Saturday, September 12, 2015

How Yoga is Helping Me Heal My Broken Ankle

It's a funny thing the thoughts that run through your head when sitting on the side of a trail with a broken ankle. Besides wondering how I was going to get off the mountain and to a hospital I also questioned how I would ever trust my body again. I imagined myself relegated to flat sidewalks, avoiding dangerous curbs and, of course, never hiking again. And while I'm currently several weeks from taking the cast off I still have doubts about my recovery...specifically, will I get my full range of motion back?

Yoga is a huge part of my life. I embrace it not only physically but also spiritually and emotionally. Or at least I try. The yogic principles set the tone for my daily living and I honestly think this, combined with my meditation practice, got me through the accident and rescue with pretty much no pain or panic (it was actually a surprisingly magical experience). It was important to me to continue my yoga practice even with a broken ankle. Obviously, I have many physical limitations so asana (or poses) can be a bit of a challenge but yoga has so much more to offer through the eight-fold path. However, the physical aspects of a yoga practice are a living, breathing part of our being, meaning they can be modified in ways to support our bodies regardless of our physical limitation. .

I wanted to share some of the ways I've kept my yoga practice central to my life while I recover mentally and physically.

My husband did so well feeding me while I was unable to cook for myself. This is the black bean burger and chop salad he served me for lunch the other day.
 1) Right Eating {Ahiṃsā/Mitāhāra}: For me this means vegan (or at least vegetarian) foods. I had allowed myself many "slips" during our visit to Alaska (prior to the accident) but
once I realized the work my body had to do in order to heal I cleaned up my eating. My meals consist of fresh fruits and veggies (organic when at all possible), organic oatmeal and granola, plant-based protein powder (a supplement I opted for since I couldn't cook for myself early on), whole grains and legumes along with plenty of water and herbal teas (and no alcohol). I also started taking Biotin, a Calcium/Magnesium/Zinc supplement, large doses of Vitamin C, Symphytum Officinale (aka Bone Knitter) and occasional shots of aloe vera gel. I want the best fuel I can get so my body will have the building blocks it needs. Hopefully it's helping.

2) Meditation:  My meditation practice was a work-in-progress prior to the accident but being laid up has given me the opportunity to recommit and refocus. I learned meditation years ago during a visit to the Siddha Yoga Ashram in Oakland, California. I practiced off and on (mostly off) for many years until I went to yoga teacher training at the Sivananda Ashram Yoga Farm in Grass Valley, California last year where I lived for a month. Twice a day we meditated for 30 minutes and I've done a semi-decent job of sitting once a day...about 50% of the time. Being incapacitated has certainly freed up my time and reminded me that meditation is a required component in my life. It's kept me from dipping into depression while being cooped up inside the RV day in and day out.

Learning from author Peter Russell at yoga school.
After my accident I came across Peter Russell's How to Meditate Without Even Trying program on Facebook. Peter was one of my favorite guest speakers while at yoga school so I joined his course. I also received a copy of Dr. Radhule Weininger's Entering the Deeper Stream from a dear friend. Needless to say, there's no shortage of meditation material...and no excuses!

My finds after a visit to the used book store, Mountain Eagle, in British Columbia.
3) Reading Positive/Spiritual Material {Svādhyāya}: I love to read. I can wrap myself between the covers of a book and be lost for hours. But I can also allow myself to be affected by what I'm reading...much like how one's mood can change after watching the news or a sad movie. Reading is a great escape but every once in a while I find myself grumpy or perturbed for "no reason" but when I sit and think about it my mood sometimes reflects the books I've been reading. While I've been recovering I've made it a point to read some of the recommended yoga and meditation books I keep hearing about from fellow yogis and writers.

I'm certainly not going give up reading the variety of books I normally enjoy, even if they do affect my mood in a slightly negative way, but I am more focused on giving my mind and body all the positive vibes I can right now. Here are some of the books I've been reading: Wherever You Go There You Are (Jon Kabat-Zinn), Yoga Beyond Belief (Ganga White), SunLight Chair Yoga: Yoga For Everyone! (Stacy Dooreck), No Man Is An Island (Thomas Merton), Teaching Yoga Essential Foundations and Techniques (Mark Stephens), Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith (Anne Lamont), Police (Jo Nesbo)...yes, a little fiction is sometimes in order.

