Eight years ago I was intensively practicing dropping back (into a back bend) and coming up again, when I felt something tear in my ankle. I had torn a ligament and a tendon. It developed into an excruciating pain and I did not walk again with ease for four years. The tears were slow to heal and I sometimes re-injured myself by returning prematurely to my previous level of practice. Many feelings surfaced in me. I was ashamed because here I was the tutor for the Keeping People Safe in Yoga Module of the Teacher Training Course we run at the Yoga Academy in Auckland New Zealand. I felt I should have known better than to let this accident happen. I was angry because at the time my teacher Sri K Pattabhi Jois had just moved me on nto Second Series of the Ashtanga Practice. I was also at times depressed as I recognized that I would have to work within certain physical limitations. I didn’t want to stop practicing, but I believed that I would never be able to reach my potential.
Gradually however, I began to discover that this injury had much to teach me. I recognized that the damage hadn’t been a single mistake on that fateful morning because of months of me pushing myself excessively to achieve this asana sequence. True yogic development is a slow unfolding, not unlike that of a lotus flower on a pond – it happens in its own time and pace. I realized my injury happened in part because of my effort to accelerate my progress, without clear attention to my true condition. My calves and Achilles tendon are very strong – and this was indeed why I was a top speed short distance runner when in my twenties. My lower back curve is not deep and my back muscles are very strong and not overly flexible. But my strong mind was focused on the result I strongly desired! I needed to cool off, slow down, tame my ambition and accept my body’s limits, practice more quietly and meditatively, breathe and surrender to what is.
For a long time I was unable to practice back bends and postures that required a great deal of weight bearing through the ankles. I began to use this limitation as an opportunity to improve my forward bends and hip opening poses. Eventually I could resume practice of these poses with care and attention to creating a healing in the area. I learnt about anatomy and muscular imbalances that would’ve been in my body and thus contributed to the injury. I noticed too that I was over-compensating in certain ways to protect the injury. As I understood and corrected these problems, my ankle pain slowly dissipated. Now, eight years later, while I still must be careful I can practice drop backs with support of the teachers.
From this injury I learnt many lessons:
- Be aware of the tendency toward competitiveness and yogic ambition.
- Approach yoga with the proper attitude of ahimsa, mindfulness and compassion.
- Find teachers to support you in your practice and help you avoid injuries.
- Explore other ways of working on the issue and consider what the injury has to teach you about pre-existing muscular imbalances.
- Acknowledge emotions that emerge such as feelings of worthlessness, disappointment, rage or depression.
- Be brave and stay on the yoga path.