It finally happened. I suffered an acute injury in my yoga practice. I pulled my left hamstring near its insertion on my sit bone.
I’ve had yoga related injuries before. Several of them. But they have been “wear and tear” injuries caused by poor technique or over exertion repeated over time. This is the first time I’ve heard or felt something pop and crumble in the middle of practice. Not fun.
Unfortunately for my ego (and my hammie!), this injury was not a freak accident. It was the culmination of several fateful events that took place that day, during which at any point I could have, and should have, been wiser. Here is the story of what went down. My hope is that you can learn from it and lower the chance of injury in your own practice.
The day started ordinarily enough. I went to a Barre class in the morning, which I’ve recently added to my regimen to supplement my yoga practice. My legs, hamstrings included, get a great workout, and I’m still adjusting to the additional tax this class puts on my body. This turned out to be the fateful turn of events #1.
After lunch, I taught a demo yoga class at a local studio. It wasn't a particularly demanding session, but while teaching I could tell my muscles were weak from the Barre class. More importantly though, it pushed my personal practice from its usual time in the early afternoon to later in the evening. Fateful turn of events #2.
I’ve been meaning to attend the new evening yoga class we have at our fitness studio. When my normal practice got pushed back, I got the bright idea to use this class as my practice for the day instead of doing my usual home practice. Even though it’s not Ashtanga, I figured one time couldn’t hurt. So I went. Fateful turn of events #3
I got to the studio, and the first thing I noticed was that the room was cold. The air conditioning was set to 75 degrees. This is much colder than I’m used to, especially when the air is blowing directly on me. I should have moved away from the air vent to the back of room where it is warmer. Fateful turn #4.
Class begins. It’s typical vinyasa flow stuff like sun salutations that I repeatedly mess up because they aren’t what I’m used to. We only do a few. Then we move on to standing postures, but, because of the cold room and light warm-up, I’m not as warm as I usually am when I do them in my own practice. Fateful turn #5.
We get to triangle pose. I lean into my hip joint and begin to reach down to grab my big toe, just as I’ve done time and again. But this time, I feel something pop and crumble behind my femur bone. What is normally the harmless, ubiquitous, “trikonasa pop” turned into a full blown earthquake underneath my hip joint.
I imagined the worst, but thankfully, when I woke up the next day, it was…not so bad. Even more so now that it’s been a few days, I’m confident it was a mild tear that with proper TLC, will heal on its own within six months to a year. It will be challenging, but I know I’ll learn a lot as I navigate this injury. Bring it on.
But I want to discuss the fateful turns of events that day. As I previously mentioned, there were multiple circumstances throughout the day that led me to the injury. I could have stopped myself at any point and said, "This is more than I should do." It is our obligation as responsible yoga practitioners to be present in our bodies and truthful in our minds. I was neither. I ignored warning signs and deluded myself that everything was fine.
I should not have gone to the vinyasa class. I was too fatigued to be branching out to a new class at a new time. I should have done a very light practice in the warmth of my normal practice space. I should have shown a greater reverence for my body’s adjustment period after taking on a new physical activity like the Barre class. I should have moved my mat away from the cold air. Combined with the gentler style of yoga, my body was simply too cold to move like I normally do. Sure, Trikonasana is a basic pose, and I’ve probably performed it literally a thousand times, but that doesn’t mean I should show it any less respect.
Also, I may like to think of Ashtanga as more challenging than the average flow class, but good grief, that doesn't give me a get-out-of-injury-free card. I should have humbled myself before this new pattern of movement. Foolishly, I was less present during class because, deep down, I believed it wasn’t a “real" practice. I should have been surveying my body with keen awareness because of my fatigue, the temperature of the room, and the difference in style. I was totally out of my element and acted far too cavalier.
Shoulda, coulda, woulda. I can’t do anything about it now, but you can. That’s not to say we can avoid every injury, because, unfortunately, even lying in bed will eventually harm us. Life hurts sometimes. But we can minimize the frequency and severity of our injuries by being smart, humble, and mindful. Heed my warning. Don’t overdo your physical activity. Don’t push through genuine fatigue. Don’t let your guard down in “easy” classes. Warm your body well even for basic postures. Don’t underestimate your risk of injury. It’s vital that we don’t push ourselves to do what we think we *should* be able to do, but that we listen to what we can *actually* safely do. One too many times I’ve taken on too much in my practice because of some arbitrary standard I’ve set for myself. This time, I paid the price.
Take care of yourself. I know I will be.