I don’t enjoy getting injured and try to do all that I can to prevent it. I also HATE it when a student gets injured. Thankfully, I have had few students get injured over the years, but it does happen. Despite finding injury something to avoid, I accept that the only extremely dull people don’t get injured. Furthermore, every injury that I have sustained has been an excellent learning experience. Or at least that’s how I’ve spun it after the fact.
I feel fortunate that I’ve never had a super serious injury. Surprisingly, no bones have been broken during the assortment of physically demanding activities I have engaged during my life. The worst injuries have been spraining a shoulder skiing, a second degree burn from fireworks, bicep /shoulder trapeze injuries, rolled ankles playing tennis, and rope burns doing aerial.
That said I feel like I am good at preventing injuries. Being strong, having good balance, and being relatively flexible for my build are amazing tools for keeping from getting injured. As is having a regular yoga practice, daily exercise, and getting frequent body work. It’s also an attitude thing. When I start to feel a minor thing start to bother me physically, I take care of it and get rid of it right away. I feel like I shouldn’t have nagging things holding me back.
It amazes me that people don’t do this. I’ll talk to someone about their low back / knee / shoulder / neck issue and ask them how long it has been going on, and they will say weeks, months, or years. I don’t like letting things go hours. It amazes me how people will just live with things. Even worse is when someone knows what is causing the problem and makes no changes to address. The biggest waste of time to me as a body worker is doing body work for someone to alleviate pain for someone unwilling to address the actual cause of the issue.
For instance, lower back pain is usually caused by one or all of the following: a weak core, tight glutes / hamstrings, and bad posture. I massaged a woman once who had lower back pain. Her shoulders hunched and her glutes were so tight that they yanked on her lower back so immediately went to work on these problem sources. While doing so, I explained to her why she was having back pain and what steps she could take to address it. At the end, she commented what a small portion of the massage I spent working on her back. I asked her how it felt and she said her back felt better, but that she felt I should have spent more time on the lower back. I had just explained to her that her lower back was weak and overly flexible and that the last thing I wanted to do was loosen it more so that the overly tight surrounding areas could overpower it. In this way, pain is a good thing. It is a wakeup call that there is something wrong. I have no interest in being snooze button for this alarm.
I got into body work and eventually become a full blown licensed massage practitioner because I wanted to be able to do more to help my students prevent injury and then be able to do more if injury happens. You can be a great yoga teacher and still have students get injured doing basic exercises with text book form.
After finishing my yoga instructor training, I had a very good friend come to take my classes to support me. I taught a twist class and we went through a sequence of basic spinal twists and at the end I was proud of the class that I had taught. The next day, I found out that my friend’s back had gone out later that night and that she blamed me. She wasn’t particularly fit. After my class, she went to help a friend move and ended up carrying a lot of heavy items. Later that night, she went to an office party in four inch heels and went dancing. At the time, I felt horrible and wondered what I could have done differently so that my friend wouldn’t have become injured. I questioned my teaching and class sequencing. I talked to a mentor and he said, “the girl is out of shape, carried stuff way heavier than she is used to after doing an activity she isn’t used to and then went dancing in heels that aren’t good for anyone… why are you blaming yourself for this? She brought it on herself.”
The reality is that if you teach enough classes and students, people will get hurt. It is not to say that you shouldn’t do everything you can to prevent this and be prepared to handle it, but it will happen. Over the years, I’ve seen many really, really bad injuries at various activities and events that I have been at. Some of them were due to negligence, but a lot of them are also random. I love being a massage therapist and being trained in Thai massage because I feel like I can usually do something when something happens or know enough to get the person the right kind of care that they need. It is pretty empowering to be able to help people. I honestly think that the best thing that any yoga instructor can do is become a massage therapist to have more tools in case the worst does happen. With just a yoga instructor training under your belt, you will be next to useless.
It’s also important to learn a lesson from every injury. When I separated my shoulder, I was skiing with new skis that hurt my feet. A friend invited me to go outside of the terrain of the ski resort to try a “natural half pipe.” Even though I was a very good skier, it was at the end of the day, I was tired, and my feet hurt from equipment that didn’t work with my feet. Not wanting to turn down a challenge, I did it anyway and got badly injured. After the accident, I did a couple more runs even though I couldn’t lift my arm because I didn’t want to put a damper on the other’s fun. Many, many lessons were learned from this experience.
In a yoga class, a teacher taught us to take thin, flat foam blocks and stack them under our front leg while attempting the splits and then pushing down into the foam. As our legs loosened up, we then shed blocks and pushed down into the new, closer-to-the-ground height. I was amazed how well this worked and soon found myself in the full splits all the way to the ground for the first time in my life. Then it started to hurt and I tried to get out of it and knocked my sacrum out of place in the process. I learned to be careful when trying out new techniques and to not rush flexibility training.
I have also learned patience from injury. I’ve been fortunate that I’ve been able to recover from every injury that I’ve ever had. I now know that my body is pretty sturdy but that the healing process takes time. I was doing a cartwheel and strained my Achilles tendon. It took over three years to heal. I saw various doctors and tried various techniques. After a year, I felt like I would have to limp out of bed every morning to the wall to do a quick Achilles stretch before being able to walk normally every day for the rest of my life. After sometime, I accepted this as a price to pay for my active and adventurous lifestyle but I still regularly stretched and iced the tendon. At some point, I realized that I didn’t need to do it every day. Then I stopped needing to do it at all. It fully healed but it took more than three years!
At this point, when I hurt something, I take a quick inventory of what I can do immediately to make things better. Then I look at what I can do over the rest of the day (ice, call people, make appointments, etc.). Then I look at near term care and how to try and remedy the situation. Later, after it is no longer urgent, I reflect on what I did wrong, what I could have done to prevent it, and what changes to make going forward. Then I create the ideal situation for the injury to heal. I also have the confidence of knowing that everything has been able to heal up to this point in my life so I have no reason to believe that the new injury won’t be the same.
It is important to realize that a fit and active lifestyle will lead to occasional injuries. People should do all that they can to prevent injuries and have a plan in place to address them as they happen. A regular yoga practice, stretching routine, and being fit will help prevent and treat injuries. A good support team (doctors, chiropractor, body worker, etc.) are also important for athletic people. Patience and acceptance that this is part of the process of life are key to being able to keep injury in perspective.