Healing with Yoga: How Yoga Benefits Injuries

Injuries change our bodies forever. Once an ankle is sprained, an arm is fractured or a cut is made, a permanent mark remains for the rest of our lives. It is the methods of healing that can build a stronger body post-injury. Yoga has established therapeutic properties, allowing the body to move beyond the injury into a stronger whole body.

I recently sat down with Ossi Raveh to discuss how yoga helps us heal by framing our injuries with a new mindset. Ossi is the founder of Brooklyn Yoga Project, an intimate yoga studio in Brooklyn with a mission of extending yoga principles into every part of your life.

Brooklyn Yoga Project
It is impossible to share my conversation with Ossi without first telling her story. A 40 foot fall abruptly ended Ossi’s dancing career.  The accident broke her entire body, shattering her knees, pelvis and changing life as she knew it. Once the bandages were removed, she began bringing herself back with Pilates, meditation and breathe work.

First focusing on Pilates and Gyrokinesis, Ossi found yoga too painful to endure with her still mending body. Then she was introduced to yoga in a heated environment. Whereas in other yoga styles the injures were strained, the heat warmed those areas and added an extra element of healing. Heat allowed the body to be ready and relax. It is this practice that led Ossi to teacher training in 2004 and brings her back to the mat each day.

“Injury to the body is one thing but what it does to the mind is another, totally separate thing,” Ossi shared with me. This is where yoga differs from physical therapy, Pilates and Gyrotoniques. Yoga brings with it the meditation philosophy. And this practice gives you the tools to deal with the things that come up through injury.

Brooklyn Yoga Project

HOW BODY-MIND WORKS

Ossi painted a clear picture of how yoga does its good work. When you practice Pilates, you really have to pay attention to what you’re doing. It is mind-body and requires very specific ways of moving. In contrast with yoga, our body helps us to get out of our heads. It is body-mind. Yoga lets your body take the focus and lets your mind take a break.

The heat is another element that helps focus your mind. With an elevated temperature, your mind is too focused on your body heat to get distracted by other thoughts.

The mind needs mending just as much as the physical body when healing an injury. Ossi believes the work we do with ourselves is integral to any healing process. At Brooklyn Yoga Project, much work is done around acceptance, acceptance of limitations and honoring them. I love the way Ossi ties in yoga’s philosophy throughout her classes, raising her students awareness of finding the peaceful place within themselves. She reminds me that yoga is about accepting your limitations.

And this is where I saw myself in her story. Not too many years ago, I severely sprained my ankle during the last month of marathon training. The injury took me off the pavement and onto the mat. I was focused on healing as quickly as possible so I could go back to my running routine. But my body had other plans. It rejected all forms of running. I was devastated.

Ossi works with a great deal of runners who come to her seeking quick fixes so they can get back on track. If I may stereotype runners, myself included, we’re generally intense, type A, competitive people. And we’re drawn to more intense exercise, i.e. hot yoga rather than traditional. The runner comes to class expecting improvements in their running, but come away with so much more.

“A lot of the mindset that goes into running is what causes the injury,” Ossi says. An attitude of overachievement pushes them beyond a healthy level, similar to my personal overzealous marathon training. When runners come to yoga they look for flexibly and the strength in their body, when they actually need it in their head. After establishing a dedicated yoga practice, many runners return at a slower pace, with a different intention and a new mindset around the sport.   

I could see myself clearly in Ossi’s words. I felt that she was mirroring my personal story. In my running days, yoga began as a “off-day” activity. But as my running injuries increased, I found myself in the studio more and more. Yoga became my primary activity and with it I’d gained acceptance of my limitations. Now seven years later, I see how the more I come into yoga physically, the more it shifts my mind away from the type A mentality.

Since yoga is about acceptance, the practice teaches you how to embrace challenges and find new solutions. After Ossi’s traumatic fall, she didn’t give up. She refused to use her accident as an excuse not to move anymore. It became an opportunity to go further than she had ever gone.

Often times with injuries, all of our energy is focused on the area hurting and how to make that feel better. But Ossi explains the work is in the whole body, “You’re not trying to heal an injury, you’re trying to heal the body around it.” The question to answer is, “how can you build the strength around the injury so the injury is left alone?” Then once it heals, the rest of the body is strong.

Ossi offered the beautiful story from Iyengar to explain this further. “The flower of the tree is furthest from the seed, and that flower might be your tension, but the seed is where it’s coming from. What patterning in your body has created this injury?… You don’t want to focus on the injury, you want to focus on the seed.”

Brooklyn Yoga Project

WHERE TO BEGIN

If you want to begin incorporating yoga into your recovery routine, Ossi offers a few suggestions:

1.  Do what feels right to you. If something feels uncomfortable during class, its not going to feel better later. Try a modification.

2.  Muscle memory changes quickly and the patterning in our fascia is also created quickly, so it is recommended to practice two to three times per week to creates new patterns and awarenesses.

3. Check in with your breathe. “If you can’t breathe in what you are doing, then something you’re doing is not good for your body.” Back out of the posture and take a break.

An injury can be a set back or an opportunity for growth in your whole self. It’s all in the mindset. Yes, my ankle will never be the same but that sprain taught me the transformative power of acceptance, patience and mindfulness.

Real healing is rooted in acceptance and this is yoga’s greatest gift.

You can learn more about Ossi Raveh and Brooklyn Yoga Project here.

And sign-up for an upcoming yoga class by going here.

