What I Learned From My Fitness Injury

Last week, I was reminded how I became a much wiser exerciser after injuring my shoulder when I heard Cathy Murakami, yoga and Pilates presenter at the Idea Yoga Conference in San Diego, California, talk about how a fitness-related injury made her develop a healthier perspective toward being fit.

I hurt my shoulder 20 years ago while weight lifting. Murakami tore her meniscus (cartilage in the knee) a few years ago while rock climbing with a group of friends. We had different injuries under different circumstances but we had similar attitudes that directly contributed to hurting ourselves.

In my case, it was poor technique and an inflated ego that got me into trouble. In those days, few women were lifting weights so my gym classmates were all male. Naturally, I wanted to impress them with how much I could lift. Obviously, not with the absolute amount of weight I could lift but with how much I could lift for my size.

In Murakami's situation, she was having trouble with a certain rock climbing position that her friends had no problems with. Not only would her ego not allow her to give up; she also listened to her boyfriend, who kept pushing her to do it. No wonder experts say that ego is one of the leading causes of fitness injuries.

They say that you are a fool if you never learn from your mistake; that you are average if you learn your lesson; but that you are wise if you learn from the blunders of others. So here's what Murakami and I learned from our injuries. Hopefully, you will be wise, and not just average.

I learned that I am not Ms. Super Fitness and that my body is just as vulnerable to getting injured as anyone else's. I have also humbly accepted that there are certain exercises I can no longer do because my shoulder just can't take it. So during the two-day yoga conference, I had to modify poses or asanas that would compromise my shoulder. Being an ashtanga or power yoga practitioner, Murakami said her injury definitely made her eat humble pie. Ashtanga is an intense version of hatha yoga that can sometimes have an air of competitiveness.

Listen to Your Body
Our body is wonderfully made and it sends us signals when it senses pain and discomfort. I have learned to trust my body rather than myself. Now, when I feel a twinge in any joint or muscle, I back off from the offending position and modify my technique to accommodate my body's needs.

Don't Compare
Sometimes the only way to emotional maturity is to get hurt. Getting injured is one sure way to teach you not to compare yourself to other people. We are all built differently, and what someone else can do easily and without risk of injury may not be for you.

Murakami said that her injury taught her, the hard way, that one of the goals of yoga is self-awareness-to find out who you really are. It made her realize that some of her goals in practicing ashtanga yoga were shallow ones like "I have to get my foot behind my head because everyone else can."

Denying that my shoulder was feeling sore and achy turned what should have been a simple shoulder problem into a chronic one that haunted me for years. Why was I in denial? Because I thought that if I didn't pay attention to the pain, it would go away. Plus I didn't want to face the possibility that I would have to stop exercising to rest my shoulder.

Be Disciplined and Patient
It takes a while to properly rehabilitate an injured joint or muscle. I learned to be disciplined about my rehab exercises (which I still do to this day) because when I don't do them, my shoulder will eventually hurt again. I also learned to be patient. I love to lift heavy weights but I know now that you can't just jump into it. I need to progressively increase the weight so I can exercise safely. And if I go on vacation or stop lifting for any reason for more than a week, I have to lower the weight. During the months that I travel a lot, this can be frustrating because it seems that I am not getting anywhere. But I have learned my lesson well.

Get Professional Help
Murakami took longer to heal because she tried to fix her problem herself. You would think fitness professionals would know better, but many times they don't seek out medical help because they are also in denial about how serious the problem is. Since they make their living from teaching exercise, they don't want to be told by some doctor that they might have to stop for a while. Of course, this is a counterproductive attitude because when the problem has really gotten bad, they end up stopping for a much longer time than they originally should have. Additionally, even if you are seeing a doctor but your problem is not getting better, get a second opinion. My first doctor did not treat my injury properly so I had the problem on and off for many years. I eventually came to my senses and found the right one who gave me the correct advice. But I suffered needlessly because I didn't look for another doctor right away.

Technique is Very Important
I cannot emphasize how important good technique is. Not only will it prevent injury but you will also get better results. A lot of people find learning the basics boring and want to do the more advanced exercises right away. Big mistake. No wonder sports medicine doctors are seeing more patients coming in with injuries from Pilates, yoga and kickboxing.

I Can Exercise Even With a Handicap
I have learned that there are many ways to exercise even if you have a handicap. This is comforting, because now I know that no matter what curveballs life may throw at me, I can still do what I love, which is exercising and teaching other people how to exercise. This means that even if I should lose both my legs or go blind in an accident, I will go on exercising and teaching, but it will just take another form.

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