I mentioned in an earlier blog post, that Lauren G has joined YBC® as our Editorial Director. She will also be contributing as a guest blogger and a YBC retreat strength and conditioning coach. Here she talks about ways her injury led her to a place of gratitude. Hope you enjoy! xoCandace
Last fall, I did it. I made the decision to do something I'd wanted to do for a long time. I saved up the equivalent to one month's rent and signed up for Yoga Sculpt Teacher Training! In case you haven't tried it, yoga sculpt takes place in a heated room and blends traditional yoga vinyasas with weighted strength and conditioning movements, for an intense yet uniquely gratifying yoga practice. For me, investing that much money into myself at one time was overwhelming, but I can honestly say, no regrets! I immediately fell in love with teacher training—the sequence creation, pose breakdown, song selection - and most of all, being able to deepen my own practice in a way that I could transfer unto others.
But the universe had other plans. About three weeks into training, while running on the treadmill at another fitness class (that starts with O and ends with Theory) - BAM! - I felt an intense pop like I’d been shot in the leg! I grabbed the rails of the treadmill and looked around to see who or what had hit me. Confused, I tried to put pressure on my leg and pain shot through my calf! There was no way I could even stand! I waved over the instructor who helped me off the treadmill and eased me onto the floor. He gingerly touched my calf and ankle and I grimaced in pain - his face said it all - I had suffered a relatively serious injury. Two of the studio’s instructors (literal strangers to me) actually carried me to their car and into the E.R. and left. Sitting alone with the E.R. doctor, I learned my prognosis: a torn calf muscle and ruptured achilles tendon. The treatment: 6-8 weeks in a boot on crutches (or in my case a trike) and no walking—much less yoga.
At least there was no surgery required, but in addition to the physical pain I was in, I faced the financial panic of just forking over a thousand dollars for my yoga teacher training. How do I complete yoga teacher training and not lose all my progress? Do I stop this class and wait for a future one? I was literally in the middle of training, making great strides, nailing my sequencing and cues, and now I was overwhelmed with frustration, depression, and anger—feelings that definitely didn’t benefit a yoga instructor trying to emulate all things peace, love and namaste. But, things happen for a reason and through this setback, I learned some great lessons that helped to elevate my mental toughness, my yoga practice, and my teaching ability.
Thanks to my injury, I learned to…..
1. Praise my body
Trying to get undressed, into the shower, and wash your hair while balancing on one leg will put things into perspective real quick. I mean let’s get real, just washing your hair on a good day takes SO. MUCH. EFFORT. Being incapacitated in any way will make you wonder how you ever made it through one day without mercilessly praising your health and body for all it could do. So chances are, once reality sets in and you realize how much all those every day tasks you did like it ain't no thang, now require meticulous planning, concentration and effort, you may feel really down. But stop yourself there before you spiral down (or after you crash and burn in my case) and turn your thoughts to gratitude for all your body is capable of - including healing. I began to cherish everything my body did for me. Through this injury, I realized without physical health, I didn't have much, and I became so thankful for my strength, my health, and my struggle to get well again. Now, every, single, day, I take time to praise my body for all it does.
In those first few days, I analyzed the hours just prior to my injury, trying to understand why my body had failed me (surely a walk to the studio in 20 degree weather counted as a sufficient warmup right?). I worked out (more than) regularly and followed my macros by Coach Keener meticulously, eating whole, natural foods. At the time, I was taking 2 yoga classes a day trying to squeeze in my required hours for teaching, plus 4 hours of teacher training, compounded by additional strength and conditioning workouts on my off days. To me, fitness was my everything - my therapy, my release, my community, and now my part of my income, and not having that, made me feel empty and useless. I depended on it. As I thought about how my body had failed me, my perspective began to shift. I realized I spent so much time being active, pushing my body to the limit, that I failed to balance my yang with some desperately needed yin. I was constantly taking from my body, without ever giving, and hence my body had not failed me, I had failed my body. Now, though I still sweat at least five days a week, I dedicate time each week to rest and recuperation--whether it's an epsom salt bath, a stretch session, or a full rest day, I actively balance my workouts with rest periods.
