One year ago, I couldn’t raise my right arm above my head.
I’d started teaching at Past Tense Studio when it opened last July. Just before that, I’d jammed my right shoulder and neck while bracing my fall, tripping up some stairs at my dad’s house. As usual, I went straight to the chiropractor and started rehabbing the damage. Then, about a week after we opened Past Tense, I tore my right rotator cuff while grabbing a guard rail, slipping down a flight of stairs. (It was a bad summer for stairs.)
During this same time, I was teaching percussion at a summer camp, which meant lots of drumming, tambourine-ing and shaker-ing – and therefore, lots of shoulder stress. Plus, I was busing tables at a pizza joint, which meant lifting stacks of heavy white Italian plates. (It was a good summer for work.)
For that first month at Past Tense, I was in excruciating pain while teaching. I would wince when raising my arms to start a Sun Salutation. Demonstrating Warrior 2, my right arm would weakly sink to my side. Cleaning up the studio after class, I couldn’t lift the blankets to pile them atop the storage shelf.
Little by little, with lot of ice, chiropractic, massage and conscientious yoga practice, the injuries started to heal. While this combination of therapeutics was important, the daily – all-day – awareness and application of yoga’s alignment principles brought the most ease, decreased the pain and supported the healing. The wonderful lessons learned from structural yoga teachers like Sumi Komo (also an Alexander Technique expert – http://www.alexandermovingarts.com), Megan Davis (yoga therapeutics wonder – http://www.yogaforliberation.com) and Dr. Steven Weiss (chiropractor and yoga teacher – http://www.alignbydesignyoga.com) gave me everyday tools for feeling and getting better.
When camp ended in August, I took off for an Alexander Technique and Yoga workshop taught by Sumi. This was the beginning of my healing through yoga. Later in the Fall, I attended an Anatomy and Physiology Teacher Training with Dr. Weiss. His fine-tuning of the shoulder area reinforced that healing. And thankfully, a library of structural cues was stored in my mind from so many past classes with Megan.
(For more background on these teachers and their modalities, check out their websites, plus my “Why I Spend So Much Time On Alignment” post from February 2010, and, “Alignment Principles in Tadaasana” on the Tips-n-Tools page of this blog site.)
Increasing mobility was the first step in using yoga to heal my injuries. Rather than focusing on the strengthening benefits of Asana, I stuck with the safest versions of every pose – for example, tracing the mid-line with my palms during a forward fold vs. doing a swan dive, and, doing knees/chest/chin vs. Chaturanga. I avoided shoulder stand completely and did wall-based alternatives. In Downward Facing Dog, I paid special attention to the pressure between my thumb and forefinger, and gently curled my upper arms down and inward toward my face. I moved slowly and deliberately – even in fast-paced Jivamukti classes! This took a lot of patience!
But it paid off.
After a few months, my mobility had returned and the pain had decreased immensely. Now it was time to strengthen the muscles. Chaturanga became my best friend! Thankfully Dr. Weiss taught us a really cool strap prop trick to guarantee proper alignment in that pose. In addition, I attended a Shoulders Intensive workshop with Emma at Past Tense, where her simple use of a block and my own two arms subtly brought the power back to my rotator cuff.
I won’t lie, the healing took an entire six months of rehabilitation. And lots of patience. By January, I was in top form. I’ve heard through the grapevine, “No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others.” Not only did I rise-up from my injured state, I was prepared to impart my experience to the Catholic University Swim Team and an infielder for the Tampa Bay Rays’ minor league system. I shared how to prevent and rehab shoulder problems, and, was not limited by my own injury while teaching.
Someone once told me that, when I talk about the benefits of proper alignment in yoga, I sound like a Volvo ad! Indeed, following the alignment principles maximizes mobility, power and safety!
OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.