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QUESTION: "I had/am still healing from an injury. What should I do?"

Updated: Oct 11, 2021

First and foremost, if you were treated by a physician or other similar practitioner for your condition, had surgery or other invasive medical intervention, you need to have their clearance to proceed with any physical activity.

But, if like most, you are left in that gray area of “returning when ready” you may feel cautious at best or fearful at worst of stepping onto your mat. Or, the other end of the spectrum – you stubbornly never stepped off it and you want to barrel through your practice as though never having missed a beat. I will speak to both.

If you stay tuned to your needs, listening to what signals your body is giving you, all yoga is safe yoga.

Respect the language your body speaks. From primitive times to today, we have built-in warning systems between our limbs and our nervous system, and it is a well-traveled highway of information. Mind you, the highway is two way – so not only might our body register a pose or position and send information to our brain, or brain will also send out information interpreting and responding to that position, and that is what we need to identify and connect to.

To break it down, here are some important points regarding injuries that can help determine good, safe pain from pain that needs further attention:

Joint pain vs Muscle pain – our muscle bellies are the soft contours of our body – the fleshy curves that gives our yoga pants their shape. When we are deep in a pose, such Chair Pose, our thighs may burn and we feel tired and our muscles shake a bit… this is muscle fatigue, muscle effort, and it is fine. We can tolerate this safely knowing that we are remodeling our muscles to respond to the demand.

However, if in the same example, chair pose – we feel sharp discomfort in our knees, the actual hinge joint of movement, then we should honor that pain by modifying the pose and pulling up out of deep knee flexion, to reduce or eliminate that signal of harm.

Sometimes it is a small shift, a subtle adjustment, using a prop when we normally don’t, that can completely transform a pose from a difficult one to a tolerable one. Always ask your yoga teacher what adjustments might be needed in your expression of the pose. Very often, it is connection to the breath or a deeper muscle engagement.

If your pain is in that transition zone between muscle and joint, such as you feel high hamstring pain or deep buttock pain very close to the hip joint, it can be tendon. This is also a pain to be respected. Gentle, slow, deliberate movement can aid in the rehabilitation of these types of strain injuries, but pushing stretches to their limits and forcing powerful actions can trigger further damage. So, to use a yoga pose as an example for high hamstring pain, forward folds to the knees or shins may be tolerated but reaching for the floor or the big toes may be deferred until the condition improves. Or, quick and repetitive vinyasas or lunges may trigger further damage as the tendon tries to keep up with constant tension changes.

There are many complexities and intricacies to the various injuries we may experience and as many intricacies in the poses we explore in yoga. This is only a very superficial list of guidelines. A private yoga session with a physical therapist/yoga instructor with a thorough understanding of the anatomy of the body can be extremely beneficial for a safe return to regular classes.It may take one session or a few, but if you go in to the session with a well cultivated mind-body connection and the right attitude of respect for your body and honor for the practice, you can come out of such sessions armed with the confidence to get better and resume a practice that spreads loving kindness to the person that matters most:

The one who stands on your mat.

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