MY Studio Manager, Chelsey shares how the life altering experience of fracturing her wrist has enhanced her life and yoga practice. Chelsey is teaching a weekly maintenance class at MY Studio, Thursdays 7:00-8:30 and a weekly class at Medicine Moves Studio, Tuesdays 4:30-5:30. While Im away for the summer check out her classes, its a steal of a deal at $5/class. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org and like her Facebook page Chelsey Yoga for more info.
The Yamas & Niyamas in Healing an Injury
I have written before on how the 8 limbs of yogic philosophy has the power to heal our lives mentally and physically. Personally, I have hurt myself many times throughout my life. And since starting a regular yoga practice in 2009 and then my yoga teacher training program in 2012 I have continued to injure myself off the mat. In fact, the last year I have experienced two of the worst injuries of my life thus far. It has been these injuries that I have discovered and experienced yoga’s healing ability. Due to my injuries I had to spend weeks away from yoga classes. I spent this time healing and recovering to focus on the first two limbs of yoga’s 8 limb philosophy, the Yamas and Niyamas. At first glance the sanskrit names for the Yamas (don’ts) and Niyamas (do’s) can seem convoluted and difficult to relate to. When you take the time to really study the translations you may notice just how complementary they are to one another as well as how applicable they are to your everyday life; in this case, healing from injury. My teacher says the best way to practice and teach the Yamas and Niyamas is in our thoughts, words and deeds.
While studying the Yamas and Niyamas, keeping in mind healing an injury, it may seem there are a few that stand out and may be more applicable than others in healing. In truth, it is the continued practice of applying each one of them in your day to day life that really creates the biggest effect. In my continued practice I even began to notice how they flow from one another seamlessly. Let me show you how this practice helped me to heal safely and how it may help you heal your own injury.
Before my accident I was a fairly busy, independant person, as most people in modern society are. Working full time, attending 4 or more yoga classes a week, plus intensive weekends, caring for two dogs and maintaining a social life with friends and family kept me pretty busy. After my accident I had no energy and was barely able to care for myself. Barely able to brush my own teeth, it took everything I had just to stand for 5 minutes to shower. I have been single for years and I am very used to caring for myself. When I broke my arm I realized just how hard it is for me to ask for things from people even asking for help from those closest to me. However, for 3 to 5 weeks following my surgery I very much relied on the help of others with most of my day to day actions. Something as simple as locking and unlocking my front door I was unable to do on my own. This was extremely hard for me. This turned into my surrender, Ishvara Pranidhana. This was me surrendering to the universe. What other choice did I have? I had literally just slammed into a brick wall. Clearly the universe was trying to tell me something. Like “Hey, pay attention!” or “Slow down! Figure out what’s really important.” Or maybe not, maybe it was just that I had somehow neglected the maintenance on my bike which then caused my bike chain to fall off its gears preventing me from stopping. Nevertheless, I had to surrender. I had to ask for help over and over again throughout everyday. I had to temporarily give up attending my regular yoga classes. My practice now became one of acceptance and nurturing and not one of vigorous asana classes and rushing about in my life. I had to surrender and know this was an experience the universe was providing me for growth and learning. I had to let go. Let go of my ego and my expectations and be comfortable in my life experience.
Aside from frequent check-ins with my ego and expectations I had to reflect daily on Satya. What was my truth? Its seems funny to me now but only moments after the impact of my accident, fracturing my wrist, I clearly remember thinking to myself, “Will I ever be able to do yoga again?!” Feeling the broken bone of my arm and in a panicked state clearly I was attached and clinging to this practice of yoga I had become so fond of and familiar with. Only in that moment did I realize how attached I was to my practice; now without it I was left with feelings of discomfort. These feelings did not leave me feeling good or at peace, rather they left me feeling helpless and longing for another time. A time other than the present when my arm wasn’t broken. I remember asking my surgeon how long it would be before I could attend a yoga class again. He just looked at me with this blank expression on his face and said, “4 to 6 months”. In the moments and days following that conversation I felt even more hopless and defeated.
“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it change your attitude. Don’t complain.” ~Maya Angelou
Very quickly after this disappointing conversation I noticed if I focused on Aparigraha by not being attached to my yoga practice or my injury, knowing that neither changed who I was; I could not change the fact that I was injured so I had to accept it. Embrace it. With the focus on this practice of non-attachment I had a stronger feeling of ease. The peace Aparigraha brought to me seemed to actually take my ‘pain’ away. I might not have been able to practice asana but that didn’t make me any better or worse in spirit. Deep down I knew that I could practice yoga even with a fractured arm.
