Got injuries? Reimagining the Ashtanga practice to help injuries heal

Have you seen this YouTube video posted by Argentina-based OmarYoga of two men practicing primary series, one doing the traditional sequence and one adapting the sequence to accommodate a broken femur? It was posted in 2011, but I didn’t see it until yesterday. I can’t get over how seriously beautiful and brilliant it is in how it reimagines the Ashtanga practice while staying true to the design of the practice.

The video has about 9,785 views at the time I’m seeing it — kind of a shame, especially when compared with what has been reported as the Ashtanga YouTube video with the most page views (nearly 2.7 million views).

On the subject of injuries, here’s another one in which Kino MacGregor demos one way for someone with wrist injuries to practice Ashtanga and still maintain heat:

Paul Gold recently wrote a blog post about healing injuries with Ashtanga:

If one gets injured practicing yoga, the yoga practice is the best way to heal and rehabilitate. Also, if one gets injured doing some other activity, yoga practice is the best way to heal and rehabilitate. Finally, if one begins yoga practice with a preexisting injury, the yoga practice is the best way to heal and rehabilitate. From my experience, yoga practice is an amazing healer.

Healing an injury with Ashtanga Yoga is possible and requires daily practice. Taking days off regardless of how one’s feeling is ultimately detrimental to the healing process. Unlike working out, the effects of yoga practice are cumulative. The body’s natural reaction to injury is to contract and armour. Yoga encourages the afflicted area to move when it wants to petrify. Taking days off between practices just makes the body stiffer under normal circumstances, but even more so with an injury or chronic condition.

Students often wait until their aches and pains are gone before returning to class. They’ll disappear and return saying they needed to rest their injury. The truth, however, is that the pain is not gone and the injury hasn’t healed. The problem simply went underground while they were resting and was patiently waiting to return. Whatever imbalance or bad habit caused the pain or injury hasn’t been addressed or corrected. The pains and injury return as soon as the student is back on the mat.

It is a shame that some students who aren’t willing to follow the prescription for daily practice end up quitting and saying that “ashtanga yoga doesn’t work” or “yoga made my pain worse.” This just isn’t true.

The first thing a student must do when using the practice to heal and rehabilitate is adapt. It is necessary when injured to scale back practice so that it’s appropriate as therapy. That very often means having a very basic and short practice for awhile where the level of sensation to the injured area is deliberately kept at zero.

The comments section of the post show dissenting views on the idea of practicing through injury — to a point where the Paul Gold devoted a second post to the one particular comment.

Richard Freeman has also recently addressed injuries on his blog:

If you’re practicing a series other than primary and you end up injuring yourself due to problematic alignment or technique, do you recommend going back to primary until the injury heals? Or should you stick to the same series you were practicing when you were injured, adding modifications necessary to work around the injury?
– Erica

 

That would depend on the exact nature of the injury or of the problem. Sometimes the primary series can cause problems—even those that crop up in more advanced series. It’s helpful to learn the anatomy and biomechanics associated with the problem area.

Working carefully and intelligently with injury is an important part of any yoga practice. Yoga should make the body healthier rather than harming it. Though one has to be intelligent rather than fanatical and mechanical. Having a good teacher to give guidance and feedback, and listening carefully to the internal cues that your body is giving you is very important.

I think Richard ends with what is the key point for me, at least: Having a good teacher is important.

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3 thoughts on “Got injuries? Reimagining the Ashtanga practice to help injuries heal

  1. More on practicing with an injury. Jason Stein of Leaping Lanka broke “hell out of” his foot, as he put it, and briefly describes in an Oct. 5, 2012 blog how he practiced:

    The hospital experience was rather overwhelming. I did in fact practice Ashtanga Vinyasa in my hospital bed during the interminable waiting periods, or as I was wheeled to and from various tests, and then the operating theater, and as I lie in wait to go under.

    Inhale — tense fingers and toes; exhale — relax.

    It helped, a little, with the anxiety and the fear.

    After 9 weeks of no walking, I received a walking cast last Wednesday, and of course now my foot hurts like holy hell as I relearn to walk.

    During this time I chose to let go of the traditional Ashtanga postural sequences in favor of the seated practices, breathing and otherwise.

    This injury really swept the pieces off the chessboard, so it’s been a real gift. Can’t play chess? Time to play something else. I’m grateful I’m able to just sit and take practice.

  2. I’ve been there–getting injured by the yoga practice itself and then healed by the same practice. The body wants to protect itself when it is injured, and sends signals to the mind. But the practice, if done with awareness and breathing, defies the mind, thus conquering the body. I find it to be quite a miracle actually…the power of this practice. :)

  3. I love “Weekend Edition # 12: Injury Inspiration,” a recent post by Elise Espat on her Ashtanga Yoga Library blog:

    Life happens. Relationship troubles, financial troubles, work troubles, the weather, illness, digestion troubles, injuries… In yoga, all these things and more are summed up as the “three miseries” or “three obstacles”. They are:
    adhyātmika –miseries of body and mind
    adhibhautika –miseries from other living creatures
    adhidaivika –miseries from natural/supernatural disturbances
    These names are old and the miseries timeless. They will always come to us and they always have. If we wait to practice until the obstacles stop, then we will probably never practice. It is easy to do some asanas when we feel nice and there is a nice view and the teacher is nice and there was no traffic and we get the spot we like and everything is going well. We should definitely be grateful and notice when we have it easy. But often it is when things are not going well, when things are very hard or seem impossible when the true meaning of yoga is there for us to realize. It is then when we have the opportunity to really practice and to rise to the occasion.

    Eventually, practice becomes the baseline, the steady beat of our lives. Before that, each time an obstacle arises, we ask ourselves “should I practice if…?” It is in this moment when we begin to explore our intentions and the meaning of the practice. This is the moment when a lot of people – confusing yoga with the mere performance of asanas – quit. This is also the moment when others start to question their motivations and show up anyway.

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