I returned from my yoga teacher training with much enthusiasm, joy and a feeling of fulfillment. After all, a dream of decades had finally come to fruition. What a sense of accomplishment!
Attempting to connect to my yoga community, I began taking classes at local studios. Many teachers and owners looked askance at me when I mentioned “Kundalini” yoga – either not fully appreciating the technique or not fully understanding how it could be integrated with Hatha or Vinyasa.
I went to one class that advertised “DeTox Fridays” and found a bar of wine set up at the registration desk. When I asked what that was about, the receptionist said gleefully, “Oh, that’s for re-tox after class!” I took my credit card back and left.
Another class was touted as “Healing Saturday” which sounded like something anyone could use. I arrived at the studio early, took my place, and warmed up my body in preparation for class. One by one students arrived, and with each one, adjustments were made with mats to make room for the ever-increasing numbers. The room became warmer, the teacher raised the temperature in the room, and class began. I was exactly four inches from my neighbors on either side.
Despite having a towel on the mat and a large washcloth to wipe my hands, I was slipping and sliding through each asana like a skater on fresh ice. The room became even hotter still, and the sweat was now a downpour on my body. Normally I love the feeling, but I couldn’t hold a pose in position for the soaked towel, mat, hands and dripping from my forehead.
Side plank was called – we all shifted to our sides, raised our bodies, and then the instruction to “flip the dog” (really?!) was made, and legs went up in the air to come down behind the supporting leg – which is when my neighbors foot slammed into my thigh – my supporting hand started sliding – and in order not to fall into my opposite neighbor – I braced myself with my other leg……
Which is when I felt the worst kind of zing of searing pain in my left hamstring at the femur joint that I have ever known. I knew instantly that I had injured either the hamstring or surrounding tissue, and between gasping for breath and adjusting to a child’s pose to center myself, my heart sank.
Eyes closed, breathing steadily, heart racing and pain radiating throughout the back of my left thigh, I was almost brought to tears.
When I felt it was safe to do so, I came up to a sitting position, gathered my soaked towels, rolled up my mat, and gingerly stepped between the narrow spaces of mats to leave the studio.
In the car, I burst into tears.
This was an injury I could ill afford. This was also an injury that should not have happened but for the fact that the studio was crowded: too crowded for participant safety in my opinion, as not only a practitioner but also as a yoga instructor.
I am 62 years old. I know only too well that my body now takes double the time to heal.
A week later, as I was doing chaturanga during my morning practice, something caught in my upper right arm, and I thought my shoulder was going to pop out of its socket. Although I was able to recover, the bursa in my upper arm starting burning as if on fire every time I tried to lift it above shoulder height.
Thinking that a long stretching routine would help the body to unkink and de-tense from these recent reactions – the next day I got on my yoga-wheel and began my routine. Feeling the muscles stretch, the tension subside, and the body relax, I smiled to myself with gratitude that perhaps the body would return more quickly that I originally thought.
For some reason, my ego decided that I could attempt a more advanced pose on the wheel – after all, I was well stretched, warm, and the hamstring and shoulder could benefit from some more work.
I struck the pose, and inwardly cheered to myself — what an accomplishment! – and promptly fell.
The resounding crack in the rib area and the inability to breathe along with the shock of falling left me suspended in time… mere seconds elongated into a sense of hours…. a minute felt like a day.
Later, after x-rays in the emergency room, and a full examination of hamstring and shoulder, the pronouncement was made: No broken ribs but badly bruised chest wall; nerve damage to the hamstring area; and an aggravated bursa.
The prescription for six to eight weeks of physical therapy handed to me with a compassionate look from the doctor, “I’m so sorry about this. You’ll be back yoga soon. Just give it time.”
Two days later, my youngest dog decided to use my left foot as a launching pad to race out of the bedroom and down the stairs to greet someone at the door. The scream that emitted from my throat felt as if it came from someone else. The pain in my small toe was incomprehensible.
First the swelling; then dark blue and black colors emerged from the skin to become dirty greenish yellow. Not broken, but badly sprained.
Which is when I stopped all physical activity and spiraled down into a glum state of mind.
It has taken many, many, weeks since these events to return to my center and to accept the causes and conditions of what transpired.
And this is what I’ve learned……
- Rehabilitation is its own reward; working my body from the very beginning, from the ground up, and from every muscle, fiber, tissue, ligament, and nerve, I am discovering a new way to move, and a newfound strength.
- My yoga practice is slower, more intentioned, and the accommodations that I have made in asanas are in and of themselves newfound poses. A forward bend may no longer be the 90-degree fold, but instead, it is contained and has a possibility for a future at 60 degrees.
- The breath informs movement now more than ever; and with each breath the structure of my body is rebuilding itself, discovering its own return.
- Physical therapy now has me on a treadmill, a stair master, and a rowing machine three to four times a week. I am back in the gym and loving it. Loving the cardiovascular high of endurance and strength. Loving feeling the effects of muscles working back to full capacity.
- Patience and self-compassion have become easier since my acceptance that I am no longer the 20 or 30-year-old woman I used to be. I have to keep my ego in check as my age really does define me now. To that end, I am willing to accept what a healthy 62-year-old body can and can’t do. It can rebound – it just takes a little longer. It can still perform at its peak but for shorter distances or less time.
- It is a body that has time and again forgiven me for injuries and harm done to return to loving what I put it through.
Today, I take master classes twice a month in New York with a community of like-minded yoga practitioners. I practice on my own mat using my own techniques. Above all, I respect the limits and limitations these injuries have caused, and I am encouraged by my progress in this journey of rehabilitation and renewal.
As for teaching, I am committed to beginners, and to those with injuries. The former affords me the opportunity to instruct using correct techniques, alignment, and conditions for the practice of yoga. In the latter, my goal is to share solutions with those who have similarly been injured and show students how they do not have to sacrifice their yoga practice while recovering.
Kimberley L. Berlin, LCSW, CSAC, SAP, NCRC, is the owner of Compassionate Beginnings, LLC, a private integrated therapy practice in Leesburg, Virginia. Her work focuses primarily on the treatment of addiction, trauma, anxiety and depression. She hosts workshops focused on wellness using Yoga, breath work and meditation to reduce stress and engage in a more balanced life.
Kimberley is a public speaker, author, and educator and is working on her first book.
(photographs are (c) creative commons.)