Coulson Duerksen

From Injury to Insight: My Practice Off My Mat

Having recently been ill, then on vacation, I was excited to get back on my mat. But as soon as I did, the unimaginable happened: I injured my hip to the point of not being able to walk without the aid of crutches. I was in severe pain, unable to tend to my basic needs and those of my family, yet all I could think about was the setback I was facing in my yoga practice.

You see, until that point, my practice was going really well.  I was strong, flexible, and confident on my mat.  Off my mat, I felt loving and kind toward everyone I encountered. I was focused in my work, and able to switch gears easily from mom to colleague, to wife, to teacher, to friend and more. I believed I was truly living my yoga.

Being in pain that necessitated rest (doctor’s orders) left me frustrated and cranky.  Thoughts swirled around my head: “How quickly would I regain my practice?”  “Would I ever be able to make back the ground I had gained so effortlessly prior to my illness and injury?” “Would my students judge me if they saw me modifying my practice?”   Then, one morning as I struggled to sit without pain during meditation, it dawned on me: I had become most un-yogic. I had become competitive -- with myself!  

I realized that my hip injury was not a coincidence.  The hips are located in the First Chakra – Mulandara.  Directly prior to my injury, I had started feeling restless and at the same time weighed down. I thought perhaps I needed dig out from under work deadlines, or that I just needed to get away from family and every day chores that had taken over my life. But, what I learned was that, rather than digging out, what I really needed was to dig in; to become more committed, even more rooted. 

A week later as I continue to recover, I have learned some very important lessons:

You must have strong roots in order to spread your wings: When our roots are shallow, we feel burdened by our commitments.  We are easily upheaved by the smallest of inconveniences or distractions. Everything from family to work to our ability to create abundance becomes difficult or stagnant. Recommitting to my roots has allowed me to confidently ask for what I need and want. Reclaiming my sense of self within my tribe has created stronger, deeper bonds that allow me to experience my individuality in an even greater, more productive, creative and fulfilling way.  

Freedom looks and feels different at different times in our lives: Something I saw in my meditation was a younger version of myself; the young woman who fearlessly traveled the world, didn’t need a boyfriend while all of my friends were getting married, who was financially independent, who easily connected with others and then moved on as I chose. In the past decade, marriage and parenting had slowly seeped into every crevice of my life. To say I felt resentment would be too strong a word, but I definitely felt a longing for my former self. What I learned was that I could re-emerge and experience that same former essence of myself.  In fact, my current life, rooted in intimacy and connectedness is the best type of freedom I could ask for and I don’t need to be worlds away to tap into those feelings.

We don’t always need our asana practice to reinforce our yoga.  Coming from a yoga teacher, this sounds counterintuitive. After all, what teacher doesn’t want to pack her class every day with devoted students? But what I realized was that sometimes asana, when practiced repetitively and not mindfully, can serve to reinforce our samskaras, or habits.  While I didn’t realize it prior to my injury, my time off the mat opened me up to receiving in a way I hadn’t been during my asana practice.  Off my mat, I was able to allow the quiet, nurturing side of my yoga, which I often speak to but hadn’t been practicing all that well, to become my practice. Despite my injury, I feel whole.

Our bodies don’t define who we are. I am not speaking about body-type, or size here, but something I experienced on a deeper level. While I was laid up, I heard my daughter having a hissy fit in her room.  Her father had accidently broken her flip-flop shaped lip gloss container. It was, in her words, “the worst day of my life!” This woke me up. My injury had triggered deep feelings of inadequacy, insecurity, even anger with myself.  And I certainly had been having a bit of a pity party of my own. My daughter’s hissy fit, once investigated, was due to the fact that she felt I had abandoned her. And she was right. While injured, I couldn’t walk stairs, cook, drive, grocery shop, clean or do anything I normally did for my family. So, I had decided that I didn’t need to participate in anything that was going on.  The truth is, being emotionally available – staying connected no matter what our own circumstances – while difficult, is what our yoga is about. 

There is joy in simplest of movement. As I regain my physical strength and gear up to teach my first Yin style class in a very long time, I am finding joy in the simplest of movements.  I am not referring to being able to hold Bekasana (Frog) pose for 5 minutes (heads up students☺), but simply being able to cross my legs, to walk upstairs and tuck my daughter in bed, to stand firmly rooted, both physically and energetically, with my Mulandara wide open. I know I will soon feel the joy of having a strong asana practice again. I look forward to the process; a rebirth I will aspire to experience every time step on my mat. 

Shelley Lowther

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Shelley Lowther

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