Monday, June 27, 2011

Personal Set-backs

My shoulder has been acting up again.   That means I've been unable to do many of my favorite asanas when I practice yoga, including Bakasana. 

If you're unfamiliar with yoga, this is bakasana:

This asana is one of the first "I can't believe I'm actually doing this" asanas I achieved after I started practicing Ashtanga yoga.  

If any of you have ever practiced yoga at a "serious" shala you know what I mean.   You start by taking your first yoga class and you can't even touch your toes, then you look over in the room and there are yogis doing hand stands or putting their feet behind their heads.  You look over at these contortionists and think "yeah, I'll never be doing that."  

But, then you start practicing yoga regularly and before you know it you're standing on your head without leaning against the wall, and you can get your head down to your leg as you reach down and grab your feet.    Lotus comes naturally after a couple years of regular practice.

You become amazed at what you accomplished, all the more so if, like me, you never started practicing yoga until well into your 40's.

Bakasana is actually not that hard to do once you've built up some upper body and core strength (from all those chattarungas) and you practice it.   You simply place your knees onto your forearms, lift your head as a counter-balance, lean forward, and look out over the abyss. 

The first time I was actually able to balance in bakasana I knew I could conquer just about anything yoga had to throw at me.   I was so excited the day I first flew, that when my husband came home I had to demonstrate.

Before I knew it, the time I could remain in bakasana lengthened.   Eventually I was able to lift myself up and kick out my feet to land squarely in chatturanga.  Then I learned to move from bakasana to tripod headstand then back to bakasana and out to chatturanga. 

I've always loved practicing bakasana. It's such an amazing freeing feeling to be up there, balancing my legs on my forearms, flying but for the tenous connection between the floor and my hands. When I'm in bakasana I feel that I can still do just about anything with my body now that I'm 50.  I feel  that age is no hinderance to anything I want to accomplish.

But for the past few weeks I can't practice bakasana because it's causing too much pain.   This has happened periodically for the last few years.  My shoulder hurts, I pull back on practice, it feels better, then all of  a sudden the shoulder acts up again and I have to pull back.  It's frustrating to come so far, only to be stopped because my body is not co-operating.

My shoulder has been an off and on problem for close to two years now.  I don't know how I hurt it.  There was no "ouch" moment when I suddenly realized that I hurt myself.   It was a gradual pain that slowly got worse.

I've sought medical attention for it, and have been on anti-inflamatories, got physical therapy, etc.   The pain subsides for a while, allowing me to go back to a full yoga practice, and get on with my life, but then the pain usually roars back to life again.

Last week I saw my orthopaedist again, and he's ordering an MRI.

The shoulder has, of course, been affecting other parts of my yoga practice beyond bakasana.   Chatturangas hurt, so I've had to modify my sun salutations.   I can't go all the way up in back-bends because I don't want to put pressure on my shoulder, etc. 

It's affecting my life as well.   Carrying in groceries has become painful because of my shoulder,  When I'm working with my athletes for Special Olympics skiing, I often have to pull someone along, with great pain to myself.    Sometimes just the weather makes it act up.   I find myself taking Motrin or Advil for my shoulder every time it's damp and cold out.

My orthopaedist thinks I may need surgery.   For a working mother, fitting surgery into my life is, of course, difficult.  

But then I think about flying in bakasana and how much I want to be able to feel that freedom without the fear of feeling pain afterwards.

So, if the doctor says surgery is the answer, then surgery it will be.

Personal set-backs are always demoralizing and it's easy to lose focus and want to quit just because you can't progress the way you want.   I've known plenty of yogis who stop practicing just because they're injured.   They take sort of an all or nothing approach to the practice.

But I like to look at injuries as opporunities.   Sometimes when we can't do something, it opens up our awareness to other things we may not have noticed previously.   When I'm not injured, I'm so focused on pushing up to a full back-bend and remaining there, I often forget that the true purpose of a back-bend is to arch the back and stretch out all the muscles in the front of the body.  By pulling back and not going all the way up, I can actually got deeper into the pose then I would otherwise. 


  1. Wow that's an impressive position. I'm sorry your shoulder is acting up but happy that the Dr is going to further investigate whats going on. I love that you modify your workout instead of giving up on it. I've done yoga but the relaxation kind. Hope you aches and pains go away soon.

  2. I just began yoga a few months ago and am surprised about where I am at now. Sorry to hear about your shoulder hope all is well, but it sounds like you have a great attitude about it. Good luck I will stay tuned into this blog it seems interesting and you have great content. Losing weight after 45 is a total bitch!

  3. I am dealing with shoulder issues, myself. My right shoulder started hurting in Oct '10. I finally, after a series of other treatments including a cortizone shot, got an MRI. Where my dr once thought I had a serious, partial rotator cuff tear, I actually have a lot of inflammation. I'm happy to know that surgery isn't a consideration now. It still hurts but at least I don't have to worry about a tear.

    I wish you a speedy recovery and are able to avoid surgery all together.

  4. This is a great story. Its good that you talked to a doctor before diving right into any weight loss method. Weight loss, especially at an older age, can be quite stressful on the body. It is very important to call a therapist or doctor beforehand.