The number of people practicing yoga is on the rise due to the wonderful health benefits, such as weight loss, lowered blood sugar and cholesterol levels and increased flexibility, not to mention that it can decrease stress, depression and anxiety. However I have seen a growing number of injuries sustained in the practice, ranging from knee sprains to shoulder-, hip- and low back strains, so I decided to focus this blog on tips to attempt to prevent injury.
A lot of injuries happen when a client is taking up yoga for the first time and is not in tune with body awareness and proper alignment and form, which I find to be the two most important issues to focus on in any yoga class, or any other form of exercise, for that matter. Your body performs differently every day, and one has to listen to whether or not you feel stiffer that day, or have a lower level of energy or have an injury that you have to nurse, for example.
It is always a good idea to introduce yourself to the instructor and let him/her know that you are new to the practice and inform him/her of any injuries you may have,so that she/he can modify the class for you appropriately. Then it is up to you to position yourself near the instructor so that you can hear the modifications and not hide at the back of the class due to being too self-conscious. One also has to practice and learn the proper alignment and form for each pose and this is where a good instructor comes in, because this is learnt over time with constant reminders to ” draw in your bellybutton” to switch on your Core , and to keep your kneecap in line with your second toe, which is next to the big toe, and to keep your knee joint over your ankle joint for the most part in standing poses.
Do find the right class:
Ashtanga, hot yoga and power yoga may increase physical fitness and endurance.
Hatha yoga or Yin yoga promotes more relaxation and flexibility.
Kundalini focuses on the more spiritual aspect of yoga.
But all forms of yoga should be about teaching you how to BREATHE THROUGHOUT THE PRACTICE.
If you have a pre-existing medical condition or -injury or are pregnant, it is best to get clearance from your family physician before beginning and consulting your physiotherapist can offer guidance as to how to overcome your limitations safely. There may definitely be postures that you have to avoid because the therapist has found a vulnerability in your spine or joint/s after assessing you.
Pigeon pose often has to be avoided with hip joint problems.
If you have weak wrists, elbows or shoulder joints, be wary of plank and push-up poses.
In postures involving any upper body twisting to one side or the other, be diligent of form and alignment to protect your ribs.
Be careful at the extremes of bending forward or backwards in any pose so as to protect the spine and always engage the Core.
If you have a painful or weak neck, it is best to avoid headstands, handstands and plow poses.
If you have weak or painful knees, it is best to avoid cross-legged, or kneeling and sitting back on your haunches, especially for prolonged periods.
Be aware of your body’s limitations and respect them.
Do not force any pose into pain- yoga should not cause pain, a mild discomfort is acceptable.
The onus rests primarily on you to ensure your practice is healthy and safe.
Remember that Yoga is not a competition – either for you to perform better than the yoga instructor, or the client on the mat beside you, it is rather a personal challenge, an introspective learning about oneself, and whether one can truly travel inwards and listen to what your body needs and what it is telling you.
I wish all you fellow yogis health and happiness in your practice.