Addressing Common Yoga Injuries (Pt. 2 of 2)

17 April 2013

This article is a continuation of Addressing Common Yoga Injuries (Pt. 1 of 2)

Turn those Ouches into Oms – Some practical suggestions for safe yoga practice.

Proper alignment when doing asanas (poses) is key to preventing injuries, but it’s not the only factor in a safe yoga practice. To minimize concerns over injury, follow the basic recommended guidelines below.

  • 1. Leave your ego at the door. It’s often tempting to push yourself into more advanced poses (after all, how tough can a handstand be, right?), but rushing our bodies before they’re ready greatly increases our risk for injury. Yoga is about finding out where you are at, not trying to push yourself to in order to appear better than you really are. Yoga class is not a competition.
  • 2. Always take time to warm up. This is an important part of any physical activity, sport or exercise program, and yoga is no exception. Basic, simple stretches (like neck and shoulder rolls and gentle spinal twists) help prepare the muscles, joints and connective tissue for more challenging poses later on in a sequence when actual practice begins. Remember, your mind needs to warm up too; take a few slow, deep breaths to get centered at the beginning of class, it’s also good to chant some Oms to get yourself grounded.
  • 3. Ease in slowly. No one should expect to finish a marathon the first time they put on a pair of running shoes. Don’t expect to do a perfect headstand or even get your heels all the way down to the floor in the downward dog pose the first time you attend a class. Instead, opt for beginner-friendly classes or a qualified teacher who will help you develop the foundational skills for more advanced postures and moves.
  • 4. Communicate Honestly. Don’t just get to know your teacher, let them get to know you also. Be sure to share any pre-existing conditions or issues that might require modifications in certain asanas. A qualified instructor will be glad to show you how to modify poses or use props, so never be afraid to ask.
  • 5. Come out of static postures slowly. This is particularly important if you’ve been holding a certain pose for several minutes. A good rule of thumb is to work your way out of a pose as gradually and slowly as you moved into it.
  • 6. Use the props and modifications recommended by your teacher. There’s no shame in not being able to hold a pose or move all the way into it completely onyour own. Whenever there’s tightness anywhere in the body, other parts of the body will have to adjust to accommodate it. This is why it’s so important not to push the body past what it’s able to do in any given pose.  Props and modifications allow the body to get a feel for a pose without being able to get fully into it and this will help you to gradually work up to its full extension or variation without undue risk of injury.
  • 7. Don’t ever lock your joints. Hyper-extension (joint-locking) is probably the fastest way to wear out joints and cause injury or problems down the road. Focus instead on engaging the muscles, tendons and connective tissue around the joints, this helps you to gain stability.
  • 8. If you feel you’re hurt or injured, Stop. If you think you’ve tweaked, pulled, or torn something during a yoga session, tell your teacher immediately and, if need be, don’t be afraid to leave the class early. Care for it like any other sports injury, and seek the advice of a trusted health care professional if the pain or condition persists.
  • 9. Stay for savasana (corpse pose). Students are sometimes tempted to head for the door as soon as the instructor calls for savasana (the final resting pose usually at the end of a yoga session), remember it’s not only good for your health, it’s necessary for your composure. Savasana allows the body’s nervous system to slow down and readjust, bringing closure to the practice. Just two or three minutes in this asana can have a beneficial effect.
  • 10.Listen to your body. This may be the most important tip of all for avoiding injury. At all stages (or levels) of yoga practice, remain mindful. By really listening to your body you can be sensitive to any tightness, stress or strain. Simply because you did a particular pose with ease one day, doesn’t mean your body will automatically be able to do it the next. Build your relationship with your body just like you would with other people, by listening and being attentive.

Always remain mindful of your body, respect yourself and where you’re at on each and every day. Your body changes quite often and your yoga practice should accommodate those changes, adjusting itself accordingly.

Closing Notes:

Make sure you do your homework before joining a class or choosing a teacher. As yoga’s popularity continues to grow, more and more students are flocking to classes, increasing the need for skilled yoga instructors. Inexperienced or poorly trained yoga teachers often unintentionally cause harm or injury by teaching above their own training and/or ability levels. Well-trained certified instructors have a thorough knowledge of anatomy, human movement and the physiology of exercise. A basic understanding of the ideology, philosophy and history of yoga is essential. Teachers who focus on specialties such as seniors, kids, yoga therapy or pre-natal yoga, requires that they have additional training above the foundational level.

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