Preventing Yoga Injuries
It’s all about the process, not the pose
Our first relationship to yoga can be like a love affair - furiously passionate and fun. But as the initial fire fades, and challenges arise, we are tasked with cultivating a relationship to our practice that facilitates both healing and growth. In my mind, we have the greatest potential for expansion when we know how to keep our bodies safe. Here are some tips for keeping yourself strong, resilient and uninjured throughout your yoga practice:
Get Proactive – Postural Assessment Your daily activities (in the other 23 hours outside of yoga class) shape your whole mind-body. Whether you are a beginner or experienced yogi – get an assessment, preferably one that is filmed, so that you can see how you move. A skilled yoga therapist can do this, or anyone with a kinesiology/biomechanics background. A common finding is that many people have a slumped posture (hyperkyphosis) from sitting at the computer, driving cars and watching TV. Without stretching the muscles of the chest and strengthening specific muscles in the back and arms, the whole shoulder girdle is extremely vulnerable in many yoga postures and transitions. Some simple exercises for these practitioners would increase their confidence, body awareness, and allow them to practice yoga with physical integrity.
Focus on Functional Movement I know that a lot of the acrobatic yoga postures look sexy – but unless you plan to make your living in a circus, focus on executing integrated movements with skill and precision. Functional movements are related to the activities that you do every day (squatting, lunging, pushing, pulling, rotating, hinging, and walking). In yoga, cultivating functional movement often means slowing down and working within a smaller range of motion in order to get stronger and more stable. Find a studio that offers both pilates and yoga, and find teachers who sequence with the goal of avoiding repetitive strain (the classes should be diverse in pace, skill level, and style).
Get Savvy on Problem Poses There are two types of problem poses, those that are tricky for most of the population and those that cause injury for you. Generally, those with poor posture aggravate their shoulders by practicing chaturanga (also known as a yoga push-up) and to some extent downward dog. If this is you – work on your posture daily, and practice these poses once you see some improvement in how you stand and walk. Shoulderstand and headstand are also problematic for the cervical spine – we haven’t adapted our necks to high load and the risks outweigh the benefits (which you can get by putting your legs up the wall). Outside of these postures you might find that some skills are unavailable to you (due to mobility or strength limitations). Listen to your body, and build your foundation slowly and steadily. It’s about the process, not the pose.
Tracey Soghrati, practices yoga therapy, the art and science of mind-body integration. www.soghratiyoga.com