injury can bring us important lessons and sometimes what looks like bad timing is just the right moment to learn
In my life, yoga has been a constant flame flickering away through the dark days and a beaming ray of sunlight bursting into the bright days. During difficult times, I chose to practice yoga every day, even if I could only manage a ten minute savasana. Yoga HAS helped me find the way home to myself.
Taking part in a yoga teacher training course (YTTC) is something I have dreamed of for years, so I decided to register for a 200 hr YTTC in India with Kranti Yoga. I hoped to deepen my self-practice and to learn to create a safe space on the mat for others. It did this and so much more. Most of all, it opened me up, making me face my vulnerabilities and be present through any uncomfortable feelings: physical or emotional, until I found a sense of stability within what had previously seemed out of reach.
However, I almost didn’t make it to the course. A month before I was booked to begin, I suffered a lower back injury. My sacroiliac joint was out of alignment and I was in so much pain that I had to stop any physical practice and take time off work. I know now that I’d been putting too much pressure on myself without bringing my full awareness to the mat, so ended up getting an injury in one of my classes.
I was so disheartened and felt like giving up but I knew deep down that this dream was not to be walked away from. I was convinced that my back would get worse and that I wasn’t ready. I felt like everything I’d worked towards was falling apart, and with long standing neck issues as well, I started to seriously doubt whether I was capable of being a yoga practitioner or teacher.
Then I read a passage from the Bhagavad Gita that came at the perfect time, “no effort on the yoga path is ever lost, nor can any obstacle ever hold one back forever”. So I practiced yoga nidra, meditation, did gentle stretches and hung on in there. I saw a skilled osteopath for treatment and she reassured me that with rest and the exercises she’d given me to do at home, I would get better.
The school in India let me reschedule for 2 months later so I had time to recover. This worked well as I could slowly build up my yoga practice until I was doing the ashtanga primary series daily. What’s more, I got to stay in India even longer and try out many different classes before heading to the YTTC.
However, just a fortnight before the course started, I hurt my back again. I had been working on sustainable construction for a yoga shala at an eco-resort. I put my back out with all the twisting, squatting and heavy lifting. Again, the air went out of me and I questioned my suitability for the course, if I’d be able to do it, if my body was strong enough. And again, I rested, frustrated about being in pain. But this time it passed more quickly, since I listened to my body and knew more about what I was dealing with.
I turned up at the yoga school feeling doubtful about whether I’d make it through the month, but I knew I had to at least try. I felt like my body was falling apart: in addition to the back issues, I suffered from chronic neck pain, I was weak from bouts of gastroenteritis and I arrived in floods of tears feeling panic stricken at the idea of trying to do anything physical. But I decided that even if my body wasn’t up to it, I’d be able to observe the asana practices and learn heaps about yoga philosophy, ayurveda, creating sequences, teaching methodology, anatomy and alignment. I had to let go to the idea of how I thought it “should” be and be patient with my body.
The school was flexible with injuries and great with offering modifications, so I gained a practice that was much more suited to me. The focus on correct alignment meant I was practicing very safely. I’d had a lot of preconceptions about Ashtanga and wanting to do it “right”, thinking that meant being able to do everything, when in fact, doing it “right” means listening to my body and making as many modifications as needed.
The community living, healthy food, supportive teachers and early bedtimes balanced me and in the end, it turned out that the YTTC was the best place for me to be. I realised that the injury itself was a valuable teacher. I’m grateful for the pain it caused because it helped me gain a deeper understanding of correct alignment and safe practice, which will shape my own teaching. I didn’t even know what the sacroiliac joint was before it screamed out at me and made sure I knew! As for my neck, I’ve learnt to work within its limitations rather than against them and through strengthening my core, my neck is actually less stiff than it’s been in a decade.
A lot of the people doing the course had different past or present injuries or challenges they were working with. We all showed up with our own varying circumstances and were brought together by our passion for yoga and commitment to the practice, sharing a unique and unforgettable experience. Yoga is for everyone, and can be practiced by people with all different types of bodies– regardless of whether they have injuries or disabilities, or are able to wrap their legs around their head. But for some reason I allowed myself to think that my own injury meant I couldn’t do it.
The course helped me to extend the compassion I have for others to myself. I learnt about patience, acceptance and finding that place between effort and ease on the mat. If anyone is thinking of doing a YTTC but is feeling held back by physical or mental obstacles then I’d say go ahead and try. It might just be the most transformative 4 weeks of your life. It was for me and I couldn’t be happier that I decided to stick with it despite all the preceding self-doubt.
Read more on practicing yoga safely here: Extra tips for practicing basic postures safely and Practice safe hatha yoga.