“Think of all the beauty that’s still left in and around you and be happy!” ~Anne Frank
With this greater sense of acceptance I was able to become more and more aware of Santosha by being grateful for all that I had in my life and the health, vitality and capacity of my body and what I could do, not what I couldn’t. Not placing expectations on myself to pursue the glory of the most beautiful yoga posture. Grateful that my accident wasn’t worse and grateful for all the help I received. I felt such love and delight from all the strangers in my community who rushed to help me. Complete strangers bringing me water, ice, IBUProfen, gathering my purse and locking up my bike. The kindness of a comforting hand on my shoulder and soothing words in my ear. One stranger even drove me to the hospital and waited by my side until my family arrived. If that wasnt enough I had the most wonderful E.R. team. They made me feel at ease and comforted my shocked and paniced state on top of straightening my arm. The reality was I had much to be grateful for. My surgeon who seemed to effortlessly put my fractured arm back together. My family who nursed me back to feeling human again after surgery. My dear friends and brand new roommates who cooked, cleaned and even locked my front door for me in the weeks that followed. It seemed the more that I looked for all the good in my life the more I found and the less I felt sorry for myself and attached myself to my injury. Aparigraha and Santosha were vital practices for me during my healing process.
So here I was, broken but working on filling myself back up with contentment, non-attachment and truth. I had to begin to ask myself truthfully, was my surgeons prognosis of a 4-6 month recovery accurate for me? Was that my truth? And was it beneficial for me to believe him?
“Believe nothing I have told you unless you experience it for yourself.” ~Buddha
I have every respect for Doctors. My surgeon really knew what he was doing. I am amazed by his ability to “fix” me. In the case of my injury surgery can be a very beneficial option. When a bone is fractured in such a way it can be useful to have support on the fractured bone. In my case this was a plate and six pins. And in my research since my surgery on the wrist and its complexity my surgeon was not far from amazing. Surely however, even he cannot predict the future. Who was he to put a time frame on my recovery? And who was I to even ask the question?! I understand that he has experience and has dealt with lots of people with similar injuries but at best this prognosis was nothing more than predicting and generalizing. So instead of asking when I could do something I instead asked “What can I do?”
The morning following my surgery, still in the hospital because of minor complications my surgeon told me he wanted me to start and wiggle the tips of my fingers. Here was the guidance I had been looking for! My surgeon likely knew nothing of the yoga practice I had before my injury or of the effort I put in to caring for myself. Still I grabbed hold of this request and the exercises from my therapist that came in the weeks that followed. My practice or Tapas from then on became a home practice of sitting on my couch, the floor or my bed closing my eyes and picturing my fingers being able to straighten. Eventually this visualization turned into action as I was flexing and extending my fingers regularly. It is all too easy to have expectations on our body to heal quickly, often this is done without even realizing we have placed the expectation to begin with. It can be easy to have moments of despair or frustration when we aren’t able to heal quickly or live our lives as we did before our injury. It is in these moments we have to check our ego and find that sense of Santosha, contentment and work to heal our injury through Tapas, practice.
“Do the work if not now, when?” ~Michelle Rubin
Tapas is religious fervour, a burning desire to achieve a goal, self discipline. Whenever we have an injury in the body we are first advised to rest, let our bodies heal. After this rest period we are usually given specific, modified excersies to restore the full functioning of the body. Tapas then is very important, it is the work. If you want to heal you must practice what is requested of you by your doctor/therapist. My Tapas was my commitment to healing and returning to asana. I was diligent with my home exercises whilst remembering Ahimsa, Asteya and Bramacharya so I wouldn’t push past my edge. Keeping my exercises in line with my ability and not letting my ego guide what I wanted to do; not judging my progress. I worked daily practicing in a way that was non-violent and managed my energy in a way that didn’t steal progress. When my injury was fresh an example of this would have been not pushing myself to return to work too early and relaxing or having a nap after showering. As I healed and regained energy this would have been the development of being able to determine between good and bad pain. Connecting with the sense of good pain as the healing of tissues and breaking up of scar tissue at the place of my fracture. And determining bad pain when pushed myself too far.
“What do we know of the heart closest to our own? What do we know of our own heart? ~ Amelia Barr
It has been nearly a year since my injury now and thinking back, at the time it felt like a nightmare I could not wake up from, today it seems a dream from long ago. The fact that I recovered fully or that I was able to return to my yoga practice months before my surgeon said I would means nothing compared to what that injury taught me. Svadhyaya is self study, practicing this during my healing helped me to plug in and stay plugged in to my true self. This injury taught me to evaluate what and who are important in my life. It made me stop and examine what inspires me. It reminded me that I am enough and that I have enough right here and now. I was able to determine relationships in my life that were important to me and to nourish them. I gained a greater sense of awareness in my mind and body. Because of this, today I am happy I spend my time in a job I love and throughout my day I am surrounded by people I love.
Healing from anything can be hard, it can cause suffering and can leave us feeling traumatised. It is my experience that this does not have to be the norm. I used the Yamas and Niyamas to bring more happiness and peace into my recovery and I am continuing to discover all the ways in which they can do the same throughout my life.