Over the past few weeks, I’ve had a chance to extract some lessons from the pain and discomfort from the meltdown on the mat. I am even hesitant to call it an injury because there was no visible damage or impairment, except that in a few poses it would flare up again:
After my injury, I actually had an increased sense of feeling in my left foot (numbness caused by peripheral neuropathy has a problem for me). Of course, with time, the symptom came back because my muscles and tissues tightened up again; in fact, the symptoms have evened out between my two feet.
I also had more feeling in my lower core, which may just be a consequence of focusing more on that part of my body because of the injury. I am also aware that I pay more attention to the pitch (tilt) of my pelvis.
A few years ago, I would have freaked out that I had hurt myself doing yoga; I would have taken it as a sign that I was not properly aligned, a “bad” practitioner, and had broken the rules. But injuries sometimes are caused not by what we are doing, but what we did in the past, the accumulation of ingrained neuro-myofascial patterns acquired over a lifetime, and when we may break through some of those patterns, it may leave us “flapping in the wind” because the old rigidity was also a support structure; my muscle and tissues did not know what to do with the new freedom so they went into spasms. I now see that as I loosen up my hips, it’s going to affect other parts of my body so I have to remain alert, aware and sensitive to what my body is telling me. And even then I may not avoid injury.
With an injury to something like the hip abductors, it’s really hard to reach down through several layers of muscle and tissue. I am lucky to have a veteran massage therapist (Howard Rontal) to do that for me.
It’s really touch and go to get back into a vinyasa practice because I did not want to start too soon, but probably waited too long, even though the injury was still sensitive, and I’m not the kind of guy who believes in practicing through the pain. How’s that for stringing together four contradictions in one sentence. But once I started returning to class, I became less preoccupied and more aware.
When I had this interruption to the intensity of my yoga practice, plus other distraction, I notice that the drop-off in physical exercise had a ripple effect through my body and mind.
Restarting is always disagreeable because I am constantly reminded about how far I have backslid (“Oh, God, I’m going to have sore muscles tomorrow, and I can’t do the jump-backs as well as before, and — this is an order, punk, drop into child’s pose, and give me 20 breaths!” ).
Don’t stop doing yoga even when injured (give it a couple days rest, of course); just modify poses and pick sequences that won’t stress out the problem area.
Well, you get the point. I’ve made it to about five classes in eight days so I am gradually get back to “normal.”
The New York Times may be in the dog house for its yoga coverage (How Yoga Can Wreak Your Body), but it just won some points with me because it covered new scientific research showing how massage helps muscles heal after exercise.
They found that massage reduced the production of compounds called cytokines, which play a critical role in inflammation. Massage also stimulated mitochondria, the tiny powerhouses inside cells that convert glucose into the energy essential for cell function and repair. “The bottom line is that there appears to be a suppression of pathways in inflammation and an increase in mitochondrial biogenesis,” helping the muscle adapt to the demands of increased exercise, said the senior author, Dr. Mark A. Tarnopolsky.
Of course, the next question is what about the myofascial aspect, because the muscles themselves only do part of the exersion. The neuro-myofascial web is a bigger player in dealing with symtoms of fatigue after exercise.
I have not had much free time to post about my progress. That’s what happens when I focus on practicing yoga, pranayama, meditation and mindful living, all while holding down a 9-5 job and balancing family life. Some things get squeezed off the schedule. Or there just is not enough mental energy to sit down and digest the whole vinyasa of life. Rather than being something like a retreat (single-minded concentration) or a bootcamp, it’s more a question of consciously interweaving the yoga-plus with my daily routine.
Ice and fire
Last weekend, I did not take any classes. On Saturday, all class at Thrive Yoga were cancelled because we had our first snow/ice/slush/rain event of the winter and no one could make any plans overnight. Then, on Sunday, I went to class, but we got no further than the opening chants when we smelled burning plastic. Out in the hallway, a candle had somehow lit up some personal belongings that may have been hung too close (or fallen on the candle or whatever). Flames were climbing the walls, and smoke covered the ceiling. Fire alarms went off. Luckily, there were lots of blankets to throw on the fire and it was brought under control quickly. We hauled the smoldering debris outside. Susan and Dave got to explain to the Fire Department how it all happened. Ironically, a hook-and-ladder truck, plus an ambulance, a fire truck and assorted cops, arrived to deal with a fire in a lower level/basement of a strip mall. I decided to go to the gym to do some aerobic exercise. Thrive Yoga reopened later in the afternoon so there was no serious damage done. My yoga sessions that weekend were all at home, but I did get back to Thrive for a class on Monday evening.
It was unfortunate that I did not get to any classes over the weekend because I had had my first massage therapy session in over a month, and wanted to gauge how my body would respond on the mat. Howard Rontal had been traveling over the Holidays so we took a break, and I’ve cut back from once a week to twice a month. For the first session, we started working from the feet up, and made it up to my hamstrings. My tissues had tightened up substantially over the past month, despite my own attempts at self-massage, and we needed the full hour to peel away the superficial layers of tension. I am looking forward to combining the rigors of my 40-day challenge with bodywork. In my classes since the therapy, I can tell that there are some sharp contrast between muscles that I have habitually used (and overused) in my practice and more raw tissues that have been opened up by the therapy session.