Victoria Jackson adapts her yoga teaching and her practice after a series of mishaps.
It’s often said that pain is a great teacher. It’s the teacher that no-one wants to have, of course, but the saying remains annoyingly true. When we are in pain, we have to take good care of ourselves, tending to the physical issues, as well as managing the fear and distress and all the emotional consequences of feeling vulnerable and uncomfortable. How we do this shows what we’re made of, literally and metaphorically.
I had an accident a little while ago. It was just a simple trip, but I fell awkwardly and bruised my leg and shoulder. For a few days I was as useless as a pre-David Tennent era Dalek when confronted by a flight of steps, and the bruising to the muscles around my shoulder lasted much longer, weeks rather than days. In the immediate aftermath, I practiced patience and all the self-care techniques I know to manage the pain and the inevitable frustrations. I asked for help for all sorts of practical things I couldn’t do on my own: my husband is now terrific at blow-dries and tying ponytails which is an unexpected bonus!
When it came to teaching, I joked in class with my students about my one-sided demos and, making a virtue of a necessity, I peppered my sequences with the variations I was making in my own practice. Anjali mudra (prayer hands) became a major feature since I couldn’t lift my arm above shoulder height. A workshop on sun salutations became less about alignment and mobility drills and more about yoga history and philosophy, as well as teaching the students to chant the Gayatri mantra in honour of Savitur the sun god. If pain is a great teacher, now it was teaching something to my students as well as me. It’s always good to share!
So I was handling it all pretty well, I thought. I started to congratulate myself on my mental flexibility and my reserves of patience, and even how I was modelling these attitudes to my students. But we’ve all heard that pride comes before a fall. Annoyingly this saying also seems to be true. And to prove the point, I went and fractured my foot by falling down some stairs.
And now I find there’s an even deeper level of patience (and humility!) to explore, and a whole new range of asana modifications to figure out to allow me to continue to practice. It’s an invitation to re-examine what my yoga needs to be, what remains once you strip away the fancy moves and look to the heart of it. I should be grateful for the learning opportunity. Maybe I will be, in time — but probably only once I can get my favourite leggings back on and work through some frustrations with a good old sweaty practice.
Victoria Jackson lives and teaches in Oxford. She is registered with Yoga Alliance Professionals as a vinyasa yoga teacher. Read more of Victoria’s OM Lite columns.