A Beginner’s Meditation Lessons

This article first appeared on Joie De Vivre, which chronicles Nichole Dunst’s conscious living pursuits and worldly travels. It seeks to showcase “green living” as a fun, stylish, and non-intimidating venture. 

I wanted to share Nichole’s meditation experience as an example of what many face when they first explore a meditation practice. Sitting still in absolute silence can be terribly painful. But the benefits are life changing. 

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Earlier this month I found myself in the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts for what I thought would be a weekend of yoga and good vegan food. My friend Jenn had told me about this weekend-long spiritual retreat with Gabby Bernstein, our generation’s spiritual leader, called Amplify Your Intuition. It was set in the well-known Kripalu Yoga Center, on a sprawling plot of land offering hiking trails, a swimming lake, and a breathe of fresh air.

When she asked if I’d be interested, I thought, “Hey sure, I like yoga. Why not?”

I was excited for the opportunity to spend a weekend relaxing, doing yoga, and catching up with a friend. But to be honest, I was a little bit skeptical about Gabrielle Bernstein and whether or not I would get any value out of her program. I couldn’t tell if she was just another social media presence, milking her notoriety and using it as a means of selling lots of books and making lots of money.

But on that first day, when I walked into the room where the seminar was being held, I saw Gabby sitting on a bench up front, and she just looked so peaceful. When she spoke, it was with such precision, and such heart. It became clear to me very quickly that this chick was the real deal.

She’s such an open book, and she’s not afraid to tell us about the moments where she, as she calls it, “chooses fear over love.” Every once in a while, in the middle of speaking about non-judgement or living in the present, out squeaks a “fuck” or a “hell no.” And that is why we all love Gabby Bernstein.

She’s us. Just without all the chaos.

Throughout the course of the weekend I learn a lot about myself, and about how I had recently begun approaching things that I didn’t agree with, things that made me uncomfortable. I realize I’ve started to become defensive and, almost, aggressive in my convictions. While I don’t necessarily think it’s bad to voice your opinions or stand up for what you think is right, you can’t shove them down people’s throats. I was becoming far too judgmental of those around me who didn’t share my same ideals, and it was tainting my experiences with them.

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Losing My Teeth Before 30

I walk into the dentist for my regularly scheduled cleaning. Two years had passed since my last visit. My teeth felt healthy and pain-free. After a routine brushing, flossing and probing, the dentist looks at me with deep concern. “I want you to see a periodontist. You may need surgery.”

Surprised and confused, I leave the office with a clean mouth and a head full of worry.

The periodontist shared my results very matter-of-factly. “You have 40 percent bone loss in your lower teeth.” Okay, and that means? He went on to explain that my teeth were losing bone around the root, where the tooth anchors into my mouth. If it continues, the teeth will detach from the root and fall out.

Fall out. As in lose forever. Never to grow back. Toothless at 28.

How exactly did this happen to me? I was healthy, I flossed daily and always brushed my teeth. What could have gone wrong?

I began to question everything about my health. It became an obsession to understand why my bones were deteriorating. I read dozens of nutrition books, learned more about anatomy and physiology and researched methods for building bone density.

During this time I had also just begun weekly therapy for an eating disorder. I’d battled bulimia for ten years and was finally ready to get help. I shared the teeth discovery with my therapist. She listened, then asked why I thought this happened. At the time I blamed my years eating a vegan diet. It seemed logical to me that the lack of proper nutrients resulted in my teeth dilemma. She left it at that and therapy continued for six more months. 

As the months passed, I learned more about bone loss as well as the health consequences of bulimia. Bone loss can be caused by a variety of factors, ranging from difficulty absorbing nutrients in autoimmune diseases to taking certain medications for cancer treatment to damages from eating disorders. Generally something is interfering with calcium and vitamin D absorption.

I was quick to discredit the link to bulimia. It had already caused so much suffering that I could not fathom another consequence. I continued to solely blame my past dietary choices for the bone loss.

Near the end of my therapy intensive, we circled back to my teeth. The notion that it could be tied to bulimia was nagging me. I shared my doubts about the link to bulimia and my therapist challenged, “I think the bulimia is the culprit, it is commonly seen with this disease.”

Finally it sank in. Bulimia caused my tooth deterioration. I accepted it. The concentration on my lower teeth was a clear indication. Years of purging allowed harsh stomach acid to flood my mouth and be in regular contact with that area, slowly corroding my teeth. 

Bulimia Physical Effects:
►Irritated digestive system
Bloating, abdominal pain
Lack of vitamin and mineral absorption leading to malnourishment
Teeth deterioration
Sore throat, indigestion, heartburn and reflux
Inflammation & rupture of the oesophagus
Electrolyte imbalance resulting in cardiac arrhythmia, muscle fatigue and cramps
Stomach & intestinal ulcers
Irregular or slow heart beat
Heart failure

The list only includes physical side effects and does not go into the just as damaging emotional health impacts.

28 and toothless. That’s the story I have to tell. It’s been two years since I received the bad news and I now have a reverse braces contraption in my mouth holding down my bottom teeth. The teeth I’ll eventually lose. Honestly, a tooth could fall out any day.

Yes I’ve accepted it and own my mistakes and continue to do the work to ensure further damage is not done. But I’ll never get my teeth back.

 

Resources:
Bulimia: Caring for your Teeth, http://eating-disorders.org.uk/information/caring-for-your-teeth/

Physical Effects: Bulimia, https://www.eatingdisorders.org.au/eating-disorders/bulimia-nervosa/physical-effects