I saw it before I had time to react – a body bar rolling perilously toward my chosen landing pad in an ill-timed leap in a fitness class. One busted ankle later, I was grounded for two months.
I didn’t see a visit to the ER with a concussion/broken wrist/multiple lacerations combo coming – thanks to the slippery railroad track groove hidden in my bicycle lane. Two more months penance for this road warrior.
Move your body enough, and shit will happen. Count on it. It’s just part of the active person’s life. But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Not only do temporary injuries beat sitting on your fanny and atrophying into a bag of mush, they give us enormous opportunity to pause, observe, learn, and grow.
Both literally and figuratively (ever broken a bone? I broke my wrist and watched in total fascination as the little knobby part – that’s the Ulnar styloid – grew back before my very eyes).
Injured now? Between sob sessions and cursing at Powerade TV ads featuring tight-tushed badasses having a grand old time while you hunker under a heat pack, try pausing and seeing what you can learn from your experience. Here’s what I learned:
1. Get Strong, Sister
Last spring, I got carried away on a quest to nail handstand. I kicked up. Jumped up. Flailed up. Grunted and cursed my way up, each time flying over to the other side in an awkward-twisting cartwheel.
My left Serratus Anterior, also known as the “Boxer’s muscle”, was done fighting. Off came the gloves, and a nasty tear meant no more handstands, or even plank poses, for several months. Slowly, I gained back strength with gentle exercises and acute listening (“is it pain or discomfort??” became a daily mantra).
I learned the value of developing strength before pushing into advanced poses my body wasn’t yet ready for.
2. There Are No Shortcuts
Whether it’s a handstand, an invitation to share your genius in front of a crowd at a convention, or a fancy calligraphy degree bearing your name, to achieve it, you gotta put in the time.
I assumed momentum and stubbornness would get me to handstand in no time, and learned the hard way my shortcut was nothing but a painful detour off my intended route.
3. New Ways To Enjoy The Now
When everyone but me was outdoors walking, running, pedaling, splashing in a pool (add your fun summer activity here_____), I put on five or so pounds immobilized with a busted ankle save for short shuffles to and from the fridge under a pair of crutches.
In the beginning, all I could focus on was my sore, chafed armpits and how long ‘til I could train for my next ½ marathon. But as I healed, I picked up a hobby I’d long since forgotten about – sewing.
My projects brought a ton of joy to those around me: my three Fashionista nieces who served as mannequins, my 90-something grandmother and seamstress extraordinaire, and a delighted dog who loved hanging out by my side as I learned to enjoy sitting on my fanny. Temporarily, of course.
4. Ask For Help
A broken wrist from one of my road bike spills (yes, there were more than one) created some interesting challenges. Tough to open a can of tomato soup with one hand. To wash and dry blood-caked hair. Redress the bandages over open wounds.
I discovered it was time to humbly enlist the help of Mama, my co-workers, neighbors, and the delivery man (sorry pal, can’t sign for that package right now). Not easy for a die-hard DIY-er, but critical. And here’s the cool thing:
I’m now more aware than ever if someone else needs a hand. I’m quicker to jump in and help out. We all need a comforting bowl of soup opened with love by someone else once in a while.
5. The Only Constant Is Change
I pounded the pavement for nearly three decades, amassing an impressive collection of race bibs and even a few top 5 age group finishes in local 10Ks, ½ and full marathons. But at some point, it’s time to move on.
When my knee joints started sounding like the fellows on the Rice Crispies box, and my left calve muscle gave out in my last marathon and turned a hideous shade of purple after completing the last 8 miles in agony, I knew it was time to rediscover yoga.
Time for a healthy alternative to jarring activities and more mindfulness toward what my body and spirit needed.
I’ve known many athletes who refused to allow their activities to evolve with age, and are now paying the price with a host of replacements – hip, knee, shoulder. Injuries are an opportunity to allow the body to communicate when a change is called for. Look inward and listen already.
6. You Are More Than A Pretty Face
So much more. One bike accident resulted in losing several layers of skin on the right side of my face, and a jagged row of stitches above my black eye. I scared small children. But how interesting it was to live without the mask of a pretty face.
I became fascinated observing strangers’ reactions to my marred appearance. Some turned away. Some stared. One blessed soul gave me an impromptu hug in an elevator and shared her past experience healing from a similar injury. Cool.
There are six hours in my past completely wiped out. I fell at 2pm. Came to at 8pm as I glided through the CAT scan tunnel. Where am I? What happened? I had no idea, but God-willing I recovered and have a solid memory otherwise and clear state of mind today. But a lotta folks don’t.
This experience made me appreciate my sound mind, and empathize deeply with those who have not been so lucky and are suffering from brain damage.
So yogi friends, soak up the beautiful present moment and empathize with those who no longer can.