I’ve been virtually out of commission for the last month with a shoulder injury. It looks like it was probably a rotator cuff tear/strain that I sustained from excessive and overly enthusiastic climbing at the local rock climbing gym. Of course, I’ve stopped climbing (for the time being) because of the injury. But I have been trying, on and off, to do some yoga. Practicing yoga is obviously very difficult when you can’t lift one of your arms, but it’s not impossible. As I’ve tried to motivate myself to do yoga over the past few weeks, it’s been a struggle to figure out how to modify the practice in such a way that respects my injury without totally sapping the practice of all physical challenge. A second difficulty has been mental/emotional: one needs a good dose of humilty and acceptance in order to practice yoga with an injury. As someone who has practiced yoga for many years, I have certain strong (stubborn?) ideas in my head about what a yoga practice should be. This injury has forced me to reconsider some of those ideas.
There are some obvious things you can’t do when your shoulder is busted. No downward-facing dog. No handstands. No plank. No Chaturanga. Also, no lifting your injured arm in any of the Warrior poses. This pretty much means that you can’t even do Sun Salutations.
So what can you do? Warrior poses are still possible, but you have to do them with just one arm up. You can do side plank, but only on one side. Not surprisingly, things start to feel a bit lopsided when you practice like this. Often, in yoga, there is an emphasis on symmetry, but there is really no way to have a symmetrical practice when one of your arms is out of commission. What have I learned from practicing yoga asymmetrically? Well, one thing I learned is how attached I am to balance, symmetry, and evenness! It was an interesting challenge for me to try to just accept that my practice was going to be wonky for a while. At first, after my injury, my initial impulse was not to practice at all. Better no practice than a lopsided practice, I thought. After a week or so of this poor attitude, though, I found myself getting stiff and tight and anxious. Eventually I just had to do some yoga.
For a few weeks, I managed to practice at home every two to three days, doing 30- to 45-minute sessions each time. This past Monday, I finally went to a yoga class for the first time in over a month. My shoulder has been healing quickly, so I was able to do mostly everything that I used to do, minus the handstands, arm balances, etc. But for the first time in many years, I was just grateful to be able to do a normal downward-facing dog and Warrior II, poses I’ve come to take for granted. As I’ve had to learn several times now, there’s nothing like an injury to teach you a little something about gratitude.