It might seem like having pain or injury would hold you back in your yoga practice, but it’s actually a way to take your practice to new depths.
I’ve been getting intense pain in my left shoulder that has come and gone over the years, but lately it’s been hanging on. When it starts to feel better, I return to my normal practice, but then the pain comes back even worse. It’s especially bad in the mornings!
I love challenging myself deeper in postures, so this was a struggle for me. I wanted to ignore it, and just push through the pain, but I decided to modify my yoga practice so that I could finally heal.
But there’s a difference between pain and discomfort. When you feel sharp and shooting pain – that’s an indicator to stop. When something feels sore, tight, or just a little uncomfortable, then it’s okay to breathe through it slowly.
Ultimately it’s your choice on how your interpret the pain and move forward, but a good rule of thumb is if it doesn’t feel right, or you’re not sure – then don’t do it.
This pain felt like bad news bears, so I took it easy.
Pain should never be self inflicted.
The yoga sutra 2.16 (Heyam Durham anagram) means all future known suffering should be avoided, so if you know you’re creating pain, then you’re not doing yoga – period.
Here’s what you should be focusing on when practicing with pain or injury:
- Breath: Rather than focusing on going into advanced postures, focus on deepening and lengthening your breath.
- Body Awareness: Take the time to feel what’s going on in the injured area, but also the areas around it. Where is the pain coming from? What can you soften or stretch to help the pain heal?
- Mind Awareness: When your mind wanders away, where does it go? How are you talking to yourself? Bring it back to your breath each time letting those thoughts pass over you.
Here’s how I’ve been modifying with my shoulder injury:
I’m not jumping at all in Surya Namaskara, but I’m lowering to my knees in Chaturanga every time. I really focus on pulling my belly button to my spine, engaging my core, firming my legs, and lowering down with control. Focusing on distributing the weight evenly helps me to strengthen the areas around my shoulders, so the pressure is way less on the way down.
This posture really tested my shoulder. I could come into it really slow if I wanted. It was too painful to wrap my arm around my leg in a normal motion. What’s the point? If it’s painful, that’s a sign to modify. Instead I just took a different shape of the posture. I skipped Marichyasana B and just did Marichyasana A again to fill the space.
I did the same thing for Marichyasana C that I did for Marichyasana A. I just took the shape to the form that felt the best on my shoulder, breathed deep, and took the posture. You also have the option of hugging the knee if hooking your shoulder is too much. Again, I skipped D and repeated C.
I didn’t do any arm balancing in this posture. I did a yogi squat instead, and then experimented with pressing my arms into my legs to open the hips. I used this as a time to focus on opening up and building strength.
This is a posture that could really irritate your shoulder pain since you’re pressing your arms hard into your legs. Instead I made sure to bend my knees over my arms, so I was still getting the hip opening, and pressing my chest forward while keeping my shoulder safe! I skipped Supta Kurmasana because that would have pressed right on my shoulder, and just held Kurmasana another 5 breaths.
I opted for bridge instead of backbend.
Instead of lifting up off the ground into Utplutih, I just decided to focus on using my core to lift my legs. I also decided to lift my arms like in Navasana, and pull my legs more into my chest. This is basically the same movement except I’m not off the ground. The more compact you can make yourself without holding on, the more you’re using your bandhas, and you’ll become stronger in your center.
My shoulder has been feeling better and better everyday, and I think it’s because I’m being kind to myself, and have some more body awareness to soften and let go. Of course, you’ll have to judge how bad your shoulder feels, and perhaps you’ll need to modify more or less.
What pain or injury have you experienced with your practice (ashtanga or not), and what have you done differently?