For those who have been following my blog, you may recall that in my last post I wrote rather enthusiastically about the first few days of the 200-hr Anahata Rising Yoga Teacher Training in early January.
I am still very poised to complete the next several months of the YTT program (graduation isn’t until June); but, there has been a bit of a wrench thrown into the equation. You see, a few days ago I sustained a severe sprain to my left mid-foot area (which, upon subsequent research, I discovered is not an uncommon injury amongst aspiring yogis).
Initially, I did not feel any pain in my foot after my yoga practice on Monday evening or Wednesday morning (my usual routine mid-week). But, early Thursday morning, at around 2 am, I felt an intense pain in the arch of my left foot that was almost worse than the other extreme pain I have felt in my foot by way of gout (and that particular condition is thanks to my family genetics).
I immediately knew something was wrong. I knew it wasn’t a gout attack. I knew I had to see a doctor. I rushed myself to the medical clinic across the street from my home and saw the first doctor attending that morning. I could barely walk into the medical clinic by myself. I knew this was going to be bad.
The doctor settled me down and asked me how I sustained this injury to my left foot. I said “I don’t exactly know, doctor, but I believe it’s connected to my yoga practice.” He replied: “Oh, your yoga practice? Are you an avid practitioner?” I said: “Yes, I attend practice 5 to 6 times a week.” His eyes opened wide at me: “5 to 6 times a week? That’s very ambitious. How long have you been keeping at this regime?” I responded: “It will be 18 months in February.” His face had a complete look of surprise and bewilderment. Without saying more to me, he said gently: “I have a hunch that your body is trying to tell you to take a rest from yoga, Alexander. We will send you out for an x-ray this morning. But I want you to remember this: rest from injury can teach you important lessons about the practice of yoga.”
Rest from injury can teach me important lessons about the practice of yoga. Without him saying so, was this doctor trying to tell me that he was also an avid yoga practitioner? He didn’t tell me one way or the other, because I was sent away from the x-ray within minutes of attending the clinic.
I could not get the doctor’s stoic words out of my mind. They followed me into the car, on the drive to the x-ray clinic, and during the x-ray itself. In fact, my mind kept shifting from his words and something my yoga instructor shared with me just a few weeks ago: There is no yin without yang; no light without dark. One cannot exist without the other. It is so in the practice of yoga.
And then, all of a sudden, lying on the cold x-ray table with innumerable gadgets and strange medical tools surrounding me, I closed my eyes and began to breathe as I have learned to do in my morning pranayama (breath control) and mindfulness meditation practice. A vivid image came to my mind. It was a scene from my Grade 9 junior high volleyball match – I reached up off the floor to block the opposing team’s attack, and when I came down, I landed hard on my left ankle and it rolled. I couldn’t get up; my coach had to carry me off to the bench. I was on crutches for the next month and unable to weight bear on my left foot at all.
This experience occurred when I was 14 years old. Almost exactly 20 years ago. But, over the years, I had literally forgotten that I had suffered a previous injury to my left foot during my adolescence. I had been, for the most part, injury free after that experience in junior high school, and in fact, have felt the most healthy and fit while expanding my yoga practice.
The x-ray came back the next morning, and it confirmed I have a severe sprain to my left mid-foot area (just above the arch), which is actually better than what I had expected. There are no broken bones or a need for a cast. But, I will be on crutches for the next 3 to 4 weeks to allow my injury to heal.
We must listen to our body – even when we feel it is unbreakable – because it never, ever lies.
I have many friends who have suffered any variety of sports-related injuries over the years. I am constantly amazed at the resolve of those of my friends who see injury as a learning tool that have made them stronger, wiser, and much more mindful of their body’s physical limits going forward.
For me, my injury has been tremendously humbling. On the one hand, I listened to my body when it was in an unhealthy, lethargic, and sedentary state (caused in my mind by over-work and unmitigated stress in private practice). I needed to “wake up”. I made a choice nearly 18 months ago – after my diagnosis of arrhythmia and gout – not to walk the plank to an early heart attack or other disabling medical condition. So, after changing my law career to public practice, I made a conscious choice one day to walk into the yoga studio and never looked back. That is how I believe yoga literally saved my life.
And yet, here I am 18 months later, learning exactly the same lesson about my body that I have spoken about in my earlier posts, but in a different way. Here, the lesson is more nuanced: we must listen to our body – even when we feel it is unbreakable – because it never, ever lies.
At this juncture, I am learning that equilibrium – the balance between light and dark, yin and yang – is vitally important to our mental well-being as much as it is to our physical well being.
I am disappointed of course that I will not be able to participate in yoga asana (or posture) practice over the next several weeks (I am using crutches and a foot/ankle brace). But, as I prepare to head back to my yoga training, I intend to commit myself to other aspects of the yogic life: svadhyaya (self-study) through the practice of meditation, pranayama, and gratitude practice. I will do so openly and with an attitude of positivity, humility, and self-remembrance. I also hope to dig into a number of the required readings for the teacher training course, including the yoga anatomy text The Key Muscles of Yoga by Dr. Ray Long, and the recommended chakra text Eastern Body Western Mind by Dr. Anodea Judith.
It has been shown in the anecdotal and scientific literature that meditation can help heal injuries faster for those on the journey of recovery. Part of the reason is because those who engage in mindfulness meditation do not blame themselves for the trajectory of their post-injury recovery; they simply accept what is, is.
That is why I intend to immerse myself in my mindfulness meditation practice over this next period – to simply “be” at once with the thoughts that abound in my mind and my body without judging any of them. But, simply accepting that right here, right now – this is exactly where I am supposed to be in my journey, and it is an experience I am meant to learn from.
My hope is that when I am fully able to resume my yoga practice, I will do so in a way that is ever mindful and attentive to the messages that are communicated to me and through me by my body. One of those messages is undeniable: this is not a practice founded on quantity over quality, of agility over stillness – but one that aspires always to attaining a healthy equilibrium between body, mind, and spirit.
I would venture a guess that those who have ascended the path to the summit of self-discovery, exploration and personal growth would not have done so without accepting that where there is success, there is disappointment. Where there is light, there is dark. Where there is yang, there must always be yin.
In closing, I offer the words of the beloved Chinese philosopher Zhuangzi, who said this about the vital relationship between yin and yang:
“So it is said, for him who understands Heavenly joy, life is the working of Heaven; death is the transformation of things. In stillness, he and the yin share a single Virtue; in motion, he and the yang share a single flow.”
-Zhuangzi, The Complete Works of Chuang-Tzu
For those who are on the path of recovery from injury, may you find peace and comfort in the knowledge that you are exactly where you are meant to be in this moment. The journey may be slow, but the destination is not what matters. Slow down, take a breath, and see things for what they are: bliss and pain, light and dark, yin and yang.
May we all embrace the energy of yin and yang more fully in our lives, and remember that neither aspect is superior to the other. They are, as they have always been – inseparable, one and the same.
I wish you happiness, hope, and love. Always.