Yoga: Injuries Can Be Blessings in Disguise, by Lisa Kitteringham

A year ago, I was teaching a yoga class and something shifted in my hip. Nothing hurt at first, but after class, I could not put any weight on my right foot without excruciating pain shooting up my leg into my hip and back. Afterwards, I couldn’t walk for days and couldn’t practice asana for weeks. My ‘prescription’ was two-fold: one, to open up previously-ignored inner groin and inner thigh muscles, and two, to intensively strengthen my back and core to take the pressure off of my hips. My therapist-trainer told me I needed to learn how to dead-lift in order to balance out my body, which was too flexible in some places and too tight in others. He also started to teach me different stretches that were outside the context of yoga poses.

Injury often forces us to approach our practice in a new way instead of taking for granted the way we were taught. This often means we simply continue to practice yoga, but in a slightly modified way.

The gym seems anathema to many yogis – the entire context is foreign to the way we believe “yoga” should be. It also feels off-limits to many women, who see it as a testosterone-dominated space. The first time I worked out without my trainer, I felt like a fish out of water – but it was liberating to realize that (just like in a yoga class) nobody was paying attention to me, because they were all working on their own thing.

When I finally did go back to practice, it was with a whole new appreciation and understanding of the alignment of many standing poses. I began to see that the imbalances in my own body were reflected in many of my students’ bodies. My biggest challenge was to learn that some of my worst imbalances were from only doing some yoga asanas and no other exercise. We love to imagine that yoga is the be-all and end-all when it comes to exercise, but being injured in my normal practice through what is commonly taught as proper alignment showed me that we cannot take for granted what we are told. Shaking up my routine by learning to lift heavy weight has transformed my practice. Learning how to stretch beyond typical poses has helped me to become stronger, more flexible, and more aware of alignment than I have ever been.

This is not simply a revelation because it has helped me move my practice forward. Learning about the imbalances in my body has given me the chance to learn how to better protect my students and their bodies. Accessing places in my hips that were so tight that they were invisible in my consciousness has expanded my awareness of my body, my abilities, and my limitations. Learning to make my practice safer means it is more sustainable, so I can continue to practice without chronic-use injuries.

Being forced through injury to change my own practice was a blessing in disguise. It made me break down the habits that I had fallen into that allowed me to go into autopilot during my practices and come back to the moment-to-moment that is the most vital aspect. Changing my attitudes and habits towards “non-yoga” exercise has helped to balance my body and given me another opportunity to hone the mind-body connection that is at the centre of yoga.

“Habits allow us to not think about what we’re doing . . . giving us the illusion of ease. When we are under the illusion of ease, not thinking about what we’re doing, breathing the same old way, moving the same old way, thinking the same old way, we check out of the present, out of happiness itself.”

– Alex Levin

In her 13 years of practice and 5 years of teaching, Lisa Kitteringham has integrated her love of dance and yoga to create flowing meditation sequences that allow each student to increase their body awareness and ground their practice in a steady rhythm of breath. She is inspired every day by the moments of discovery in the minds and bodies of her students and by the moments of stillness she experiences in her own practice. For more information about Lisa, please visit www.groundedyogini.com.