Self-Practice Journal

Self-Practice w/ Injuries

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.


5 thoughts on “Self-Practice w/ Injuries

  1. Nice post! I had to undergo a sholder surgery last year. The crucial part of the healing process lasted approx. 3 months, with nearly no flexibility whatsoever in my right shoulder. The only thing I could really do was sit in an upright postition. So thats what I did after some angry consideration and many futile attempts to start at least with some yoga practice again: Sitting in padmasana and doing Zazen. My flexibility in the shoulder is back by now, but my yoga practice has changed for good. It’s become much softer and functions more like a preparation vor my zazen and I must say: these practices go pretty fine together!

  2. Sometimes I feel so disheartened in class, watching all the other yogis practice dolphin and feathered peacock etc, asanas I could do and enjoyed. Now with a shoulder injury (surgery next week) I’m sitting most of class out….. One arm down dog coming on well, triangle OK with one arm behind back, but not joining in the rest feels so much like a big part of me has been torn away……Do you ever get back weight bearing after surgery? Any recommendations for home yoga moves whilst arm is in a sling? Namaste 🙏

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