3. Edit down my friends
After I posted my injury on social media, I was flooded with well-wishes and offerings for help. I was surprised at how many people reached out because one, I hadn't considered how I'd get to work yet (will I go hungry paying for Uber both ways for six weeks?!) and two, I guess I felt like I had friends in the city but not real friends. Like ride or die friends. Plus, I'm not someone who likes to 'bother' people with favors. Living close to the District, I relied on public transportation to get to and from work, practice, and grocery-getting. If I didn’t metro, I walked. Now I could do neither. I had no choice but to accept the kind generosity of those around me. (Except from the a$$hole who decided to get a little too touchy-feely when helping propel me up the steps outside my building.) However, when I accepted the offer from one friend, she constantly made snide remarks about helping me and would close each statement with ‘just kidding!' It didn't take long before I knew she wasn’t ‘just kidding’ and I was in a really uncomfortable position feeling like I was a burden. Don't get me wrong, I was very appreciative, and gave her a really thoughtful 'thank you' gift, but by the end, I understood what category she stood in—not ride or die--and that's ok! This setback taught me to decipher between those that really mean well and those that really want to mean well and I edited my friends accordingly. Life is too short to put in time and effort into a friendship that isn't reciprocal.
4. Focus on what I could do
In those first few days (ok, minutes), your mind focuses on all the things you can’t do. For me, not being able to physically participate in teacher training was what really got me down. It wasn't just that I'd paid for it, although that hurt, but having all that expertise and training at your fingertips isn't something that comes along often. Going from 6-7 days a week of either yoga, teacher training, or HIIT workouts, to sitting in the back of the room with my notebook made me feel useless and like I was slowly slipping behind my fellow trainers. Before class one day, I expressed my concerns to my teacher who shed light on the fact that I could actually be doing quite a bit, maybe even absorbing more than my fellow trainers. Just because I couldn’t physically participate didn’t mean I couldn’t learn and further develop my teaching skills. I could observe other classes and harness inspiration for my own classes, organize and compile my playlists, memorize and practice my sequences and most of all, contribute to and participate in every after-hours training. When I shifted my focus to what I could do, rather than what I couldn't, I felt my training start to shift towards a forward momentum and began to see opportunities rather than obstacles.
5. Change the narrative
This one is really tricky (but ultimately my favorite lesson) because it requires a lot of mental discipline. Have you ever been in class and you're really feeling yourself. Like you're super focused, you're moving through your poses fluidly, your breath is flowing rhythmically from movement to movement, and then out of the corner of your eye you see another student effortlessly bend back into wheel like she moonlights in Cirque du Soleil? WTF?! Then, immediately you think to yourself, ‘I’ll never be that good!’, or 'I can't do that!', or maybe even ‘I suck!'? Think about what you negative vibes you just sent out into the universe about your physical capacity! Never! Can't! Suck! I was so guilty of this much before my injury, but especially immediately after. I would sit in class and watch other students get better and better, comparing my uselessness to their advancements, until I decided to make a tiny mental shift and transform that negative narrative into present-tense, positive mantras. 'I'll never be that good' became the opposite, 'I am that good!' and 'I suck!' became 'I am so good at teaching yoga!' I studied these other students as real, live vision boards of what was possible, and it changed my life! I pictured myself making the teaching progress they were making and it boosted my confidence and my outlook. Had I not turned my negative chatter into a positive narrative, I never would've progressed in my practice or in my teaching. So the next time you see that woman effortlessly jump back out of crow, say 'I can jump back out of crow like a boss!' Picture yourself jumping out of crow over and over and over. And I promise, with enough focus and repetition, you'll be pleasantly surprised where you end up.
6. Embrace the journey
Finally, just because you’re medically cleared doesn’t mean you’re actually in the clear. I thought, 'oh my boot is off, I can jump right back into training,' but that first class back was a swift kick in the ass where I realized that I still had a long way to go. This was just now the beginning of my journey, not the end. Even though I was eager, I had to ease back into even the simplest of poses. Down dog was extremely difficult given the tightness of my reattached calf muscle and healed, but still tender, Achilles tendon. My injury fueled patience in my physicality and in truth, I needed to just slow down.
In the end, I passed auditions with flying colors! This setback gave me the foundation to take my practice and my teaching to the next level, and by bringing me down, it built me up to be a better instructor, student and all around stronger person, both physically and mentally. I learned to see any setback as a new goal to crush. So, the next time life sets you back, I hope you can look within yourself, around at your friends and supporters, and ahead at the future to become a tougher, deeper, and more gracious you!