey with this practice during which my love and confidence will be fully rekindled. And I will be a better practitioner and teacher for the experiences that I’ve had.

Then again, who knows what’s in store for us, right?


The time I gave up yoga

Sometimes being a practitioner of ashtanga yoga is blissful. Bright, warm, sunrises on the way to practice; that feeling of freedom and space in your body and mind; the shared experience and understanding you have with your fellow practitioners.

But sometimes it’s really tough.

There’s the dark, cold winter mornings (or if you’re not a morning practitioner there’s the when-do-I-eat-during-the-day problem), the stiffness, striving to achieve an asana you’re stuck on while also practising detachment from the process. The whole process can really wring you out sometimes.

And then you get injured.

And the whole thing feels like it could just grind to a halt.

In the dark days of 2009 in post celtic-tiger Ireland, Suzanne and I were living in a cold, damp, mouldy old house and I hadn’t done a gig for 6 months. We were broke and I could see my breath in the kitchen when I was making breakfast in the mornings. I was nursing torn cartilage in both knees which had been a big problem for about two years by that stage. Even though I was practising every day I really wasn’t enjoying it and I felt like my knees weren’t ever going to get any better.

So I gave up yoga.

I made the decision that I would just do some other excercise (I chose cycling) and I would just do that every morning at my usual practice time. And then I would learn a meditation practice. So, it would just be the same thing right? Healthy (or even healthier?) body and healthy mind.

I was so happy to be free from the pain and drudgery that my daily practice had become. And I really enjoyed my cycle along the coast that first morning.

But I lasted three days.

After three days I missed practising so much. I missed the daily ritual of rolling out the mat. I missed the feeling of that breath in my body. I missed moving and creating that space in my body. But mostly I missed the headspace that I had become so used to over the previous 3 or 4 years of daily practice.

I had become so accustomed to the daily benefits of ‘taking practice’ that I had started to take it all for granted. “Sure what do I need yoga for anyway, all it does is hurt my knees”. I had forgotten that so much of what was good in my life had come about because of my comittment to this practice.

And so there I was, three days later, “ekam inhale, dwe exhale”, feeling in a weird way that I had failed in my commitment to turn my back on this sometimes demanding practice, but also delighted to have made the decision that my life was better with ashtanga yoga in it.

We all go through our ups and downs, both in life and in practice, and for me I had to fully stop in order to truly appreciate what I had. As Otis Redding said “You don’t miss your water, till your well runs dry”.

I haven’t looked back since.