Saturday, November 5, 2011

Chakrasana FAIL

I had started about 4 other posts before this one that, obviously, never got published.  There just wasn't a whole lot to write about.  Nothing new and exciting at work.  Still not teaching.  Though I started going to physical therapy to hopefully resolve my low back issue, there was nothing remarkable on that front either.  My practice was moving along nicely and my teacher gave me Krounchasana (the second pose of Intermediate) a week after she gave me Pasasana.  Pasasana was coming along nicely:  heels on the floor, balancing and binding without needing an assist about a couple of weeks after she gave it to me.   Back bends?, still not much going on there because of the chronic low back stuff and the light-headedness.  So, there was a bit I could talk about there too but I was getting tired of talking about it. 

Either way, practice was rolling along nicely until I rolled/crunched my neck during a chakrasana 2 Thursdays ago.  I don't know if it was because my ponytail got in the way (now I know why my teacher wears her hair in braids...I really need to learn how to braid my own hair), if I just didn't push into my hands at the right time or if my neck muscles were just tight to begin with.  Either way, there's was a significant crunch feeling along the left side of the neck with accompanying pain that radiated up the neck, down the upper back and across the top of the shoulder.  I stopped, checked to make sure my arm still worked and tried to assess what happened and how bad it was.  Just holding my head upright felt like work and the pain was pretty intense.  The person who was subbing for my regular teacher suggested to try continuing with the practice to see if movement help.  I tried to lower down into a chaturanga and the pain shot through my neck and into my head.  Big time NO to movement.  I stopped practice, gingerly closed with the last 3 seated poses and rested with my head supported in savasana, trying not to cry and to just rest and breathe.

After I got up it was still pretty bad.  It was painful to just hold my head upright and there was intense pain whenever I tried to move my head in any direction.  I iced as soon as I could and took 600 mg of Ibuprofen and continued icing throughout the day (yay for a freezer with crushed ice at work!).  Even though it was really painful and definitely scary, I decided that I would wait until the weekend was over before making a decision about going to see a doctor and just give my body a chance to rest and do its best to heal itself.  Little side note of irony: a friend of mine did the exact same thing during her Mysore practice a couple of weeks earlier!

After 2 days of icing and 2-3 rounds of 400-600mg of Ibuprofen a day, it started feeling better.  I had a little more mobility and it was not as painful to just hold my head in a neutral position and most of the pain was localized around the muscles on the left side of C7 (lowest vertebrae in the neck). Though I did scale back the Ibuprofen on Sunday after talking with the body worker who helped me with my shoulder during the summer.  She reminded me to be careful with how much I move my neck when I take the Ibuprofen because the medicine masks the pain.  Good point.  That's the reason that I never take Ibuprofen before a practice if I have an injury: I need to feel what is causing the pain; the pain is my body's guide to moving correctly.  Which speaks volumes about how my view of injuries and the body has changed from when I used to run!  Anyways, I was going to just keep resting and not try practicing until the pain was gone completely, but the rest of my body was cramping up and feeling pretty tense, not to mention my mind felt like it was kind of on edge.  So, on the Sunday following the chakrasana mis-hap, I practiced a few suns and some standing poses at home and it went surprisingly well, as long as I kept my head in a neutral position and didn't use the muscles in the back of the neck too much.  The rest of my body and my mind was extremely grateful for the movement.  I also sent out an email to one of the bodyworkers at my studio asking for help.  Even though it was doing really well on its own, I was starting to get some nasty tension headaches traveling up the left side of the head, and I just wanted to make sure that it wasn't serious.  I got an appointment for that Tuesday and continued practicing at home, just carefully making my way through as much of the Primary Series as I could without pain (which was just up to Paschimottanasna).

By Tuesday it almost felt normal and I was wondering whether or not I should keep the appointment...until I had to jerk my head back to avoid something falling on me.  Ouch!  Nope, not back to normal.  I was also surprised at how sensitive to the touch it was when Nicole (craniosacral therapist and "miracle body-worker") was working on it.  Most of the time she actually focused on the muscles under/around the left shoulder blade (which makes me think that my thinking that I pulled the upper muscles of the trapezius might not be too far off--especially considering the trajectory of the pain and the shape of the trapezius muscle).  She also worked inside my mouth, on the muscles of my jaw to be more precise.  I'm not going to lie, it was really weird to have somebody outside the dentist put their finger inside my mouth, lol.  But, she thought it would really help the neck to have the jaw muscles relaxed.  Can't say it didn't need it.  I know I clench my jaw at night and I noticed that morning that it felt really tight when I tried to yawn.  When the hour finished it was hard to tell how much help it had done until I yawned!  Holy cow!  I knew it was tight but I had no idea it was that tight!  It sounds weird but it felt like there was so much freedom and space in my mouth and jaw.  It was quite remarkable.  Even better, there was minimal to no pain in my neck when I woke up the next morning!  It was mostly just a general feeling of stiffness.  My neck definitely still has a ways to go though because I could still feel pain when I moved it in certain direction which she said would be the case, that I would still feel it back there.  But it was definitely significantly better after the work that Nicole did on it and the headaches going up that side of the head have dissipated.

