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“Can” being the operative word there.
Because let’s get real: injuries—whether minor or severe—can be so not awesome. Aside from the real physical pains and discomfort that come with having a hurt body, injuries challenge our egos in a big way. For a lot us Type A/power yogis, the mandatory rest can be a lot more uncomfortable than the actual wound.
I’ve been dealing with a chronic shoulder issue for years. The onset of painful muscle spasms was my body’s way of saying “Slow down, girl,” requiring me to (involuntarily) back off in my yoga practice: as in, no Chattarungas, planks, handstands, or (gasp!) backbends. Basically all the stuff I wanted to do. On good days, I would think “I’m cured!” and attempt Wheel, only to find myself wincing the next day. Tired of playing the victim, I eventually waved the proverbial white flag. The less I saw my circumstances as some kind of “mistake,” the more I opened myself up to what’s possible when I’m injured. Like:
Injuries make us better yoga teachers. As a way to heal, I got a lot of massages (rough break, I know). My bodyworker taught me a lot: what muscles were influencing the injury and what needed to be released. My body was so alive with sensation, I became way more present, so I was more effective at getting my students into their bodies. The more my injury taught me, the more I was able to teach others.
I’m only limited if I say I am. Operating from a very black-and-white mentality, I believed it was either the gung-ho power yoga or none at all. After a massage, my therapist said “Your body needs yoga.” I said, “But what about all those poses I can’t do? That’s like the whole practice.” “Focus on what you can do,” he said. As soon as my shoulders were out of the game, my awareness shifted to other parts of my body that don’t normally get my attention, like my legs. Adapting a Baptiste Power Yoga class to get what I needed opened me up to a practice I’d never experienced before. Yoga felt like a whole new world (cue the song). My practice became so interesting I didn’t care if I couldn’t do certain poses. I had these amazing new tools to explore.
Is what I value really what I value? I learned something about myself when I was hurt: I give myself more worth only when I can do the physically hard stuff. I concluded that I must be “less than” if my body was failing. Is that really what I wanted to be about? I realized very quickly that it wasn’t. So I choose add more value to being someone who acts with self-love, grace, and a sense of humor than someone who can hold a handstand. When my values changed, my experience of being injured changed from anguish to ease.
It feels good to practice what you preach. “Baptiste Yoga is always accessible because it’s always adaptable,” I say in class. A lot. I encourage people to scale their practices based on where they are that day, and for people to be kinder to themselves in the process. Then when it’s my turn to walk the talk, I noticed myself pushing too hard and beating myself up. That’s weird. So I decided to own my practice, however vulnerable I felt, and show the connection that’s possible when I’m not trying to put on airs. I can be 100% powerful, even if my body isn’t 100%.
Jessica Kenny is a writer who teaches yoga or yoga teacher who writes, depending on the day. For a long time she did neither and was not very happy. She is in San Francisco and contributes articles to many online and print publications.