A month ago last Tuesday night, just after the first class came out of Savasana, I walked through the studio to open the door and let the students for the next class in out of the rain.
Someone had left a folded yoga mat in the middle of the room. My little toe got caught in the fold. There was a flash of pain, and then I just kept walking.
My inner Spartan boy – the one who hid a wild fox he had stolen under his clothes and suffered the consequence – kicked in immediately.
I had one more class to teach, and I couldn’t see sending the students home, or teaching from a chair in the middle of the room. So I made it a game to see if could get through the 90 minutes without letting on I was I injured.
Knowing what I know now, I’d have sent out for ice, and taught large portions of the class on my back, with my legs up the wall.
When I sprained my little toe, I learned that it’s important to keep props out of the circulation space.
I don’t blame anyone for the sticky mat incident, or if I do, it’s me, for not paying attention. But the truth is, I walk around the studio looking at the students, not the floor, so I need all the help I can get to stay safe.
For years I’ve seen the scattering of props around the room as a happy sign of yogis at work. I thought that teachers who insisted on keeping the room clear were a bit on the military side.
Not any more. Just call me Captain.
I learned what a sprain is.
By definition, a sprain is an injury at a joint, usually the knee, ankle or shoulder, but little toes count too.
In a sprain, we tear the ligaments that tie the bones together. Ligaments, from a Latin word meaning to tie or to bind, and by association, a bandage, connect and stabilize one bone to another. They look a bit like bandages, white, stringy, fibrous and tough.
They can be stretched to increase range of motion. If they are over-stretched they can’t regain their former shape, and the result is a loose and weakened joint.
Hence the alarm about “hanging in your joints” when you do yoga poses.
When you wrench ligaments, by say, getting your little toe stuck in a yoga mat, they take a long time to heal. In fact, a sprain can take longer to mend than a broken bone.
Ligaments don’t get much blood supply, so they are naturally slow to heal. And they are always subject to new strains, just in the normal course of doing their jobs.
Think of it: the work of the ligaments is to halt the movement of the bones when they go too far away from each other. You don’t have to be playing sports to make a ligament stretch. All of us place our weight unevenly and stumble from time to time.
I learned that it’s best to take sprains seriously.
One of the hidden but real dangers of yoga is that you generally feel so good that you come to think of yourself as invincible. I almost never get colds or flu. When there’s a bug around I might have a hot bath and then tuck up in bed with a cup of tea for the afternoon, but that’s about all that happens. (In fact, the illusion of invincibility is so strong that I’d completely forgotten The Sniffley Sadhana when I wrote this. And that was only six months ago.)
When I sprained my little toe, I expected it to heal quickly, almost by itself. Everything else always does. Why not this?
I could have taken anti-inflammatories on a regular schedule, but I didn’t do that, nor did I lie down and put my feet up as much as possible.
I didn’t even Google “sprained little toe” until into the second week, so certain was I that all I could do about it was ice and wait. And since it was going to heal quickly without much help from me, I didn’t really bother too much with the icing.
A month later, my foot still hurts. Today, it’s swollen and it looks bruised again. I seem to be able to walk inside, barefoot or in sandals, without much trouble. Not so much outside, in shoes.
I used to take 40-minute walking breaks down to the library and back to clear my head when I’d been writing. I trotted up to the bank, bought most of my groceries on foot, took just about any chance to head out the door and see how the world smells, and how the air feels on my skin.
Now it makes a difference to me if I park in front of my destination, or a block away.
I’m getting an X-ray, to see if it’s just a strain (whew!) just a broken bone (whew! again) or a broken bone with a small chip of bone lodged in the joint (not so whew!).
And the last thing I learned?
I need a bike.
Photo courtesy of bradleypjohnson, via Flickr.
VanCitybuzz just published my story on the joys of Iyengar yoga, titled Highlighting Iyengar Yoga. If you like it, please share.