I injured my back while weightlifting in December, and four months later I'm still not totally healed. The sprain makes it uncomfortable to sit for longer than a few minutes, makes me nervous when I bend over to tie my shoes, and puts any exercise besides walking and yoga pretty much out of the question. Anyone who knows me can tell you I'm an active person - when I make plans with friends, half of the time I'm trying to get them to go rock climbing or hiking with me. At least, until I injured myself. It's been maddening to be confined to brisk strolls and gentle stretching, but recovering has definitely taught me a lot about patience and self-awareness. (Disclaimer: I'm incredibly grateful that my injury isn't any worse than it is - on the larger scale of things, it's pretty mild.)
When I think back to how I injured myself, it's become clear over time that it happened because i wasn't listening to my body. I was doing an intense workout for time that involved hang cleans and tricep dips, and as the clock counted down I felt my back cramping up more and more. However, my competitive nature drove me to finish the workout. I wish I had listened to my back and just stopped.
Since that workout, yoga has helped me a great deal physically and mentally. Keeping my muscles limber puts less strain on the injured back muscle, and gives me a little taste of the endorphins I miss so much. Yoga also forces me to be patient with myself - to hold the pose a little longer than I'd like, to not push myself too hard when I feel the weakness cry out in my back. I started doing yoga a couple of years ago, and never before had I been so attuned to my body. I'm no expert - still plunking along at the beginner level - but the meditative act of scanning your body to see how it's feeling has changed how I think about fitness and exercise. I still feel competitive and like to think that my downward dog looks better than that of the person next to me, but I'm also seeing within me more kindness towards myself and my body. I'm more okay with taking a rest or making a pose easier when my body says it needs it. With this change in mentality, I hope soon I'll start to have days where I don't have to think about my back injury. And of course, I hope it prevents more injuries as I ease back into an active routine.
All of the inspiration for writing these thoughts down came from a photoshoot I did last week with Mickey Barr of Sila Yoga (homepage photo by yours truly!). Mickey is an Ashtanga Yoga teacher and orthopedic massage therapist in Cambridge, MA, and we got together at sunrise in Harvard to take some photos for his new Instagram. The control, strength, and flexibility he exhibited in both mind and body was awesome to witness. Check out these examples of his yoga prowess: