Enjoy this compelling story written by Patty Chang Anker about finding her way back to her healthy yoga practice after breaking her foot. Read more about Patty at the end of this post.

“When can I do yoga again?” I asked Dr. Oh. The lightbox illuminated the fracture in my fourth metatarsal on the X-ray, a shadow across the long bone attached to my ring toe on the left foot. Such a tiny bone, broken by a single wave knocking me down at the beach. What a pain.

“Yoga is pretty demanding on your foot, right? I wouldn’t try that for at least month,” he said cheerfully, writing a prescription for Vicodan. “But after that, you should be fine.”

No yoga for a month? That’s ridiculous. I thought of my yoga students, the classes I would have to cancel. I thought about my own practice. I could do what I did last time, chair yoga, core work lying on my back, pranayama (breathing exercises), meditation. No standing poses for a month. That’s not so bad. The last time, it was 2 years.

The last time, I tore my flexor retinaculum. One wrong step, and the sheath stabilizing the tendons of my left ankle ruptured, a tricky injury to diagnose. It took 18 months of false starts – physical therapy, acupuncture, yoga, reiki, all the while adapting my yoga practice and teaching (not to mention parenting a preschooler) to accommodate a lame foot, before I finally accepted that my body was not healing itself.

“You’re living the life of a 70 year old,” the orthopedic surgeon I finally consulted said. It was true, I didn’t do anything that required 2 strong legs. “You’re 36. Are you okay with that?” Although I was terrified of being opened up, I let him operate. He sutured the sheath back together and to the bone. Six months of rehab later the ankle was rock solid, the rest of me in fine shape because I never stopped doing yoga. Even while in the cast, I did my Warrior II and Triangles lying on the floor. Easy.

But that was five years ago. Now, there are two kids to take care of, a house with stairs, a book to write, a conference in VT coming up followed by a family vacation to Europe. Did I mention I’m five years older?

This time, the crutches hurt, really hurt, my hands, arms, armpits, chest, upper back, shoulders. The walking boot I graduated to after a few weeks dug into my left shin and sent me back on crutches. My right leg, none too happy about supporting all my weight, yet again, felt like lead. I couldn’t get comfortable to sleep or sit, and couldn’t stand up straight.

I stopped practicing yoga. The simplest things were out of reach.

Savasana, Corpse Pose, simply lying down, made me wonder if actual corpses felt such aches and pains.

Deergha Swaasam, Three-Part Breath, felt like it would crack my ribs.

Tadasana, Mountain Pose, standing with equal balance on both feet, shoulders back, heart open, back of the neck long? Not. Happening.

Six weeks went by before I hauled myself back to the yoga studio.

“Sometimes an injury is an opportunity to find new ways of practicing,” my longtime yoga teacher said. He was leading the class in downward dog; I knew he was speaking to me. I didn’t care. After struggling through the warm-ups I was lying on the mat mad at my body for not being better already.

I couldn’t squat, stand on tiptoe or balance. My leg shook, I had no strength, anywhere. Tears stung my eyes, and then, came a sense memory, of the first time I came to Integral Yoga 13 years ago. How exhausted and stressed out I was at the time, how the teacher said:

“In yoga, there is no need to compete with anyone. Not even yourself.”

And how tears of relief poured down my face at her words. It was the first time in my life I was told to rest. I slept on my mat right through class, and returned every week after to enjoy not competing with anyone. Eventually I started stretching and strengthening my body, and set myself on the path to become a yoga teacher.

Now, I laughed at the realization: I was competing with myself from the last time I was injured. Yoga teaches acceptance, and I had refused to accept my situation, expending all my energy wishing or willing it away. But the truth in the here and now was discomfort. The opportunity was not about figuring out how to practice differently, but how to accept more gracefully. Not how to do, but how to be.

I propped myself up on pillows and blankets, and took it easy for the rest of class. I tuned in and out to what the teacher was saying, trying only the stretches that felt safe and good. I stayed lying down for the closing meditation, feeling peaceful for the first time in a long time.

Dr. Oh had said one month, but with a busy life and predictable setbacks (kids like to get underfoot, don’t they?) it took me three months to get back on my feet in yoga. That’s okay. Healing doesn’t happen on schedule. But here’s what did happen in its own time: the more I let go of expectations the easier it was to breathe. The easier it was to breathe, the more my muscles relaxed. And the less pain I felt. That was the space I needed to get to, before I could ask my body for more.

