Expert advice

Duncan Peak: yoga expert

Duncan Peak is the founder of Power Living Australia. Formerly an elite paratrooper, competitive athlete and business consultant, Duncan is now recognised as one of Australia's most popular teachers.

Yoga after neck injury

Monday, August 23, 2010
"It may also be the catalysis for you to explore more of a meditative style of yoga while you build back up your asana strength."


I am a keen ashtanga student but recently was "felled" by a disc replacement in my neck. I am left some nerve damage (hopefully temporary) with very little shoulder stability and no ability to do any of the handstands, arm balances and head stands (at this stage anyway).

Needless to say I am struggling with the lack of mobility and strength and am longing to be able to return to what I was once capable of doing. Do you know much about this type of injury and what would you recommend for recovery?

I have already had eight months off ashtanga (where I used to practice five days a week) and am looking for another form of practice. Is there another type of yoga that would be suitable for me?


The exact answer will vary with the details of your injury but essentially it will be about rest and allow the inflammation of the disk to reduce and repair. Once this is done you are best to focus upon strengthening your cervical (neck) and all of your spinal joints with resistance work, exactly the type of exercises your physiotherapist would suggest. Then slowly allowing yourself to get back to more dynamic practice.

But the recovery for this type of injury (inflamed disc) can be as long as six months to repair. Hopefully you have not perforated the disk and not done any permanent damage and will obtain full recovery. I would suggest seeing a specialist and ensuring you are getting the best advice for any spinal injury.

"Injuries are our best teachers" my guru used to say to me. Unfortunately when practising dynamic styles of yoga, the risk of injury is there, we can only reduce it with our mindfulness and a non-egoic approach. When the body's joints are loaded at large ranges and the student isn't mindful and aware or hasn't built up enough strength to support the joint at that range, then, injury can occur.

The accountability lies with the yoga teacher and studio to keep it safe but essentially it comes down to the student taking accountability and working with patience and compassion to avoid injuries. The journey I have just described for the yoga student is actually at the core of the practice of hatha yoga.

I wouldn't so much as look for another style of yoga but rather approach the same style (ashtanga, vinyasa or hatha yoga) or one similar of which there are many systems, with a renewed and sensible attitude. The strict disciplined Mysore-style primary and secondary series might not be suitable for your body now but there are many other school's teaching ashtanga, vinyasa, hatha yoga under many names with variations and modifications that would be sensible for your injury.

Or it may also be the catalysis for you to explore more of a meditative style of yoga while you build back up your asana strength.

People who are doing dynamic styles of yoga who have not built up their bodies to deal with this stress can benefit from also doing some cross-training with gentle resistance, Pilates or weights work. Being gentle in any of the forms and allowing time to build up to doing certain poses is essential.

Hopefully you can see the wisdom in your wounds and are able to draw a depth of self-understanding from it that makes the whole experience part of yoga. Best wishes for your journey back to your yoga mat.

Duncan Peak — yoga expert

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