When you think of taking a yoga class, getting injured is probably not something you consider likely to happen. Yoga is supposed to be healing, right? Like any activity, it has its risks, especially when you attempt more difficult postures like arm balances or inversions, try one of the styles of yoga hybrid classes like aerial or acro yoga, or just don't listen to the cues your body is sending.
As yoga's popularity continues to increase, so do the number of reported related injuries. In an article for Huffington Post, New York yoga teacher Glenn Black cites several factors that contribute to this increase. One is the modern demographic of yoga practitioners. Traditionally, yoga was practiced in India, by people who sat cross-legged, in squats and whose daily life lent itself to a higher level of flexibility. Today's practitioner leads a more sedentary life, sits for extended periods of time, and then visits a yoga studio one or twice a week. Black also cites the increase in popularity of yoga as a reason for increased injury. More yoga teachers are needed to staff studios, and many undergo a quick teacher training. They lack the expertise to safely conduct a yoga class. One final reason is the lack of personalization in yoga. Just about everyone has imbalances and weaknesses in the body, and a one size fits all practice just isn't going to work.
Yoga is a very beneficial practice, and done mindfully is amazing for the body, mind, and spirit. If you practice yoga, you'll want to be aware of the most common yoga injuries, and how to prevent them. Or, if you have sustained a yoga related injury, read on for some suggestions to support your healing process.
It makes sense, in many poses, the majority of your weight is in your wrists. Attention to alignment is key in preventing wrist injuries. An example is plank pose. Safe alignment dictates that your shoulder, elbow, and wrist should be aligned from top to bottom. If you place your hands in such a way that your wrists don't align with the elbows and shoulders, the joint becomes forced to bear tension. Over time this can lead to wear and tear of the joint, and ultimately injury. Another example is downward facing dog. You can reduce the strain on the wrists by pushing the hips back. This will decrease the angle of flexion in the wrist.
Do you have a yoga related wrist injury? It's important to seek medical attention to treat it, but once you do and you are on the mend, there are things to can do to strengthen the joint and surrounding muscles.
- Strengthen: With a very light weight (1 pound) rest your forearm on your thigh, palm facing up. Curl the weight towards you. Do 2 sets of 12, then repeat with palm facing down.
- Support: Wear a lightweight and flexible wrist brace during your practice.
This often forgotten part of the body is an essential link in the shoulder to wrist chain of alignment. When the wrist is bearing the body's weight, so is the shoulder. An example is side plank. Ideally your shoulder, elbow, and wrist form a straight line. If you place your hand too far forward, the elbow is asked to support way more weight then it is able to. Another pose responsible for elbow injury is chaturanga, or lower push up position. As you lower from plank, you should keep your elbows tucked into your sides. What often ends up happening is that they wing out away from the body. Executing this pose the proper way may be harder, but it protects the elbows by allowing the triceps to engage and support the action.
Are you healing an elbow injury? With your doctor's go ahead, try the following.
- Strengthen: Hold a tennis ball, or another pliable ball similar in size and squeeze 20 to 25 times. Repeat on the opposite side.
- Support: When you are ready to return to your yoga practice, give your elbow a little support during class by wearing an elbow brace.
It's so easy to allow the shoulders to bear more weight than they're designed for, especially when your arms are getting tired. It's not uncommon to see yoga practitioners shrugging down into their shoulders to compensate for fatigue. The shoulder girdle is a fragile structure, and while it can bear weight, attention to alignment is key to preventing injury. Backing off when you are too tired for more advanced poses is also important! An example of a pose that can open your shoulder up to injury is forearm stand. Here, the weight of the whole body is placed in the shoulders and elbows. Protect your shoulders by keeping the elbows aligned directly below them. A way to to this is to use a strap to support the correct alignment.
Do you have a shoulder injury? Giving this area of the body ample time to rest and heal is important. Once you get the ok to return to activity, try these to support your continued recovery.
- Strengthen: Try the "pendulum" to encourage strength, flexibility, and range of motion in the shoulder. Standing, place one hand on a stable surface like a table. Allow the opposite arm to dangle, and begin gently swinging it forwards and backwards. After about a minute, being gently swinging arm in a circular motion. Repeat on other side.
- Support: Support your newly healed shoulder with kinesiology tape designed to promote healing and circulation.
Low back pain is perhaps the most commonly reported symptom from yoga related injuries. While yoga offers ample opportunity to strengthen the back and stretch it to release spinal tension, go too far and you risk the opposite happening. Try the following to prevent injury. In forward folds, imagine the spine lengthening and folding rather than rounding forward. You may not be able to fold as far forward, but your back will be protected. In standing forward folds and down dog, you may want to consider bending the knees if your hamstrings are tight. You can also sit on a block or bolster during seated poses to give the back more support.
If you experience chronic low back pain, or are healing an injury, try these to get a little relief.
- Strengthen: Strengthening a low back isn't as easy as doing an exercise. There are so many different causes of low back pain that it would be hard to come up with a single method of relief. Very often, low back pain is caused by weak abdominals and tight hamstrings. If you have the approval of a doctor, work on strengthening your core, and lengthening your hamstrings.
- Support: Wearing kinesiology tape designed for the back, you can support increased circulation to the muscles of the low back.
A yoga practice can be a valuable part of a workout program, or for athletic cross training. It can help improve strength, flexibility, and focus among many other things. But like most activities, knowing your body's limits is essential to ensure that you reap the benefits of the practice and not the injuries.
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