You may be familiar with the term “wounded healer”. The idea is that one has to go through his or her own healing journey in order to be able to help someone else. For the last month, I’ve been a wounded yogini after a fairly innocuous warm-up left me with an odd feeling in my left upper quadrant with radiating, tingly pain down my arm into my fingers.

The warm-up was nothing that “should” have injured me. However, due to pre-existing conditions, it was enough to get my attention. And really, it’s a good thing, because if I hadn’t of been made aware of the state of my neck, which I’ll get to in a moment, I could have done even more serious damage.

I took a trip to the doctor, something I really dislike. My generalist is also a chiropractor, and while in ordinary circumstances, that would have been helpful, in my case, it probably wasn’t. He adjusted me and successfully corrected the numbness in my last two digits, but then the problem moved to my index finger, which is another nerve entirely, and has been there ever since.

The diagnosis has been somewhat unexpectedly complex. After the requisite x-rays and an MRI, it was discovered that I have several issues (and probably should not have been given an adjustment at all!): reverse curve; at least one herniated disk contributing to my current thoracic outlet syndrome, which is the pain down the arm into my finger; cervical stenosis or a narrowing of the space around the spinal cord; and osteoarthritis. OH MY!

Now, as a person who loves to move, this isn’t terribly exciting news, but as a former costume character dancing in costumes that exerted incredible weights on the head, it’s not entirely a surprise either! Nor is it the end of the world. Yes, I have to make some changes to my personal practice and teaching methods, some for the time-being and others longer term.

The good news is, that while I couldn’t even type with my left index finger two weeks ago, now I can. So there’s definitely improvement to the acute issue. I’m also fortunate enough not to need any pain medication (despite the lunch sack of prescriptions my doctor attempted to give me). Gentle stretching, herbal remedies, kineseotaping, “scientific healing affirmations” as taught by Paramhansa Yogananda, and essential oils have so far been enough, and for that I am incredibly grateful.

In regards to my yoga practice, three things come to mind:

  1. yoga is so much more than the asanas, some of which I will never be able to do again…and that’s okay
  2. this experience is helping me to redefine and clarify “my yoga” and how I want to share it
  3. I’m now better equipped to help other people with similar issues to do what they can without exacerbating a condition

In this post, I want to talk solely about the first point and leave the others for another time.

It’s interesting. In learning about my conditions, I have come across a lot of writings by other yoga teachers or people who wanted to be yoga teachers describing injuries that either shut them down or forced them to change their approach to yoga. Those that loved yoga for its purely physical aspects definitely have a harder time coping with injury. I consider myself blessed to know that yoga is not just about asanas or postures. Yoga is about right lifestyle and developing resilience. It’s about the breath, concentration, meditation, absorption, and ultimately, liberation. Fortunately, the only aspect of my yoga that will need to adapt is the asana aspect. And considering my style of yoga was already very somatically inclined, and more about the intuitive, interoception than the pose, perhaps it won’t have to change all that much.

Given my diagnosis, I know for at least the time being that I shouldn’t be jumping up and down, nor should I perform twists towards the side of the injury. Away is fine. Nor can I lie supine without neck support. For now, I also need to stay away from poses that put undo pressure into my arm or shoulder such as downdog and plank. While backbends would likely be helpful for my herniated disk, the arthritis and stenosis would preclude me from doing any, at least in the fashion that traditional yoga teaches. Certainly, I won’t want to bear any body weight on my head or neck, as in plough pose (a favorite) or headstand (which I never did anyway!), and I need to be mindful with arms overhead. Forward bends are a go, though. Woohoo!

Here also is where I am grateful that my movement practice has never been limited to yoga. Certain energization exercises (as taught by Paramhansa Yogananda) and somatic exercises are still good as are some developmental movement explorations. I can also indulge in restorative poses, nerve glides, chi gong, tensegrity, and pranayama (of course!).

Whatever I do do, I just have to practice what I always preach: work slowly, let the body lead, and honor your limitations. Going through this is making me a master of pose modifications and variations, which leads more into my third point above about being a better teacher. Though I just realized, I hate that word, ‘teacher’. I want to be more of a facilitator to movement exploration.

So there it is. That’s where things currently stand for this wounded yogini. Stay tuned for more posts about my personal yoga theory and upcoming changes to my classes this Fall.