Repetitive strain injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis are notorious for sneaking up on people. They are slow to develop and slow to heal. That’s what happened to me. I pushed through the warning signs of fatigue, tingling and minor aches. I continued to put in long hours at the computer without breaks. I sat carelessly, with poor posture and improper alignment, typing fast and furious. And then suddenly, during the most routine tasks – typing, opening a door, chopping vegetables – I felt pains that ranged from dull aches to harsh jabs in my arms and wrists. My doctor diagnosed me with tennis elbow and sent me to an occupational therapist, who turned out to be very wise.
I had accumulated enough sick time at work to take two weeks off. I thought such a break might be a solution to my problem. I suggested this to the occupational therapist. Not necessary she told me. Anyway, you won’t heal in two weeks. Keep working, but change the way you work, she told me. Approach your work like an endurance athlete. Stretch before, during and after you type. Reduce strain by using a light touch. Sit well and keep your wrists and elbows in a neutral position. Don’t take two weeks off, but take a break from typing every 15 minutes (What??!! An alien concept!). Be aware of your body. Notice and address fatigue before it turns to pain.
This is the challenge and one reason practice of gyan bhava is important. Most often we are not sensitive to the very subtle, initial signs of ill-health. We are not in tune with our bodies. We don’t perceive small changes at the physical, mental and emotional levels. We only notice these changes once we can no longer ignore them, when they slap us in the face. By then we are often beyond a stage where the illness can be prevented and instead have to work at a curative level.
Gyan bhava, which we can experience in any asana that involves the extremities, upward and side stretching, balancing and twisting, is all about body awareness during physical practice. This is a first step towards deeper knowledge of ourselves, knowledge to help us foster well-being and identify the early signs of ill-health. Developing higher levels of awareness is what yoga is all about, higher awareness which eventually takes us toward our true selves. But we have to start with the basics: awareness of body, breath, thought patterns and attitudes, on and off the yoga mat.
As for my tennis elbow, regular stretching and minor adjustments at my workstation got me back on track. While the pain ebbed and flowed for several years, regular yoga practice now keeps me 99% pain free. I’m thankful that I’ve healed, but I am also grateful for the occasional flare ups of pain that remind me to tune into my body’s needs. I still have to be vigilant. In fact, I think I feel my some fatigue setting in now. Time to end this post and stretch!