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Rehabilitation of a Yogi: Introduction

Yoga teacher.  Buddhist.  Maniac with the twists.

I hurt my back several months ago.   It is an injury that still bothers me.  It happened in a yoga class.  In a twisting lunge I pressed my hands together at the chest center and used my right elbow against the outside of my left knee to deepen the twist…  Oooh, it felt good.  I cranked it up another notch and then felt a pop on the right side of my low back.

Let me back up.  I am a yoga teacher.  And part of the practice of yoga is self-care.  In my classes I say: find the middle way between pushing too hard and not pushing hard enough.  You never want to hurt yourself as a result of your own yoga practice.

So damn, now did I let this happen to my body?  That was the first thought.  Don’t freak out, everything is gonna be fine, you’ll be fine.  That was the second thought.  At the excellent Dharma Mittra Yoga Center, I did not let on to the teacher that anything was wrong when I felt the twinge in my back. I completed the class and finally it was time for Savasana, Corpse Pose (the relaxation pose at the end of every yoga class). I wished I had a blanket to roll up and put under my knees.  This helps to relieve tension from the lower back and is something I often recommend to my students.  There wasn’t a blanket handy. Of course I could have asked the teacher for a blanket.  I could have walked over and grabbed a blanket myself from the shelf.  But I did niehter.  The fact is I failed to properly prioritize my comfort and physical well being. And this trend continued for the next several months.

Sometimes my back would hurt and I had to spend the day at home annoyed and frustrated with my lack of mobility.  As soon as it felt better I went back to teaching and practicing yoga.  I’ve been working on my Forearm Stand, Handstand, Headstand and Wheel.  All these poses are quite difficult for me (and for many others) but I am determined to master them.  To me these poses represent the physical (external) characteristics of what it means to be a “yoga teacher” or “good at yoga”. 

You see – a yoga teacher is supposed to be able to do a Headstand easily, away from the wall, finding the balance and distributing the weight evenly among her head and forearms (or hands, depending on which variation of Headstand she chooses).  A yoga teacher is also supposed to hop up easily into a Handstand and be able to balance in a Forearm Stand.  That’s how it should be, right?  At least it is in my mind.  Or rather… in the content of my thoughts on the subject.

Is that how I teach yoga?  No.  Of course not.  My attitude toward my students is always: Do what you can and Be where you are.  I sometimes need to remind myself of my own mantra.

The benefit of a yoga practice is not in what sort of pretzel shape or wacky balance you can assume with the body, is what I say.  The true benefit of a yoga practice is a friendship, a familiarity with yourself – your physical body, your emotions, and your thoughts. 

Rehabilitation of a Yogi is the story of my quest to find contentment with reality and embrace self care. I battle the demons of Should, Must and Have To as I search for the truth, the Dharma of my relationship with self.

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comments n responses

first of all - thank you for your thoughtful comments.

re: Perfection

We are all perfect just as we are.  Yet we constantly wish to be other than what we are.  So really we all wish to be imperfect. And we fail.  Because we cannot change our fundamental perfectly good nature.

re: back pain

abs contracted too tightly sounds just as bad as lower back contracted too tightly.  as a chronic condition it is not healthy.  can any chronic condition be healthy?  I'm not sure.
I totally agree with you, it's all about finding the middle way between too tight (sucking in / contracting the abs) and too lose (belly totally soft / no muscular engagement).

re: Headstands but not Forward Bends

Hey where do you live?  I'm curious to find out how you enjoy a yoga class.  Are there classes near where you are?  The class experience can take it to another level from watching and learning via video.  Nothing like a live teacher to transmit knowledge and understanding of physical and mental alignment.

Forward bends are very personal. As a yoga teacher I'm always amazed at how different forward bends can look in different bodies.  While alignment and internal engagement points are same or similar for all.

OOOOoooh I want that Headstand!  Here's to a beautiful struggle :)

re: rehab of a yogi

Wishing you many delicious supported Bridge Poses with a block and/or cushions under your sacrum.  Namaste.


I adore this post.. I love that you saw your flaw and shared it. As teachers we are so worried about being perfect that sometimes we forget that our students are happier if we aren't. Thanks for sharing this, so many people will be able to relate. I know I do!

back pain

a minor but nonetheless interesting physiology note: a lot of time back pain comes not from weak abs but from abs that are contracted too tightly, too often.

I find that the currently popular exhortations in classes to work our  "core strength" and the trend to do crunches and navasana to strengthen abs to be somewhat counterproductive.

best wishes for a speedy recovery!


Headstands but not Foward Bends

I very much relate to your post.  I am by no means a yoga teacher, nor do I attend yoga classes.  I have instead learned yoga through Rodney Yee's yoga videos, working my way up to the Advanced video, and then experimenting on my own now and then. 

So, I can do a headstead free of the wall.  A great achievement for me, and a position that relaxes my body and mind.

I cannot do forward bends at all.  A seated forward bend takes me weeks of concerted practice to grasp my hands around my feet.  Any position that requires me, while seated, to spread my legs any further than about 30 degrees apart is impossible, as always been impossible, and, I am certain will always remain impossible.

Because of that, I've felt what you have described over and over and over again.  In so much of yoga, we will experience fear, difficultly, joy, thought, comfort, displeasure, confusion...and on and on.  The configurations of the body that cause these reactions are a gift!  We can practice with them in an environment that puts us in sharp contrast with any other thing--we are there and we can see things.

So, kudos to us all for practicing yoga and meditation whenver we do.  It is an opportunity to see and not judge.  Moreover, if we as humans did not have limitations, we would never be able to see how we try to avoid our pain and chase our pleasure.

I, by the way, struggle with this, but once I saw the struggle, I see it every time.

rehab of a yogi

I could relate to the limitations resulting from back pain, as well as the frustration of having such pain being a regular practitioner. I wrote a piece called, "Slowly Unwrapping the Gift of Pain" that touches on some of residual blessing offered up from such pain. Check it out if you like: http://dropandgivemeyoga.com/home/2011/02/slowly-unwrapping-the-gift-of-...
Wishing you a speedy recovery!
ps. I had just begun expressing my full Wheel when my back betrayed me ;-)

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