It’s something you often see (in film and TV at any rate), young athletes being told by their coaches to “Play through the pain”, “Walk it off”, or even to “Push through the pain barrier!”
It’s a very Western idea, to be in conflict with your body. To push it ‘beyond it’s limits’ to gain some greater skill or higher ability, but is such an idea any use to a Western yogi?
I dunno about you, but I often find that just as I’m making some real progress in my asanas I suddenly get ill, and my progress is halted whilst I recover. It happened when I did the meditation course in November 2011: After a week of twice a day, legs wide, sitting forward bends, I found myself able to sit on my ‘sit bones’ properly for the first time ever. Then I got the flu and was unable to practice.
It happened after I did the TTC Refresher course last year (blog review yet to come): By the end of another intense week I was able to do the Twisted Triangle properly for the first time in my life. Then I came back and was laid up with the flu again, but this time for three weeks!
And now it’s happening again. Just as I find myself able to make a bit of space in my life for regular sadhana I’ve developed a shoulder injury. The question is though, what to do about it?
I’ve always thought you should recover. Take some time and let your body heal itself. Pushing yourself when you have an injury can only lead to further injury, right? But then I remember a staff member at the London Sivananda Centre who, whilst making some pesto for the evening meal with a hand blender, contrived to almost slice the end of her finger off when she tried to clean around the blades while it was still plugged in!
**I’ll pause for a moment so everyone can grit their teeth and wince!**
That to me would be the perfect excuse to lay off for a little while, but not for this devout yogi! Even with her hand all bandaged up she still did her sadhana, modifying it just a little to make allowances for her injury. And just a week later she was back doing headstands, something that blew my mind when she told me about it!
I personally would have taken full advantage of the excuse to get some rest, which kind of makes me think I use illness as an excuse to practice a bit of ‘yoga avoision‘, something of which I am eternally guilty.
But it’s tough, trying to balance rest and recovery with pushing your boundaries. As yogis we deliberately put ourselves in uncomfortable positions to learn to calm our minds (and stretch our bodies), putting aside thoughts of discomfort as something to be overcome. But if we ignore the signals too much we can easily go too far and end up injuring ourselves. Don’t do enough and you won’t advance in your asanas as much as you could. How can you know how much is too much and how much is too little?
Personally, I’m still trying to figure that one out. I guess just going as far as is comfortable, and then going that little bit further, is the best idea for now. By doing that I should, if I’m lucky, avoid injury while at the same time advancing in my yoga practice a little bit at a time.
I guess you just have to play it by ear. Decide is it a real injury that requires a proper period of rest and recuperation, or is it just something minor ailment which you’re going to use as an excuse to skip your sadhana? And naturally, if in doubt, seek professional medical advice!
As for my shoulder, I went to the osteopath to get it sorted out, and he gave me a bunch of exercises to do. I’ve done them religiously and it’s worked, for the most part. Now I’m back doing my sadhana, and hopefully the last little niggles will take care of themselves as I take care of myself.