Pssst. Don't Overdo It
4 Tips for a Lifelong Yoga Practice
It is common for students to be overwhelmed by the pressure to perform increasingly acrobatic yoga postures, inevitably leading to the unhappiness that initially drove them to yoga in the first place. This article will assist you in cultivating a practice that works for you over the course of your life. After all, if we’re playing the long game, we want to be as comfortable as possible in the skin we’re in!
I have observed that practitioners come to their yoga practice and obsess on increasing flexibility. Too much flexibility is too much of a good thing. When the soft tissues surrounding joints become too loose, the muscles will often go into spasm literally tightening in response. To get the most out of your practice, focus on increasing flexibility to tight areas of your body and strengthening areas that are weak or underused. This means that you will need to do things in addition to yoga in order to get the most out of your practice. Some good options are: mat/reformer pilates or strength training using weights/resistance straps.
An overuse injury involves pain and inflammation of the soft tissues of the body from repetitive actions that may or may not involve force. Poor posture while executing these repetitive actions will simply increase the likelihood of injury. Certain yoga postures and sequences are repeated in almost every yoga class. In order to minimize risk, incorporate variation in the classes you attend, or ensure that you practice with a teacher who offers new sequences regularly. Many students prefer a style of yoga with a set sequence (i.e.: Ashtanga), because they can drop into a meditative groove by always knowing the path of the practice. In this case the student might incorporate completely different activities into their wellness regime in order to counteract the repetitive stress (i.e.: cardiovascular activities, dance, strength training etc.).
Proportion indicates the relationship between one body segment and another. For example, the length of the torso versus the length of the legs or arms. You may not have short arms, however they may be shorter than your torso, which will affect the accessibility of many yoga postures. For instance, if the arms are shorter than the torso, it will be difficult to place the hands flat on the floor when seated, or to jump from downward dog to a seated position. Body proportion can also make certain postures really easy and accessible. If the limbs are long in comparison to a short/compact torso, then it will be much easier to execute more acrobatic moves, like binding the arms behind the back or wrapping the legs around the shoulders. Every yoga practitioner should be aware of their proportions so that they avoid injuring themselves by trying to force a posture that they are proportionally unsuited for.
The importance of breathing cannot be underestimated. In all classes aim for a long, subtle breath cycle (inhale/exhale) through the nose. Moreover, begin the inhale or exhale a fraction of a second before you move the body – in this way, the breath leads the practice.
Tracey Soghrati BSc., BSc.N, RN, RYT is a yoga therapist, educator and mom. You can find her at www.soghratiyoga.com