4) Pranayama: Breath work is one of the pillars of yoga. It's also the one I dislike the most. Maybe it's because I often feel like I'm sitting there gasping for breath. Or maybe it's because sometimes it's really hard to breathe, count, hold, and remember which nostril I'm supposed to breath out of next. But prana is our vital life force and exercising our breath can be nothing but beneficial. Pranayama prepares us mentally for our other practices by concentrating our focus and awakening our soul. Trust me, I have some weird aversion to pranayama and sometimes "cop out" by only practicing deep yogic breathing but the key is to keep on keeping on. Practice other forms of breath work (some will likely require guidance...maybe through a yoga teacher, ashram or perhaps a respected online instructor...check out these pranayama specific videos at (free), ($29 annual membership with Groupon) or (free)) and you will reap it's benefits. After surgery I was given an incentive spirometer to help clear my lungs and to prevent fluid build up since I'd be on my back for weeks. It reminded me of my (neglected) pranayama practice and just how important it really is not just for healing, but for life itself.

5) Asana: Most of us are somewhat familiar with yoga modifications. After all, not everyone can touch their toes or perform hanumanasana (the splits) so we use props, perhaps a strap, block or blanket, to help us deepen our poses while preventing injuries. Well, this injury has certainly tested my creativity and ability to find modifications that are "doctor approved". For the first two weeks I couldn't do much due to the severity of the fractures, surgical incisions that needed to mend and cast blisters that I didn't want to tear. I was on strict orders to not bear any weight on my right leg. But I was fortunate in that the physical therapist who saw me before I was discharged showed me a few safe exercises I could do without much pain. I asked about incorporating a few yoga poses, which I showed her, and got the green light. Over the next few weeks, as my blisters healed and the bones mended, I was able to do more poses, always listening to my body and embracing its limitations.

Here are the exercises I was given by my physical therapist. I was encourage to do these daily two days after surgery:

The first thing she showed me was how to lay on my stomach. After 3 days of being fairly immobile, flat on my back, it was such a relief to change positions. I could stretch my front body and release the tension built up in my lower back. Initially I was only able to do this on a bed (or platform) where my toes could hang over the edge. I soon started using my foam roller to support my leg so I wouldn't be putting any weight on my toes (causing pain).

Sphinx Pose: Great for opening the shoulders and chest while stretching the spine.
Low Cobra (Bhujangasana) with foam roller support. You can also do this on bed on on a platform with the toes hanging over the edge. The foam roller actually changes the body alignment (not necessarily for the good) and causes the back bend to be deeper, which may not be ideal. Using the back muscles, as opposed to pushing up with the arms, strengthens the back.
Full Cobra. Same principles as above with a deepening of the back bend and full front body stretch.
Alternating Leg Lifts. I was encouraged to start these exercises almost immediately. Lifting up on an exhale to the count of three and lowering on an inhale to the count of three. I also do double leg lifts keeping the small of my back pressed into the mat for protection.
Side Leg Lifts. Leg lifts of all sorts (done correctly with slow, controlled movement) helps strengthen the muscles needed to maneuver around on crutches. You'll be relying on just one leg for getting out of chairs or on and off the toilet so that leg needs to be strong. But you also want to exercise the other leg (as much as allowed). That cast is heavy and takes a toll on the body just to lug it around. Keeping what muscles you are able to use toned will help with recovery once the cast comes off.
Extended Puppy Pose (Uttana Shishosana). A safer pose than down dog (since I can only use one leg) extended puppy pose is a great way to stretch the spine and shoulders.

Seated Forward Bend (Paschmottanasana) is a great way to stretch the hamstrings, spine and shoulders. It also stimulates internal organs and can aid in digestion (great for people who are bed-ridden) while relieving stress and calming the mind.
Seated Spinal Twist (modified with stool). If you can't bear any weight on your injured leg raise the height of your stool or sit on the edge of your bed, legs dangling. Try to keep the hips and knees even and facing forward while you twist the upper body (from the waist up) to either side. Move slowly. With an inhale stretch up and lengthen through the sides and with an exhale twist, keeping that length you just created. Hold and breathe several breaths...lengthening on the inhales and twisting deeper on the exhales. Be sure to twist to both sides. Twists aid in digestion, stimulate internal organs, relieve muscle tension in the back, neck, and hips and can even help alleviate sciatic pain.
Corpse Pose (Savasana): It's strange how laying perfectly flat on the ground can feel soooo good after laying around all day on the couch with your leg elevated. The benefits of savasana are numerous and include lowered blood pressure, stress relief, relaxation and a grounding feeling that can help with connecting to the self.
I'll soon be adding new blog posts with more Modified Yoga poses including seated Sun Salutations. It's my sincere desire to help anyone else who is facing similar challenges and seeking to overcome their fears and maintain a practice. Yoga truly is for every body...

Further reading on Yoga in Daily Life by Sri Swami Sivananda

1 comment:

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