How to practice yoga after an injury or after a period of inactivity


I started to practice yoga in the year 1973, at the age of 23. In that period my body was strong, heavy and stiff. It felt like I had to move stones, every movement was an effort against the weight of my body. I was heavier than now (about 145 pounds), but I felt much heavier. My idea was that to “master” yoga the only thing I had to learn was to became flexible. Flexibility was my dream, and I was watching and admiring everybody who was flexible and could bend forward or backward with no effort. I still remember myself in the class, my legs straight in front of me, stretching, trying to reach my feet with my hands, pushing my head down to my legs, and at the same time turning my head around (I was always observing what was happening around myself, instead of observing my own body) to observe the other students, who did yoga for less time than I did, with their chest touching their legs, and thinking “ how lucky they are!”

In my head I was thinking that once I could cross my legs, bend forward and bend back, the work was done!

The reality was really different. The first thing I had to learn was that the weight was more psychological than physical. One day I was trying to learn how to balance in Bakasana (the crane, balance in the hands with the knees resting on the arms) and I was feeling that it was impossible to lift the weight of my body up. So I stopped and I told myself “I am light, I can do this easily, my body is very light”, and as a miracle it was so much easier to do. Since then, every time I feel heavy, I talk to myself, I change my attitude, and everything comes so much easier. This was just the beginning of a lot of discoveries. We all know about the attitude, about the influence of the mind, about the “positive thinking”, but how to make it work is a different story.
One day I was practicing Hanumanasana (the split) and I was so far away from it that I just told myself “relax, let go” and suddenly my legs let go, and I could arrive in the position. And now when I practice, I know that when the body resists and becomes stiff if I relax and let go from inside, the limit is much different.
This was still the beginning, when I thought that the yoga was just to learn asanas.

Now I know that the asanas are just a tool to refine the body and the mind, a tool to know ourselves, and to help for meditation. When we practice over and over the same asanas and we penetrate inside our body, it is not the asana itself that is important, but the maturity, the refinement of the intelligence. If we are flexible or not is not the focus any more.  From this point of view it is how we practice, it is our attitude when we are practicing that becomes important.

The biggest challenge for most of the practitioners is when there is an injury and it is not possible to practice yoga for a while.  We may think everything is lost, that the yoga is gone forever, that the body is gone.  This is not true, nothing is lost, the maturity and the intelligence of the body and of the mind is still there.  
When we start to practice after a period of inactivity, we push ourselves to work at the level we achieved before the period of inactivity, to go as quick as possible to “our ideal best physical shape”.  Often this attitude leads to new injuries.  What we should keep in mind is that even when we cannot practice we are not losing anything.  The maturity we obtained from the yoga will always stay with us.  What we lose is only the strength of the muscles, the flexibility of the body.  So when we begin to practice again, we have to be careful not to push ourselves.

We have to learn how to rebuild again the strength of the muscles, the stamina, the ability to do and maintain the poses.  How to regain my strength after my injuries  has been for me the greatest challenge in my years of practice of yoga. (After all, who has never had an accident or adventure that has forbidden us to practice yoga!)
Remember that it is not how much we do or what we do that is important but how we do it.  It is the quality of the practice that is important and not the quantity.

Start with a few asanas, then increase day by day.  Do each asana for a short time and increase the time when you are ready.  It is better if you practice every day (abhyasa) , to increase your stamina.  If you feel that your body is struggling or shaking don’t force and you will see that every day you will get stronger. Respect your body, respect your limit. ”. It is the intelligence of how we do it that will make a difference.
If you had an operation or a treatment ask your doctor when you can start again the physical activity without harm. Ask also to a teacher with more experience to have a guide.