I don’t want to jinx anything, but after 28 months of semi-retirement from yoga (yes, I’ve been counting), it looks like I might be able to make a comeback. I’ve been practicing vinyasa and hatha regularly for almost three months now. It hasn’t been without some occasional pain/discomfort in my shoulder. But it’s nothing like the sidelining pain that derailed my yoga practice and my teaching career.
As regular readers of this blog will know, I seriously injured my left shoulder in the spring of 2010. It was a rock climbing injury, not a yoga injury, but it nonetheless made it nearly impossible for me to do a normal asana practice. The initial injury was so severe that I was virtually unable to lift my left arm for three months. After this extreme inflammation subsided, I still could not use my left shoulder without tremendous pain for almost a year. During the long journey through this injury, I’ve been to three different orthopedic specialists, had two MRIs, gone through months of physical therapy, tried acupuncture, cortisone shots, massage therapy, herbal remedies, electrical pulse stimulation — basically, every possible conventional and alternative treatment under the sun. Although there were occasional glimmers of hope for a recovery, I always seemed to regress back into the cycle of pain and tightness in my shoulder. After going through this for months, and then years, I had almost given up. This time around, though, my shoulder seems to be holding up (knock on wood).
So what was the magic bullet that seems to have been the solution?
Well, it’s hard to say for certain, but I really think it was just time. Time heals everything, they say. And in this case, that might be true. I should give some credit to my acupuncturist, though, because I think she did help me a lot. I also suspect that a simple $7 over-the-counter tube of capsicum cream has done a lot for my shoulder. (Capsicum is the stuff in hot peppers that makes your mouth burn.) I’ve also been trying a cream with DMSO and arnica montana, which seems to help with post-yoga soreness in my shoulder.
But the number one thing, honestly, seems to have been time. The human body has a strange way of healing itself. Depending on the severity of the injury, this healing process can take a long time. And when it comes to shoulders, this can be a very long time. I’ve read on some rock climbing blogs that two years is not an unusual recovery period for a serious shoulder injury. Believe me, when that much time passes, you pretty much lose hope that you’ll ever get better.
By the grace of some yoga or rock climbing god, though, my shoulder seems to have worked itself into a state of compromise. It’s still far from 100%, and it’s noticeably weaker and more wobbly than my right shoulder. And, as one orthopedist told me, there is “laxity” in my shoulder joint, which is a way of saying that the joint does not lock together tightly. This, of course, makes me more prone to injury. So I need to be careful, and I need to take baby steps as I return to my asana practice.
Perhaps the biggest challenge of all, though, is to remind myself that my yoga practice is what it is today, not what it was yesterday or two years ago. I am the type of person who wants to fly in yoga class, jumping and floating from one pose to another like a dolphin at play in the sea. When I have to put my knees down and take Child’s Pose, or stay in Down Dog instead of jumping into a handstand, I feel frustrated. I feel sad. Staying on the ground makes me feel restrained and locked down, when I want to feel unrestrained and light.
Maybe what I really need to cultivate, though, is an appreciation for being grounded. Perhaps this is the lesson I need to learn, if I am to truly recover from this injury. After all, yoga should not be about working towards or achieving some ideal version of yourself. When you think like this, it’s easy to get frustrated and lose hope, because it’s inherently impossible to reach an ideal. I guess what I’m trying to learn, then, is that you can give up on an ideal without giving up on yourself.