So, I am now working with another injury.  Annoying?  Yes.  But, this time around it has truly almost felt more like a gift and less like an injury because of how it has effected my practice.  Which I will cover in the next post because this one is too long as it is  ;-)


  1. I wrote you a super thoughtful comment paragraph but then blogger deleted it-

    The short version:

    LOVED this post. I can't wait to read about how this injury has been a blessing in disguise for you (isn't one too many ??) It hits home as I continue to change and connect with my practice on a different level after a knee injury 2-3 weeks ago. It really is all about perspective, which you seem to have a lot of!


  2. Holy moly! I didn't know anyone outside of a small handful of my friends was reading this! Thank you for commenting (even if Blogger ate the first version...silly Blogger).

    So: yes, one injury is more than enough, lol. Injuries will definitely change your perspective and you can learn a lot from them (though it took me quite some time to get to that point).

    What happened to your knee?

  3. I have chondromalacia patella (a big word meaning the cartilage in my knee grinds essentially every time I bend it, causing pain...) so I am supposed to go to PT for like ~3 months and see if helps... if not, the S word (trying not to think about that extreme)! Maybe this is my clue to a home practice, too - ha ha (I laugh because I am "resistant" as you say you are... small steps...

    But enough about me .... loved the new post too and here I am ranting again :)

  4. Reading this post made me feel better :) . My first chakrasana attempt yesterday caused me the EXACT experience you describe, that immobility of the neck down to the left shoulder blades. I've been ibuprofening the pain down. Planning to get back to some basic exercises tomorrow. Cheers :)

    1. Hi! Glad this post made you feel better, but sorry to hear you crunched your neck too. Make sure you ice it, to help keep the inflammation down. I think mine needed a good 3-4 days of rest before it felt well enough to try to actually move it. If there is a body worker that you know and trust, might be a good idea to see him/her as well. Just make sure you give it plenty of time to heal, you don't want to mess around with your neck ;-)

      Mine is good now and the chakrasanas are smooth and easy, but I always do a quick check to make sure that I'm not gripping in those neck/shoulder muscles before I do the movement. Also: inhale brings your legs up, exhale as you push into your hands to roll over your head (I don't think I focused on that quite enough when I was practicing it before). Good luck, keep taking it slow and easy, hope your neck heals up well. :-)

  5. Hello! So glad to have read your blog entry. I did this a few days ago just as you describe, even with the crunch sound.

    Am looking at a few more days out of action. When you began practicing again did you modify your routine to avoid shoulder stands. head stands ect.


    1. Hello Keith! Ouch, sorry to hear about another person crunching their neck in chakrasana. Yes, I did modify my practice. I can't remember how long I stopped doing them though--plus each person's recovery will be different. When it came time to do those poses either in a led class or in my Ashtanga practice, I just did the "legs up the wall" pose as it provides a similar energetic effect in the practice without putting your newly injured neck at risk. I wrote a little bit about my recovery experience and the things I learned in the post right after this one ("Chakrasana fail, gifts and lessons").

      I think the head stands came back first though, once the inflammation and pain were gone and the supporting muscles were strong enough. But I did them with the support. First with blocks and against the wall, set-up is like this: 3 to 4 blocks stacked on either side of your head (depending on your height) against the wall, with one block just in front of them for your hands; you will be in a tripod headstand, not the classical basket headstand; your head should just barely be on the floor with the tower of blocks under your shoulders holding the weight of your body. It will look something like this picture, but without the weird twist she is doing, lol: When coming back to doing this inversions, move slowly and with caution, if you start feeling pain, stop and come down, the neck is not ready. As the neck felt better, I took the blocks away and did a normal headstand but still with the wall as support until I felt ready to move away from it.

      When I did start practicing shoulder stands again, I did them with support as well, with one or two blankets beneath my shoulders. It's a little hard for me explain how to do them just through words though, but I found an article with accompanying picture that explains it pretty well: A note though, the fold of the blankets should come to right about the C6 vertebrae in the neck, that bone at the bottom of the neck/top of the upper spine that sticks out a bit. You'll probably need to blankets to start out with, and then you can decrease to one when it starts feeling better.

      If you are in an area where there are Iyengar Yoga teachers (or with an Iyengar background), seek them out, because Iyengar teachers tend to be highly skilled when it comes to using props. If you have any questions, let me know and I will do my best to answer them.

      Good luck, remember to be patient, take it easy and listen to your body. The pain sucks but it will also act as your guide, letting you know when you are doing a movement that is damaging to it and when you are doing one that is beneficial. If you're ever not sure, don't do the pose and find a teacher (or physical therapist) who can help you. If you have any questions, let me know and I will do my best to answer them :-)