How Yoga Helped Me Heal After a Traumatic Car Accident


I like to say yoga is medicine and gratitude is magic. 

Yoga is medicine for me because of what it offered me after I survived a traumatic car accident in October 2019.

If yoga had not been in my life before the accident, I don’t know where I would be in my recovery today. Even though I experienced multiple health challenges as a result, including resuscitation, a ruptured spleen, a severe traumatic brain injury (TBI), a deflated lung, five fractures in my pelvis, a broken clavicle, and 10 broken ribs, I was back on my yoga mat in just under three months.

During the initial healing stages, I remained in an intensive care trauma unit for three weeks, and an inpatient rehabilitation for two. In my last week of rehab, when I was conscious enough to understand, I learned the heart-wrenching news that my partner, David, had passed away on impact. Now a little over a year later, and deep into the COVID-19 pandemic, my grief for David and the harmony in my life before this traumatic event still overtakes me in waves.

My mat offers me a safe space to go to, helping me process what I am feeling by allowing me to move the grief around in my body and connect with my breath

On days when I feel centered and calm, with a clear mind, I am able to find gratitude, even for this tragic experience. I say that gratitude is magic because at the beginning of my recovery, I would journal every morning about the gratitude I felt for being alive, for healing, and for all the support in my life. This helped me to see the bigger picture by shifting my focus away from the negative toward more hopeful and encouraging emotions.

On days when I feel centered and calm, with a clear mind, I am able to find gratitude, even for this tragic experience.

One thing I hoped for was to return to my practice.

Once I was discharged from the acute rehab center, before I could walk or move again without pain, I laid in bed dreaming about that day I would practice yoga again. I felt frustration building related to both the physical and emotional distress of knowing that I wasn’t able to move my body like I could before the accident. 

Thankfully, I didn't have to wait too long.

Just two weeks after my doctor gave me the go-ahead to walk again, I woke up one morning (January 4, 2020) with an innate confidence that I could return to yoga.

There could have been a number of reasons I healed so quickly. Perhaps I was motivated by the memory of practicing together with David. David was a yogi as well, and I wanted to connect with him on my mat again. In that pre-pandemic time, classes were still open, and it felt right for me to come back to yoga by attending the same yin class we went to on our second date. When I made my way to the studio for the first time again, I felt a mix of emotions on top of the grief I was experiencing, and although my body was sore and stiff, I was also ready to stretch and relax.

I was anxious, but excited at the same time. 

Once I placed my mat on the floor, I felt the now all-too-familiar pain around my pelvis and shoulders. After sitting down on my mat with as much ease as possible, I started taking deep ujjayi inhales, sending breath and awareness to the dull ache around my pelvis. Then, after our centering practice, the teacher guided us toward uttana shishosana (extended puppy pose). This used to be one of my favorite asanas because of its heart-opening benefits, and for the relief it always provided my shoulders. At this time in my recovery, however, it wasn’t as comfortable or helpful.

Fortunately, with time and patience, the pain in my left shoulder faded.

These days, along with still doing physical therapy, I am able to stick to an almost daily yoga practice. I always try to be as transparent as I can with my teachers (who are mostly virtual now) about my limitations and I have slowly learned how to adapt and make modifications for myself in certain poses.

For example, because of the injuries to my pelvis, I still can’t sit directly on a hard surface without experiencing pain in my tailbone, so I place a soft cushion or blanket underneath me, which makes seated poses more accessible. 

These small changes reflect a bigger change—namely that since the accident, my relationship with yoga has radically deepened overall.

While I was familiar with mindfulness before, healing both the physical and emotional trauma associated with my car accident, in part through yoga, has granted me a uniquely personal opportunity to gain more profound insight into my mind-body connection. Because of this, I am now more in tune with my body than ever, and I can almost always feel when something seems off, needs attention, and then adjust.  

Despite all the physical and emotional pain I have endured, I am grateful for my body’s ability to heal and the tremendous progress I have made. Now that the pain in my shoulder has faded, I am again able to sink comfortably into an extended puppy pose. I have also regained enough stamina to flow through a full-length class as well as the strength and flexibility to again balance in different asanas—and even come into headstand

Despite all the physical and emotional pain I have endured, I am grateful for my body’s ability to heal.

In the past year since the accident and now living in a world with COVID, my grief not only changed my practice, it has taught me so much about life, love, and loss. I also know that there are still so many lessons to learn.

For one, healing is not linear and my grief will continue to take time to process. 

Every time I practice, I feel gratitude for the space yoga gives me to connect with David’s memory and to move through my emotions surrounding his loss. Movement also helps me to internalize that these feelings are not forever. I see now that impermanence is an inherent part of life, which helps me cultivate more inner peace. 

I know there is still a long road ahead of me in processing my trauma. However, as my journey continues, I will remain grounded in self-love and healing, right here on my mat where yoga is my medicine, and practicing gratitude is magic.

About the Teacher

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Nikki Mammano
Movement is medicine and a creative outlet for Nikki Mammano. She gravitated towards yoga for its healing... Read more