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