Often people are surprised when I tell them I injured my knee in India doing too much yoga. “But I thought yoga was supposed to be good for you!” they exclaim. Well, when yoga is practiced correctly that is true, but incorrect practice, or physical imbalances can result in hurting yourself!
According to The Yoga Journal, yoga injuries are on the rise. That’s why I want to talk a little bit about how to protect our bodies while practicing. This is not an exhaustive list so do read the article I linked above to find out other ways to protect your body.
The most common causes of injury are wanting to look good, comparing ones self to those practicing around them, and lack of awareness of the body. So I really want to emphasise here that Yoga is not a competitive sport where one levels up or wins. It is just as much a practice of the mind as it is of the body. It is understanding that it takes time to get flexibility and strength in your body. It is being content with where and who you are today. And it is not meant to be done in comparison to others. “Instead of contorting our bodies to get into a pose we should use poses to get into the body.”
Warm it up!
Warming up at the beginning of any yoga practice is essential (except for in Yin Yoga). Warm-ups are commonly short cardiovascular exercises and stretches. The cardiovascular exercises increase the blood flow, body heat and heart rate, while stretching warms up the muscles and prepares them for the movement that they will carry out during the more intense postures. Increasing the heart rate and circulation loosens up the joints and increases blood flow to the muscles. All of this reduces your risk of injuring the ligaments, tendons and muscles. For an hour of yoga, dedicate about 10 or 15 minutes to warming up and you will notice that getting into the poses will be considerably easier with a warm body.
Knowing your limits
Be conscious of you body. Pay attention to the signals it is sending you. Sometimes we can get caught up in wanting to go deeper into a pose, or get distracted by thoughts and not realising the signals our bodies are sending us. If you are feeling any sharp pains or heavy compression in any part of your spine, or any kind of tingling sensation in your fingers or toes then come slightly out of the pose. Our bodies vary in flexibility and strength from day to day. I trained for 5 weeks in India, and while I was a lot more flexible in the 2nd week, I felt a lot stiffer in the 4th week. This is completely normal and nothing to worry about! Know your body and be aware of your limits. It’s good to play with these limits but as it is in life, in yoga it is also important not to push or pull. Remember that age old saying: Slow and steady wins the race.
Again, this is not an exhaustive list, but here are a few specific poses that we should be extra careful practicing.
Padmasana or Lotus pose:
This pose is one that is often practiced in an attempt to look like an experienced yogi, however in order to perform it correctly and safely, one must be properly trained and warmed up. The first requirement of Lotus pose is open hip joints, which ensure the joint can move freely. There are a number of poses that can be practiced in order to open the hips. This reduces the lateral load on the knee. If an overconfident yogi forces the knees down, the thigh bone and shin bone will pinch the cartilage inside the knee joint. Ouch!
Sirsasana or Headstand:
Our spines are made up of discs which we call vertebrae. The part of the spine that corresponds to your neck has the smallest and quite thin vertebrae. Regularly putting weight on these vertebrae can cause serious neck injuries. You could try to do Forearm Balance instead, which has the same effects on your body, or if you do insist on doing Sirsasana make sure you are putting a majority of your weight on your bent arms. Not more than 10% of your weight should be on your head. Before practicing this pose make sure you have mastered Hand Stand and Forearm Balance and that you have open armpits.
All joints should be properly warmed up before any practice of yoga postures, because if we don’t warm up our joints and the muscles around them, we may end up squeezing sensitive nerves and cartilage as well as synovial fluid sacs between the two bones. These parts of the body are not as strong as bones, or flexible as muscles so they must be treated with extra care.
Do you have any tips on avoiding injuries, feedback or comments on this post? If so, please share!
Love and light,