All the things I missed so much – teaching, practicing upright, meditating sitting up – I’m doing again with new appreciation for being able to at all. I’m still modifying some poses; I still fall down trying to balance at times. But now, when I fall, I laugh at what a klutz I am, at how being knocked down is sometimes the best way to get me to stop, pay attention, and be.

Patty is a Good Housekeeping Magazine “Blogger We Love” and Circle of Moms “Top 25 Funny Mom” for her blog Facing Forty Upside Down (www.upside-down-patty.blogspot.com) Her writing has also been featured in The Huffington Post, iVillage, and Audrey Magazine, and numerous websites.
Patty is also a certified yoga teacher, Thai Yoga Bodyworker, and Reiki practitioner who believes in the power of yoga to uplift and heal. The mother of two daughters with special needs adopted from China, Patty works with parents on issues surrounding attachment, special education, and special needs parenting including Tourette Syndrome, ADHD, Anxiety, Sensory issues and PDD. Patty lives in a village north of New York City with her husband and two daughters.

For more information on yoga and the healing approaches Patty used, please read these FoundHealth articles:

Share your experience with Yoga

Share your experience with Reiki

Share your experience with Acupucture

Share your experience with Physical Therapy

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5 Responses to Back on the Mat: Building Back to Yoga After Injury

  1. Chris says:

    Can you tell us more about tearing your flexor retinaculum? I have torn mine (left foot), and do not want to go through surgery because of it. Was your case a severe case that required surgery? Or do all cases of a torn FR require surgery? Can I just “go easy” on it for a few weeks and hope for the best? Or will I be just putting off the inevitable and wasting time prior to surgery? Thanks for any info! There is so little useful FR info on the internet.

  2. Hi Chris, I’m sorry for the delayed reply – if you’re still wondering about surgery, in my experience in the time I was taking to try physical therapy, acupunture, etc. I was also raising an active child and I turned the ankle repeatedly just stepping off curbs and trying to catch her in the playground. However bad the tear was to begin with, by the time I got to surgery it was really ruptured and stretched out. In my case the surgery made a huge difference. So ask your doctors what they think, and good luck!

  3. Lisa Martin says:

    Hi Patty,

    Wow, I just loved this piece! It inspired and calmed me at the same time. 15 days ago (sounds so recent when I write it!), I was hiking in Acadia National Park in Maine, tripped on a root or something, and fractured my left radial neck (forearm bone). The good news is that it’s a closed, non-displaced fracture, for which I was put in a sling (no cast or splint needed). Doc said no driving, weight-bearing (“nothing heavier than a coffee cup”), heavy pushing or pulling, etc., at least until I see him again at the end of the month. Just started PT the other day and it HURTS! But I’m determined. I am not a regular yoga practitioner, but I like some of the asanas, like downward dog, cobra, mountain, pigeon, etc. I also do Pilates, elliptical, weight-lifting (was up to 15 lb dumbbells for bicep, tricep, chest work). Right now, though, I can’t do ANY of these things, and it has been really bothering me. Your words about letting go, breathing, and – most importantly – not competing (with myself or anyone else) really struck a chord with me. Thank you for helping me along on this healing journey.

    Namaste, Lisa

    P.S. It says that you practice “north of New York City.” I’m in Hartsdale!

  4. Namaste, Lisa – I hope you are healing well! And I invite you to take a look at my new book, SOME NERVE: Lessons Learned While Becoming Brave http://www.amazon.com/Some-Nerve-Lessons-Learned-Becoming/dp/1594486050/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1378484398&sr=1-1&keywords=patty+chang+anker

    (it’s the struggles that teach us the most lasting lessons, right? Sigh.)

    All best wishes to you!

  5. Fran cumming says:

    Thanks for your article. I am a bike rider, a walker and practice yoga . 10 days ago I had bunion surgery. I have a very painful, bruised and swollen left foot. Should I just go along to yoga and hope the instructor can give me alternative poses? It has taken a lot out of me and I am not sleeping well at night , so nap during the day. A mum of 3 (4 counting husband) I have never felt so frustrated.

    Cheers, Fran (Sydney, Australia)

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