Healing from injury can be a long and arduous process. It can also be empowering, and shine light into dark places that are easily ignored when everything is functioning properly. The trick is being an active (and mostly willing) participant in the healing process.
Having spent years studying holistic health and wellness, I rarely seek support from Western modalities, opting for a different bag of tricks when ill or injured. So when I broke my wrist last November, I felt confident about supporting my own healing. Of course, I went to the doctor for an x-ray and cast, but I also embraced the chance to rest, practice gentle yoga and meditation, and prepare nourishing, vitamin rich foods and teas.
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With regards to my yoga practice, I actually felt a bit of guilty pleasure at the prospect of being forced to spend more time focusing on the niyamas, especially svadhyaya (self-study). As a desk ridden 9-5er, I often shortchange this side of my practice in favor of asana, so I wasn’t worried about the a break from a physical practice. After all, with the availability of meditation, pranayama and hands-free standing poses, I didn’t think I’d really miss downward facing dog.
The thing about inner practices and injuries is they generally don’t provide just the lessons you were expecting.
Soon after the fall, the yoga teacher in me came out. I began dreaming up asana sequences that wouldn’t require putting weight on my hands and researching best practices for healing and preventing wrist injuries with yoga. Through the fog of pain and pain medication, I attempted to rationally and analytically prepare for the real “work” of the healing process, when I would start strengthening my wrist and arm muscles and regaining range of motion through concerted effort and asana.
When the pain subsided enough to get on my mat, something else happened. I found that all I could do was stand in tadasana and breathe. For days that is all I did. There were days where I’d practice several times, but never more than this. Eventually, I began integrating arm variations, but this pose was still everything—nothing else seemed available. Although I had always thought I “got” why tadasana was called mountain pose, I discovered I really had no idea. Standing, grounding, breathing. Standing, grounding, breathing. It felt like the only pose I would ever need. We were the mountain, this stance and I, and we would patiently be just this, for eons.
Every so often my rational mind would take over and tell me that I had to do something else, resulting in awkward, half-hearted warrior poses that stressed my upper arm, causing quick and humble retreats to the safety of tadasana. I walked around like I was made of glass and the whole world was ceramic tile. And that’s when I finally understood. Through the lens of svadhyaya, I witnessed all that I wanted and longed for—and I let it go. I felt myself open into being content (samthosa) with this simple, single asana. Only then did I begin to truly reestablish a foundation and connection with the earth that wasn’t quite so tentative or adversarial, remembering again how vital these moments of stillness are.
Eventually I integrated some other standing poses, but the fear of putting my hands on the floor well outlasted the pain in my wrist. I still find that I need a slow, steady, mindful practice. I now see how, before the fall, I often drifted into asana practice without the balance of breath and meditation. Herein is the great irony of injuries: they often require us to begin practicing in ways we knew we should have been the whole time.
With my newly redirected yoga practice, I am no longer planning and seeking out asasa, but rather letting it come to me, and appreciating each pose on a new level. I’m also working to actively explore all my dark corners, shining light on them before something else breaks and forces it on me. And I’m grateful that this reminder was relatively minor.