I have a severely sprained ankle with three torn ligaments. It's been two weeks since my accident and my ankle is still swollen and sore. I am longing to get back to yoga but unsure of how much I can do. What do you suggest?
— Jen Harpaz
You can do several poses without placing stress on your injured ankle. The mantra here is ahimsa (nonharming). Learn to practice with love for yourself by staying out of the realm of pain.
Initially, you should rest your ankle while focusing on other areas of your body. Eventually you can incorporate gentle strengthening and stretching poses as part of your recovery. I suggest you wear an elastic ankle brace even while practicing poses that do not involve the ankle.
To take all the pressure off your ankle, try some upper-body stretches while seated in a chair. Urdhva Hastasana (Upward Salute), Urdhva Baddhanguliyasana (Upward Interlaced Fingers Pose), Urdhva Namaskarasana (Upward Prayer Position), Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose), and Paschima Namaskarasana (Prayer Position Behind the Back) will keep your shoulders flexible, chest open, and breathing fluid.
You can also do twists such as Bharadvajasana (Bharadvaja's Twist), which stretches your back while massaging organs that can get sluggish when you're immobilized by an injury. Jathara Parivartanasana (Revolved Abdomen Pose) strengthens your abdominal muscles and opens your chest without putting pressure on your ankle. Also try straight-legged seated forward bends. As you align your legs without bearing weight, you can begin to explore the range of motion in your ankle. Be sure to stay in the pain-free range. Dandasana (Staff Pose), Upavistha Konasana (Wide-Angle Seated Forward Bend), and Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend) will stretch your hamstrings, increase mobility in your hip joints, and lengthen your spine.
Absolutely incorporate inversions, which help drain fluids from your swollen ankle. You can do Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand) with a chair or Viparita Karani (Legs-up-the-Wall Pose). Both are calming and bring lightness to the mind.
Practice gratitude for the ease you take for granted when you're free of pain. Injury can inspire you to embrace humility and provides a renewed compassion for others with differing abilities.
Julie Lawrence, director of the Julie Lawrence Yoga Center (www.jlyc.com) in Portland, Oregon, is a certified Iyengar Yoga instructor.