As a yogi, experiencing an injury can not only severely set back your physical practice but also negatively impact your mind and spirit. As you get ready to return to your practice post-injury, picking things up again can feel overwhelming. Not knowing when to start your rehabilitation, what yoga class to take, or how quickly to ramp up your practice can create stress and increase your risk for re-injury. Happily, because yoga is so adaptable, there are many ways to continue yoga during your injury rehabilitation. It may be frustrating not being able to get into your usual poses, but it can also bring an intense level of awareness and insight into your practice.
Ask your physician before starting back up your yoga practice to make sure that it will be safe based on the stage of injury you are currently in. You can also talk with a physical therapist to determine which movements are best for your injury—and which are best to avoid altogether. Additionally, if you take classes at a studio, always let your yoga instructor know when you are hurt or not feeling well.
1. Practice meditation
Adding seated meditation to your daily practice is a great way to reduce the extra stress and frustration an injury can create, especially if your injury restricts movement or if you aren’t cleared for physical activity. Meditation can also reduce stress and help cultivate a positive attitude, helping speed up your recovery time. Yoga nidra is another excellent option if you have difficulty sitting, and if it’s accessible for you, walking meditation is great when you are craving some movement.
2. Start slow to test your limitations
Restart your yoga practice with the basics: try some pranayama breathing exercises and simple movements to test your physical limits. Move super slowly and mindfully and listen deeply to the sensations arising in your body. If you have not practiced in a while, it may take some time to re-form the connections between mind, body, breath, and movement. Once you’ve finished with pranayama and a few basic movements, pay attention to how you feel. Your body will tell you if it’s ready for more or needs to rest. Once you feel comfortable, slowly add in additional asanas, remembering to always take it slow and easy.
3. Explore restorative yoga
Once you are comfortable with simple movements and basic poses, you might want to consider moving on to some restorative yoga. A restorative yoga class uses yoga bolsters, blocks, blankets, and other props to fully support your body while holding yoga postures for extended periods. This practice promotes deep relaxation while slowly and gently stretching and opening muscles, connective tissues, and joints. Because each pose is held for several breaths, you will have enough time to make adjustments to accommodate your injury and to become comfortable in the pose. While holding poses, always be mindful not to let excess tension build in your area of injury.
4. Level down
You will want to level your yoga practice down a notch or two for a while. Before attending a yoga class, be sure to find out how physically challenging it will be to make sure that it aligns with your current level of ability. Once you determine what class or level is best for you, try to stick with it for a couple of months before considering advancing to a more physically demanding class. Gentle yoga classes are best suited for people who are healing, but a slow flow might work well too. Avoid fast-moving vinyasa classes as it will be challenging to maintain safe alignment while moving from pose to pose quickly. Simple and basic repetitive movements will be the most helpful for building strength and improving your mobility and range of motion.
5. Use modifications and props
As you slowly rebuild your practice, make ample use of modifications and yoga props to minimize pressure or strain to your injured area. If you are unsure of how to modify certain poses, ask your teacher before or after class. Approach the use of props and modifications with a spirit of exploration and curiosity so that it will feel playful and insightful rather than frustrating.
6. Embrace ahimsa
The yogic concept of ahimsa means “to do no harm to yourself or others.” This means when practicing with an injury, you should not do anything that hurts. There is no benefit of pushing through pain—you will only risk re-injuring yourself. If you think a yoga pose may threaten to cause pain in the area of your injury, take it super slow, modify it, or just skip it completely. When you choose to opt out of a pose, rest and integrate in child’s pose, repeat a previous pose, or do a similar, more accessible pose.
7. Work with your instructor
An experienced yoga instructor should know how to work around common injuries and support you as you re-enter your practice. If possible, contact the teacher in advance to explain your injury. Consider scheduling a few private lessons so they can help find modifications that will work for your unique needs.
8. Be patient
The worst thing you can do when injured is to push too far too fast. Overzealousness could set you back in your healing and possibly keep you off your mat for good. Being patient, taking things really slowly, and maintaining a gentle, safe, modified practice will get you back into your favorite classes sooner. Even though you may feel like your body has let you down, it is important to be kind to yourself and embrace your healing journey as you reintegrate yoga into your life.