Preventative Yoga: How My Lifelong Practice Helped Me Heal Faster
Just two days before Christmas last year, a deceptive patch of ice took me down as I was heading back to the recycling dumpster. The minute I hit the ground, I knew my arm was broken. It was only adrenaline that made me pop back up and dash into the house to let my visiting daughters know that I was badly injured and would need them to call and cancel the classes I was to teach shortly. My x-ray and CT scan showed spiral fracture of the humerus (upper arm bone), right below the shoulder. The bone was shattered, and surgery was indicated.
The minute I hit the ground, I knew my arm was broken.
Now, as a yoga therapist, I have a lot of people coming to me for help following such accidents. They rarely come before such an event (as we can’t anticipate these things), although I’m quite sure my own yoga practice has on numerous occasions saved me from such dastardly falls. I would sometimes slip but then find a foothold and catch myself. On this day, there was no foothold, and landing on my elbow was the best I could do. (I’m eternally grateful it wasn’t my hip, my spine, or my head—those can easily take the brunt in such accidents. And even my elbow escaped injury!)
In this case, I was very grateful to have an established dinacharya (daily ayurvedic routine) and sadhana (daily yoga practice) even pre-surgery, as they grounded me and prepared me for the healing to come. The remarkable thing, though, has been the speed with which my body is rebounding after the shoulder reconstruction. After the plate and screws were in place, and I was still anesthetized, the surgeon tested my arm and explored my range of motion. He was actually giddy at how smoothly the shoulder functioned! (Update: At eight weeks post-surgery he expects 100% return to full range of motion!)
One day after I was released, I was able to ditch my sling (with permission, of course) and use my arm as it felt comfortable. I could cut tofu and snip kale, experiment with the physical therapy movements prescribed, and also do a modified wall-dog with my arms even with my ears. I weaned rapidly from the pain meds, and I slayed my breathing tests post-surgery. As yoga teachers and students, we often tout the pain-relieving benefits of diaphragmatic breathing—but applied to real-life pain, we really get a chance to see the sheer brilliance of our physiological design.
We obviously have no clue what surprises may be in store for these flesh-mobiles we drive around. Given this, it may be our inclination to do just a couple of our favorite yoga postures each morning and then get on with our day—and that’s certainly better than no maintenance. But any mechanic will tell you that while keeping your car clean and fueled up is important, you’d also better change your oil and keep good tread on your tires. A sustaining yoga/ayurveda plan, as opposed to just a couple of favorite postures, provides a tune-up that strengthens your weak areas, stretches your tight areas, and makes the body more uniformly resilient. Following my fall, I began including a lot of cross-patterning in my daily practice (crossing the midline of the body, and doing different movements with right and left sides) in order to deal with disrupted sleep and dream cycles post-surgery.
In addition to asana, a well-rounded yoga/ayurveda tune-up should include cleansing practices such as neti and tongue scraping, breathing practices for emotional strength and for stress management, systematic relaxation (regularly practiced), and meditation. Additionally, I find it especially helpful to have an intentional check-in practice such as bhuta shuddhi, moving my attention through the chakras to identify energetic stagnation and excess. This helps me to see where work is needed, and I can then dose with mantra and breath accordingly.
Why are these yoga practices so important for healing? Having mind/breath methods in place makes it easy to remember how to swim when the current gets rough—learning helpful techniques after an injury or distressing incident is much more difficult. I wish I would have had these methods following car accidents I’d experienced, or when my husband and I were going through the death of our daughter. While it would not have removed the suffering, it could have helped with navigating daily life and human interaction. And when things are most challenging, mindful breathing can help to lessen the intensity of the pain we experience.
Having mind/breath methods in place makes it easy to remember how to swim when the current gets rough—learning helpful techniques after an injury or distressing incident is much more difficult.
I’m not telling this story to boast. I’m just excited at how effective yoga is when practiced therapeutically—which involves the maintenance as well as the repair. Life gives us myriad opportunities to see that yoga is so much more than achieving great poses. In so many ways, it deepens and sustains the quality of life. I will be forever grateful for what this practice has afforded me. And I am continually humbled by the profound and powerful science of yoga.
Beth Spinder C-IAYT, ERYT500 is a yoga therapist, teacher, and published writer on yoga related subjects. A frequent contributor to YogaInternational.com, she has offered yoga therapy in hospitals, clinics, and schools and has been on staff as a yoga therapist at the Himalayan Institute, Omega Institute, and in centers for addiction and recovery. Beth travels worldwide offering inspiring retreats and trainings at Sivananda Ashrams and private retreat centers. She has studied and taught yoga... Read more>>