Yoga Musings

Practicing Yoga in the ER

Last night, I did something very stupid. An old window in our attic was stuck — probably from the sudden heat in Portland — and I tried to nudge the edge of the frame open with my knee. I missed my target and before I knew what had happened, there was huge “Pop!” and then blood and glass everywhere. I stood there for a moment, just stunned, and then saw that my knee looked like it had been through a blender. Thankfully, my partner was quicker thinking than I was at that moment. She had me sit down, we wrapped my knee in two towels, and called 911.

In the end, the extent of my injuries was not that great. They stitched me up in a few spots and sent me home around 3 in the morning. The nurses and doctor reminded me several times how fortunate I was not to have cut anything vital in my legs. I’m really lucky, and have learned at least one important lesson: don’t open windows with your knee!

Throughout the ordeal, I found myself dealing with the pain, shock, and confusion with my breath. Although my asana practice has been compromised over the past two years because of chronic injuries, I still find that the breath work and mental strategies of yoga have stuck with me. And this was very apparent last night as I was being rolled out of my house on a stretcher, and when the doctor unwrapped the bloody mess and started fixing me up.

As I felt myself on the border of panic, I calmed myself down by closing my eyes and breathing as if I were in a long hold of Utkatasana or Warrior II. For anyone who has ever been in a class where the teacher makes you hold one of these poses for, say, two minutes, you know what I mean. At a certain point, you have to both accept the sensations you’re experiencing, and deal with those sensations by recognizing that they are *only* sensations. Instead of thinking/feeling “Argh! I am in pain,” you think/feel “there is a sensation that is happening to the body.” Instead of wishing the sensations weren’t happening, you just recognize and accept that they are happening.

Yoga teachers often say that yoga is a way of life. No, this doesn’t entail wearing hot yoga clothes or being a vegetarian or learning Sanskrit. It’s a way of being, on a more fundamental level. You can practice yoga in every aspect of your life, but most especially in the face of difficult challenges. It’s easy to be calm, present, and “mindful” when you’re in Lotus Pose — it’s much harder when there’s blood spurting out of your leg. But it’s not impossible.

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2 thoughts on “Practicing Yoga in the ER

  1. Last year, I had to have an MRI for a cervical spine issue. I did not anticipate going into a small tube and had a freakout. But then I asked the MRI tech to put me in the tube and let me shimmy out – that way I knew I could escape. He let me do that. Then he put me in the tube for the real MRI. I closed my eyes and did Shavasana. I was still for 20 minutes, in a very narrow tube. This would not have been possible without a seven-year yoga practice. Anytime I face a medical issue now, I got into yoga mode. It really works! I hope you heal fast.

  2. In my yoga classes, the pranayama is one of the most essential skills that you can practice at home…. I often do controlled belly breathing while driving in bad traffic

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