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Injuries, Surgeries, Anatomy, and the Practice of Yoga

By the time I was 30 years old, I had already been put under general anesthesia five times. Other than my tonsillectomy, which was the first of them when I was 17 years old, the rest were all reflections of injuries or the way my body was shaped and functioned.

In 2003, I opted to have breast reduction surgery. While my reasoning was clouded by many factors (one of which had to do with a New York City casting director telling me I would only ever be cast as a nurse or the fat best friend as long as my breasts remained as large as they were), ultimately I opted to have the surgery because I was convinced it would have a massive effect on the way I carried myself as well as alleviate some of the back pain I felt frequently. I think about practicing yoga with the breasts I had then and immediately my mind goes to the ways I would have to modify certain poses.

Starting off, a simple straight spine standing position can be really tough on the lumbar spine when you have a lot of extra weight up top. In order to redistribute the weight, keeping a slight bend in the knees is hugely helpful. This allows some of the pressure to come off of the lumbar vertebrae while maintaining that straight spine position (Smith).

My second and third surgeries both resulted from an accident in 2007. This is where I really got to understand anatomy a little bit. I previously had only a basic knowledge of the major bones and joints in the body and that knowledge dated back to a 7th grade science class. But that accident in August 2007 made me very familiar with the knee, hip, and lower back.

It all started with a slippery floor. My legs skidded forward and my left knee hit a shelf in front of me. It popped out of socket slightly. It wasn’t immediately that painful. I would later learn that I had severely stretched my ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) and had torn my meniscus. Before that happened, I knew knees were important, but I didn’t realize just how much they have an effect on the rest of the body.

The knee is an incredibly complex joint that allows a movement connection between the upper and lower leg. The way it is positioned, protected, or left vulnerable has a direct effect on how other parts of the leg can move. Though the knee is a hinge joint and thus moves primarily within one plane of motion, the position of it allows for the hips, ankles, and feet to move more fluidly in other planes. The opening and closing of this hinge joint is what allows for the lateral movement of the lower leg (Freeman, and Taylor Mary 1833).

When I was recovering from my knee surgery, I started with physical therapy. But pretty soon after I could walk on my own, I opted to get back into my yoga practice. It was suggested to me by a friend at that time that I might want to do hot yoga, specifically Bikram style. I had never been in a hot yoga studio and it was an experience I thought would kill me but that I eventually grew to love. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize at the time that I was preventing myself from healing from my injury merely by completing those 24 asana.

That style of yoga relies heavily on the premise of “locking the knees.” At the time, I had minimal understanding of anatomy, so my brain associated locking the knees with pulling them as far back as possible. In my case, as I am hyper-extensive in some places, I was putting the weight of my knee on the tibial shelf. This action makes it so the leg can be in a state of rest, which is not exactly what is intended. Additionally, the thought I had of tensing my quadriceps muscles while in knee locking position. No one explained to me then that if you tense your quad while in hyperextension, you can increase the degree of hyperextension and create instability.