Facing Injury without Fear

For most of us, at some time or another one or more body parts will begin to cause concern. Fortunately this is often temporary, and the body’s extraordinary resilience and natural intelligence deal with the issue, provided we cooperate and, where necessary, take appropriate action. Having an injury or weakened area is particularly frustrating when it prevents us from doing things we enjoy, or hinders us in these activities. The body will take its own measures to protect and heal the area, but it’s easy for the mind to get involved and start to interfere too. We can develop holding patterns and tensions, compensatory habits, change our posture when we sit or lie, or modify the way we move. Fear of hurting the area of concern can creep in, and this can lead to deeply ingrained and unnatural habits. This kind of vague, low level fear can be fairly unpleasant.

I experienced this with my knees. My range of movement had become limited, and I became used to unconsciously protecting them, expecting them to be easily hurt or strained. Accordingly, now and again they would cause me trouble, as if to confirm my belief. The condition influenced how I practised yoga, and certainly affected how I approached certain poses. I would skirt around the knees, and be apprehensive of bending, kneeling, or squatting. Furthermore, I was convinced that the only solution was to work around the knees, on hip and lower back flexibility. I would treat my knee joints almost with distrust, and certainly avoided with a vengeance asking anything of them.

And so things might have continued, while I got stiffer, rustier, and more resigned to these limitations. But then my path crossed that of a teacher[1] with many years of experience teaching from a therapeutic perspective. From the outset she put me straight back in touch with my knees. She asked me to see how far I could kneel, to do so and stay there a while. The first (unspoken) lesson then, was, “re-connect with your knees. Instead of avoiding them, find out where you’re at, breathe and bring conscious awareness into them, enquire of them, and listen”. This simple but profound switch in approach alone was greatly liberating. The second ‘lesson’, following on from the first, was “trust your body”. Instead of being over-protective of these joints, why not risk requesting them to resume more active service?

During the course of the subsequent weeks, I experienced an opening and improvement beyond anything I expected. Certainly the physical yoga therapy exercises worked, but perhaps more importantly, I felt a mental blockage slowly dissolving. And this reminded me of an insight a chiropractor[2] once shared with me. I had been to see him when in Mysore, following an injury unrelated to yoga. This chiropractor happened to be not just an excellent therapist, but also an experienced yoga practitioner. Each time I saw him, he would gently stress the importance of one’s mindset when recovering from an injury. One day he further shared, “Once you know how to move prana in your body, I believe you can recover from almost anything.” I liked what he said, and was encouraged by it, though I had no illusions about my mastery of prana… But it reminded me of something I had read, about qi gong. “Well,” I ventured, “in qi gong they do say that where mind goes, energy follows.” And in fact, visualizing energy moving through the body or circulating in different ways is an established part of qi gong practice.

The chiropractor, who had been examining my spine, one vertebra at a time, paused for a moment. Then he continued, in a measured tone: “Yes,” he said, “but the flip side of the coin, is that where mind gets stuck, energy flow is obstructed too.”

I was highly impressed – his insight struck me as profound, and I still ponder its implications, in terms of how the mind can help or hinder healing, to this day.

When anxiety or fear are present, and the mind becomes fixated on an area of the body, that is exactly what it is doing – getting stuck, crystallizing around one point. I have heard healing techniques described, in which a person visualizes white light going to an injured area, or imagines that body part fully restored to health, or sends love, compassion and healing to it. But I’ve often wondered if the degree of effort such exercises require is not, in fact, sending mixed messages to the body. All this volitional intention to make things better may, it seems to me, in fact be sending a subtle message that something is wrong. And is focusing so much on the issue not, in fact, reinforcing it, at least in a person’s psyche? Is the wanting to use the power of the mind to heal the problem, isolating the issue as a specific concern requiring mind-action, not, in effect, creating a subtle energy blockage?

But I digress. While the metaphor is imperfect, it seems to me that in a sense, the body is not unlike a child: if you tell it, “You can’t do this, you can’t do that,” it obediently obliges, by not questioning your beliefs. If, on the other hand, if you tell it, “Yes you can!” and gently prod it into trying, into doing, into doing again and then doing more, it responds with enthusiasm, and is eager to move beyond its limitations.

At any rate, my recent experience with therapeutic yoga has been an eye opener. Perhaps the chiropractor was right – when prana flows freely in the body, it can ‘fix’ almost anything.

 

[1] Rachel Grey : www.ashtangatherapy.com

[2] Rob Lamport @ Mysore Gonstead Chiropractic (see Facebook).

4 thoughts to “Facing Injury without Fear”

  1. This is something I have to learn. I broke the ACL ligament of my left knee long time ago (more than 10 years ago) and got it repaired using the hamstring tendon of the same leg. While I’m able to function normally, it does hurt me when I overexert. I have been careful with it. I just started learning Ashtanga yoga in Mysore this month. I notice the difference in capability of my right knee versus left knee. I can do the half padmasana folding my right knee and hold the big toe with my right hand from behind, but doing the same with my left knee is painful. I guess I have to gently prod it to fold and overcome the fear of tearing. Very timely post for me! Thank you!

    1. Hi Smita, thank you for commenting. That sounds like a nasty injury you had. Joints like heat, but as the saying goes, “If you rest, you rust” and if we stop using our joints to the full extent of their range of movement, pain and discomfort can appear regardless of a history of injury or not. I have found that it’s very important to keep breathing. Overcoming fear is necessary, but so is intelligent use of our joints. When the knee joint is not closed (the knee fully bent) there is a risk of torsion, so my teacher pointed out it’s best to try and get comfortable again simply kneeling (sitting on your heels), before getting too enthusiastic about lotus. And of course we need to distinguish between discomfort and slight reticence on behalf of the joint, and actual pain – the former are indicators of where we’re at, and can be worked through, the latter is a warning signal. All the best on your healing Journey. And our limitations in no way prevent us from having a good ashtanga practice that can benefit us a great deal:-)

  2. Very timely article for me as I’m trying to goad my ACL tear treated left knee to bend better while doing yoga. Asanas like Padmasana and half Padmasana (Bound half lotus forward bend while sitting) are painful on my left knee. Gentle, kind persistence seems to be the key.
    On another note, very nice blog- both the layout and the writing.

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