There has been a fair amount of hype in recent years about the potential for injury in yoga. While this hasn’t taken the wind from the sails of the yoga boom, it has driven some to “safer” western forms of exercise and other alternatives like Pilates. And to be honest, if exercise is the only thing you’re going for, that might be a good option for you. Yoga is an amazing practice. It can tone you up, bring in comprehensive flexibility, and cleanse the body at a cellular level. But yoga is designed as a practice to unite mind, body, and spirit. It can offer so much more than exercise, but it must be approached with the proper consciousness in order to do this for you.
Also, the reports of injury sustained in the process of doing yoga shouldn’t be overlooked. Injury is an easy possibility, and even a strong likelihood, when doing yoga improperly. Yoga is complex, intricate, and perfectly suited to the human body, but it doesn’t come instantly, and it takes awareness to get there.
So here are five keys to keep your yoga on track and keep your body safe by avoiding injury in yoga.
Yoga is not about looking flexible or about going deeper in the stretch than the person on the mat next to you. No one’s in a race to master yoga or to get this or that pose down fastest. If you’re focusing on other people or one some standard of how the ideal pose looks when mastered, then you won’t be paying attention to what truly matters. Where is your body tight? How far does your body want to go into the stretch? Can you keep the breath smooth and deep through the pose?
I see a lot of people forcing themselves into the poses, collapsing the back, allowing the yoga to become floppy. First, for each muscle group you stretch, you’ll want to engage the opposite muscle group. For example, if you stretch the hamstrings, engage the quads. This is called the principle of reciprocal relaxation. Also, move slowly into and out of poses. This will stop the muscles suddenly contracting, which they do to prevent the body from over-stretching. Next, work the alignment from the feet up, aligning first the feet, then knees, tuck tailbone in, lengthen and support spine, and tuck chin. Don’t sacrifice alignment to get further into the pose.
The bandhas are essential for providing support of the spine. The mula and uddhiyana bhandas create a cradle of muscular support for the lumbar and thoracic spine, while the jalandara bhanda protects the cervical spine. Hasta and pada bandha, the hand and foot lock, engage the small muscles and establish alignment while protecting the ankle and the wrist.
Listen to Your Body
Listen to your body as you move through the poses. It will tell you how far to go. Due to the connection between mind and body, some teachers might tell you that your inflexibility comes from the emotions. Be careful of any teachers that tell you to push past the pain. Sometimes, your inflexibility is associated with old resentments, sometimes it is the result of years of tightness. Be gentle, and body and mind will become unlocked together.
Take Time Coming Into and Leaving the Poses
Most of the injuries in yoga happen when entering or leaving the poses. Take it slow, be conscious, and don’t skip steps. Remember, it’s not a race to get into the pose either. Maintaining awareness and smooth breath through the whole process protects your body and deepens your practice.
These are just a few guidelines, and they’re the tip of the iceberg. Any proper practice of yoga requires well-trained instructors to guide you into the pose, the show you the fine points of the bandhas, and alignment, and to give all the details that don’t fit into print. The biggest key is to be present the whole time. Safe journey, and Namaste.
Shades of Yoga is a teacher training company running Level 1 and Level 2 Yoga Teacher Training courses in Bali and Costa Rica. Details here.