If you’ve been doing yoga for a while, you’ve probably heard the phrase ‘injury can be our greatest teacher’ at some point. (If you haven't, lucky you.) Hands up, I’ve definitely heard it roll off my tongue on more than one occasion. While certain yoga cliches make my skin crawl, this one, in my humble experience, holds true.
Cut to last week however, when a weird lump appeared on the back of my right knee, while I was still recovering from breaking my finger a mere six weeks ago (and losing the nail in the process), and my first reaction was (cue John McEnroe-esque screech): ‘You cannot be serious.’ I mean, I know that I perennially need to learn to slow down, but come on universe, what are you playing at?
The worst part? It popped up (literally) the day before I was due to start module two of my advanced teacher training with Jason Crandell. I managed to make it through the two-hour morning practice on our first day, but come Tuesday I couldn’t fully flex or straighten my leg without feeling like someone was sticking hot pokers in either side of my kneecap. But you didn’t come on here to read about my medical history so long story short, I had to make an emergency trip to hospital and was unable to practice for the rest of the first week.
I'm not going to lie, it sucked not being able to practice for over a week (conflated by the fact I was sitting watching everyone else flow with seeming ease), but it turns out when you have an enforced and unexpected rest period, you have a lot of time to digest and reflect. So that's what I did. Here's what I learned, and I hope it's of some use if you do ever suffer a setback in your practice.
You can’t plan everything – learn to go with the flow
As someone who was essentially a professional planner pre-yoga life (I was the one in charge of making sure we went to press on time at ELLE), let me tell you this: sh*t happens. People miss deadlines. Certain features don’t work no matter how much you rewrite them. Cover stars fall through just before you go to press. Why did I think life beyond journalism would be any different? Injuries happen. Classes get cancelled. Events fall through. As much as it’s great to have ideas and goals, don’t be a slave to them. It will only set you up for disappointment when they don’t work out quite as you’d hoped. Next time something doesn't go quite your way, learn to adapt and go with the flow, and loosen the reins a little. Ask yourself: 'What's the worst that can happen?'
‘You have nothing to prove, and everything to gain’
I'll freely admit these words are Jason's, but they became my mantra for that week I was sitting on the sidelines watching my peers play with various arm balances, inversions, backbends and generally explore and embody what we were learning. Moving my body is my happy place, and has been such an invaluable tool for me when it comes to dealing with anxiety and depression, so to have to sit awkwardly with my leg propped on a couple of bolsters while I watched everyone else flow? That was tough. But as the week wore on and I observed how Jason expertly yet seemingly effortlessly held space for a room of 50 teachers, well, that was an education in itself, and one I wouldn’t have received had I been on the mat. So next time you find yourself building some elaborate narrative while you practice, remember that at the end of the day, the postures don't really matter. We're using the asana as a way to access the mind and learn more about who we are and how we act and react in certain situations, and through that hopefully cultivate some sense of equanimity. Which leads me onto my next point...
Meditation is a really valuable tool
My injury came just as I completed 50 days of continuous meditation (more on that another time) and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I was able to handle it far more calmly than I would have previously. Yes, I felt vulnerable and frustrated, but those were perfectly normal emotions to experience given the situation. When I found myself getting caught up in negative thoughts I instead reminded myself to focus on the good stuff: the fact I’d been treated so swiftly; that I was still able to observe the classes and participate in everything else; that my peers were so kind and helpful (I was offered a lot of chocolate, tea and bolsters - thank you kind yogis). In short, found I was able to rationalise my thoughts and be far more accepting of the situation as it unfolded. So if you're having a tough time, I'd highly recommend building a meditation practice, even if it's just 3-5 minutes a day of quiet time to check in on what's going on within. I'd highly recommend Headspace or Insight Timer to guide you along the way.
It forces you to explore other areas of your practice
Case in point: meditation. I went deep. Even sitting in sukasana was challenging, so I had to really concentrate on not getting sucked into the vortex of intense sensation that was threatening to overwhelm me. Restorative poses became my best friend. Simple movements such as neck rolls and easy twists were a sweet release. So the next time you have an injury, rather than automatically think, 'Oh, I can't do this', shift your thought process to include, 'Maybe not, but I can do x, y and z.' You'll feel so much richer for it.
It makes you more present
That first practice after a week off? Man, it felt GOOD! I was so present and attentive (and tentative) as I transitioned from pose to pose. Poses like high lunge and warrior one felt so fresh and new, and transitioning to warrior three was a journey in itself (sample inner narrative: 'Oh god, is my knee going to hold, here goes... yes, it does, this is the best thing ever, thanks body!'). Sometimes we can get so caught up in achieving grand postures that we lose sight of the fact that there is so much nuance to explore in the foundational poses.
So as module two draws to a close and I take some time to process everything I've learnt (some unexpectedly) this past fortnight, I don’t think I can sum my experience more beautifully than this famous Reader’s Digest quote, so I’ll just leave it here: ‘Life is what happens to us while we’re busy making other plans.’
Write it down, stick it to your fridge, remind yourself to stay present and embrace the ebb and flow of life.