Friday, April 8, 2011

Distractions from Training Part 2: Illness and Injury

In previous blogs I discussed distractions from training. Things which keep us from getting the most from our practice, and can lead to an end for a lifetime of health through practice.

The second most common reason for a break in training is an illness or injury. All human beings take ill on occasion, and if you practice yoga or martial arts there will be times when you injure a muscle or joint. This section on distractions from training deals

with continuing a lifetime practice by maintaining a level of training while ill or injured.


I recently have been experiencing a lot of congestion during my practice due to high cedar counts in Austin. The temptation was to take a day off and stay at home, but I forced myself to keep going to class.

Yoga classes are actually a really good thing to do when you have

allergies. Ujjayi breathing (making a sound like Darth Vader through the nasal passages) is particularly helpful if you are able to do it. Sun salutations invert the upper respiratory tract, then bring it back upright, which causes the congestion to move.

My Martial Arts practice also helped clear the lungs but less effectively. We were focu

sed more on moving, punching, kicking etc… It was quite challenging, and I was definitely “not in the mood” for such activities. In martial arts I huffed and puffed on some of the most rou

tine moves. I grasped for air and panted like a dog most of the class. But at the end of the class much of the congestions hadcleared.

So physically, the lesson learned was the when one has congestion due to allergies, it is best to exercise. Exercises that change the orientation of the nasal passages help cleanse the practice. When one is suffering allergies, be prepared to have a more challenging exercise, and accept that you are not “at the top of your game”.

Training the Mind when the Body is Sub Par

The more profound insights came from continuing my practice even though the body was

exhausted. I took a 9 hour yoga workshop with the amazing Shiva Rea on one of my worst days. Going into the workshop I was congested and generally tired and sluggish. I believe

I was also having a mild cold on top of allergies.

Shiva Rea began the class with a series of sun salutations. She added 16 chaturanga’ s (slow pushups) instead of the usual practice with only one chaturanga. The morning practice consisted 108 chaturanga’s wrapped in a series of sun salutation. I was able to do the first two rounds with little problem, doing full slow chaturanga’s. But I was getting less oxygen, so the practice was wearing me out quickly. By the third round I was starting to feel weary.

This is the point where the real practice began. I focused my will to push past the weariness. I made modifications to my postures to make them a little easier. Heat was building in my body. I monitored it closely to make sure that I didn’t overheat. I monitored my muscles to look out for cramps due to low oxygen intake. I took brief five second rests if I felt my breath getting out of control. I continuously pulled myself back into focus, exercising a calm but determined mind.

Now I don’t want to act like I did this perfectly. My friend looked over at one point and said “are you allright?” I was, but I sure didn’t look it. I was pushing myself right to the edge of my ability that day. This was hard to do because my edge was so much closer than usual. On a

good day I would have been challenged. On this day, round five was requiring extreme effort.

Oddly I began to get energized. I believe at this point I had purged all the congestion (as evidenced by the tissues filling a cup by my mat) and was able to do some powerful moves.

When ill, focus on the mental training

Certainly when one has the flu it is wise to cut back. But I have seen people with cancer, broken legs and rashes all over their body continue to practice. Those people tend to come back quicker.

Don’t push yourself to the extreme when you have an infection or virus. Rest is of utmost importance. So focus on the mind. Meditate, practice breathing techniques (even if congested), and listen to your body. I have found that if I am very sick I listen to my body. The last time I had the flu I knew the exact moment my fever started, the moment it broke, and when it was time to resume activity.


Injuries require special attention. Yoga in particular has given me a lot of insight into dealing with injuries and preventing them. Yoga emphasizes listening to our body. As I have listened to my body more I have been able to head the injury off before it happens.

Mindor injury example: I injured my large toe while kicking, and it gave me some insights into training through and injury.

1. Examine the cause: First, the mind body disciplines taught me to reexamine myself at the moment of injury. Why did I snag my toe? The short answer is that I was trying to impress the grand master and not being present with the moment. I learned a good lesson for that sore toe, focus on your practice. Good impressions may come later. Every injury is different, it may be you were practicing with a partner and not paying attention, or it may be you pushed to hard, or it may be you lacked some knowledge of your

2, Back off - The second insight came over the months of healing. I had to back off quite a few poses. I was able to do them, but it slowed healing of the toe, and thus, was counter productive. The body will heal itself, but not if you continue to aggravate the injury. So while I think training through an injury is good, I am not advising to put any strain on the injury. If your knee is hurt, don't put pressure on it until it heals. Come up high in your long stance; give it time to heal.

3. Learn from the injured body part - So if you can't use your shoulder, it is an opportunity to learn the different ways you use your shoulder. In my example, I learned a lot about the big toes importance. It is critical in guiding all motions of the foot, comparable to a rudder on a boat. It turns and the energy glides along with it.

4. Be mindful of even the smallest injury - Finally, I discovered the real danger of a small injury- it can compound. I caught myself compensating for a bad big toe by puting less pressure on it, causing an imbalance in the foot, and putting pressure on the outer knee. I was able to make the pose or posture look good on the outside, but the imbalance I was using was setting me up for more serious injury. Hence, the need to back off. If the knee starts to ache you may lean on the other foot, causing an impalance in the lower back, if the lower back aches you may hunch forward causing all kinds of problems. One great thing about yoga is it encourages balance in the body which keeps us from putting unnatural pressure on the joints. Be aware of how you are "cheating" to compensate for injury, and stop it.

5. Major injuries are more problematic. I don’t think a blog is a good place to deal with a major injury. In these case you have to work with a teacher and your doctor to come up with a good program. Some doctors will recommend you stop training. I advise dumping these types. A good doctor will tell you to modify (not stop) your practice so you can continue with a lifetime of good habbits, and let the injured limb heal. So if you break your ankle, work on the arms. If you break your neck practice breathing techniques. The practice of yoga, martial arts, or mind-body exercise allows for a broad range of activities suitable for any situation.