From Arm Balance Blues to Broken Arm Bliss!

My contemplations on healing from an accident.

eka pada koundinyasanaAs a student of the physical and philosophical practices of yoga, I am endlessly intrigued by the ways that the two disciplines inspire and inform one another.  When I gain new awareness of my body during asana practice, I am always able to relate this awareness to some yogic “way of life” that I’ve learned from ancient texts, scholars, and teachers of yoga philosophy.

For example, it took me years of practice to gain the awareness in my body necessary to be able to fly in an arm balance like this one.  I struggled with arm balances my first 3  years doing yoga.  I was convinced that my arms were shorter then everyone else’s!  I remember it wasn’t until my first yoga retreat in Costa Rica that I gained core strength and found the inner awareness and alignment to support flight in Crow Pose.  From then on, I was coming back to the pose with greater and greater confidence and strength.  The awareness of my core strength related to the principle of tapas, written about by Patanjalai in his book Yoga Sutras.  Tapas, which is one of the Yamas and Niyamas, means effort, strength, and drive.  I believe we want to cultivate tapas in order to advance the evolution of our yoga practice, as well as our personal and planetary health and healing.  This evolution requires effort.

Since getting up into Crow pose for the first time, I have been studying the biomechanics of the body, including anatomy, physiology and structural alignment.  This is also tapas, and has lead me to advance in my physical postures towards even more advanced arm balancing poses like handstand and flying crow.  My body can twist, fold, fly, and go upside down, thanks to tapas and an understanding of how my body moves and supports itself from the inside out.  The pose in this photo, Eka Pada Koundinyasana I, took years of cultivating tapas to accomplish.

Fast forward to now.  I have a broken arm.  I am standing face to face with another principle from the Yamas and Niyamas that Patanjali spoke about.  The principle is Santosha, which means surrender.  The thing is, before breaking my arm, I was already broken.  I might not have seemed broken, especially in this picture, but I was.  I was burned-out on tapas!  My piriformis has chronically bothered me for two years now.  Every time I do a pose like this, although I might have the tapas necessary, I end up in pain.  My body’s message was to cool down the tapas, but I wasn’t listening.

I was forced to listen when I had my car accident and suffered several injuries from the crash.  Today, a month and a half after the accident, I have focused on the gentle and subtle forms of yoga that promote ease, or santosha.  Santosha reminds us that letting go is as important as being fired up.  The ability to relax and let go of our ego’s attachment to and identification with the goal is a central yogic principle.  In fact, in the Tantric tradition of yoga, we are invited to engage these two complementary opposite forces and to practice both tapas and santosha at the same time!  My body feels great on santosha, and aside from healing injuries from the accident, my mind and heart are more calm and content then ever!

I continued to contemplate the need for santosha in my life, and in all of our lives for that matter.  We live in an ambitious world where effort is awarded more than is ease.  During reflection I noticed my need for santosha went beyond the physical.  I easily identified a major excess of mental tapas.  The first thing that came up was a personal fear of financial inadequacy that was pushing me into over-efforting in my work, and might even be why I crashed my car.  I decided this accident was a big sign from the Universe that everything was going to be ok.  During recovery, I decided to let go of fears that were blocking me from healing.  I let go of the idea of inadequacy and insecurity.  I repeated the mantra “I AM ENOUGH.”  Very quickly, I saw that my fears were unnecessary.  I never become homeless or lost my mind.  Rather the opposite.  I was flowing with grace.  This broken arm was a gift!

I have to be honest.  I am not 100% content with just santosha in my life right now.  Every now and then I start craving the heat of tapas.   The thought of never being able to fly in Eka Pada Kundinasaya again creeps into my consciousness and I feel sad.  So I ask myself, what’s that about?

The answer came in a conversation with a student of mine who is a psychologist.  He told me about a psychological study where participants naturally show a preference for their second choice object after they were told they were unable to have their first choice.  Our minds can naturally look to the good in any circumstance.  The mind yearns to be satisfied!  My first reaction was to see everything I just wrote in this blog through this lens, and think that there was no deeper truth about myself that I had uncovered.  Rather my mind was making up justification in order to get satisfied.  In some ways, this made sense.  It answered the question of why at first I was not frustrated about my physical limitations, but later had some awareness of feelings left over from my previous preferences!

Then I had to ask myself if my current feelings of satisfaction and happiness had nothing to do with my need for letting go of fears or finally reaching an end to my tapas burn-out?  Well, yes and no.  No because this study is statistical evidence that we look to the good no matter what.  And what great news!  However, Tantra would say my feelings are important because regardless of what the preference of the mind is, it is how we participate in the choices that we make that matters.  In sum, the only difference in life is how deep you go!  So pay attention and dive in.

I offer gratitude from my heart to the teachings and practice of yoga.  Today, I’ll take a full cup of smooth sanotsha with some spicy tapas on top!


  1. Hi Stephanie,

    Just reading you blog. Broke my arm in practice yesterday. your post speaks to me quite strongly. But i also wondered how you are going now with it? are you still limited in your physical?

    • stephadmin says:

      Hi Marike! Sorry It took me a while to see your comment. One year later my arm feels completely healed. I am able to do all weight-bearing activity and yoga poses like handstand and arm balances. Of course if I do many days of these poses, my arm starts to ache. I attribute my healing to weekly massage and acupuncture for the 9 months following my accident. Thanks for asking!

    • stephadmin says:

      And sorry to hear about your arm.

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