Last year I broke my elbow while riding my bike. Two days prior to the accident I had hovered in handstand, a pose I’d been working towards since 2012. Now I couldn’t lift my arm above my head and the thought of downward facing dog made me want to scream. I had just quit my job, which required little of my physical body and was starting out as a yoga teacher, which required a strong and healthy one. I had no car and relied almost completely on my bicycle to get around. I was preparing for a month long trip across the country, where I dreamed of climbing rocks, surfing, and handstanding along the coast. And most scary: my health insurance was set to expire in three days.
What I didn’t know yet was that this challenge was one of the great gifts I received last year and has provided me with more strength + connection then I could have imagined. One wrong turn taught me so many valuable lessons, enabled me to trust myself more + reach others. The reasons why this injury was a good thing continue to reveal themselves to me now – one year later.
10 things I have learned from breaking my arm
1. Slow down. The morning of my accident I was overcommitted and was rushing around. I figured I could make up for a late start by riding faster, taking a shortcut and zipping through red lights. I am lucky I fell on my own and wasn’t hit. I am grateful I was wearing a helmet.
2. Always know which direction you’re going and trust yourself when the turn feels wrong. On top of being in a rush, I wasn’t totally sure of my route. I was going to a client’s house, but I hadn’t yet nailed down the course. I was overly confident that I knew the way and once I made the wrong turn, I kept going despite my intuition telling me to go back. The road was covered in potholes and trolley tracks, which is what caused my fall.
3. Being articulate is important. Once I realized I couldn’t lift my arm over my head let alone demonstrate anything requiring my arms, I had to become more skilled with my words and teaching cues. What I said truly made a difference in how my classes went and whether my students felt successful on the mat.
4. Flow + meditation can be found in all things. Yoga and riding my bike were my meditation and once I broke my arm, I couldn’t do either. I was just embarking on the shaky path of an entrepreneur and could anticipate more stress coming my way. I developed a stronger meditation practice and started to really enjoy walking. Once I could handle the faster movement, I started running more regularly.
5. Massage, bodywork and relaxation is a game-changer. The biggest block to my healing hasn’t been bone, but muscle and connective tissue. My arm is chronically tight and sore, my wrist and shoulder frequently ache and the tricep muscles on my right arm are noticeably less strong than the left. I discovered myofascial release massage therapy and have been consistently getting massage twice a week to release tension, accelerate healing and train my muscles to relax. Previously, I was resistant to massage and relaxation but now I see it’s essential to my active lifestyle.
6. Empathy makes us all better. I still deal with chronic pain throughout my arm and loose bones crack through my elbow daily. It sucks to feel limited by your body without any idea of when the pain will stop. It’s humbling to not be able to easily do the things you know and love. I can relate to more injuries and physical limitations because of this.
7. Get creative. After a few months, not being able to practice a vinyasa class was not only having an effect on me mentally, it was also challenging my ability to develop yoga sequences. I was really missing my time on the mat and the community of a class. I got creative with how I could participate in a yoga class without using my hands at all. For me, it meant a lot of chair pose. I had to get real with what I could do and innovate the rest.
8. Patience is essential. Healing takes time. The month after my injury, I kept expecting I would wake up and be healed. In the second month, I expected 1 or 2 treatments with my massage therapist would heal me. In my third month, I expected I would be in a handstand by the end of the summer. It’s been over a year now and I know that I’m still not there and if not cared for, I may always have a limitation. I’m patient with my body’s ability to heal itself because I know it will.
9. You can ask for help. I fell off my bike on a Friday at 10 AM 3 miles from my house. I considered walking home until I realized there was no way I would be able to get home without asking for help. I called everyone I knew in Chicago with a car and an irregular work schedule. Asking for help is so hard for me and here I was. My friend Amy selflessly rescued me without question. While I was healing I had to ask for help all over the place: imagine putting your hair in a pony tail with one arm, or tying your shoes, or flipping an egg. Asking for help can be hard, but it’s a sign of strength and it doesn’t mean you are a burden.
10. Courage. Although I love talking to students before and after class, I rarely speak to the teacher when I myself am the student. Something in me tends to feel sheepish and awkward, especially if I really respect the teacher. If I really wanted to be a yoga teacher in LA I knew I would have to get over that pretty quick. My injury gave me something to talk to other teachers about – it was a platform to introduce myself, explain where I am at physically and who I was as a teacher and student. I have had really helpful conversations with amazing teachers and connected with great studios.
Above all, breaking my arm gave me greater strength. Physically, I am stronger – I have gained the ability to engage deeper muscles so that I can now actually do handstand for real (hell yeah!!). Mentally, I have gained more strength to ask for help, to be vulnerable, to share who I am, and to take better care of my body.
Our greatest challenges are our greatest teachers – from them we adapt, learn more about ourselves and grow. Sometimes our setbacks can seem so frustrating, but it’s working through them that we receive the gifts we need. If you’re working through something physically or emotionally, ask yourself what you’ve already gained. Be open to what hasn’t yet been revealed.