Any type of fitness activity, aiming at improving your physical fitness carries a certain level of risk with it. Any physical exercise challenges the body in order to improve its health. It triggers changes that make the body stronger – increased muscle mass, stronger bones, more flexibility and range of motion – depending on the specific fitness goal.
That being said, can yoga wreck your body? Can yoga cause injuries the same way that weight training or competitive sports can? I would say no, not to that degree, but as is the case with any physical activity – one needs to exercise certain caution and maintain awareness to stay safe during the practice. Yoga has numerous documented and well-established health-benefits but these days you hear more and more people complaining about injuries attained during yoga. Is it really Yoga? Or is it the state of their mind while practicing Yoga? I prefer to think it’s the latter.
Let me list 5 simple changes that you can make to your practice to keep yourself safe.
- Listen to your body. I repeat this in my every class – your body knows it’s limit, the teacher doesn’t. So don’t shy away from moving back in a pose. Feel free to say no to a teacher if he/she asks you to move deeper and your body isn’t willing to. Rest in child’s if you have to. You are not in this class to compete, so if something doesn’t feel right, ease out of it.
- Don’t look at your neighbour. You are here to honour and work on your own body, not your neighbour’s. If 5 people in the front row can bring their foreheads all the way down to their shins in a forward fold, you don’t have to too. You hear your hamstrings howl in pain and you still keep going; you can’t breathe but you still keep pushing. Well, STOP right there. You are not doing anyone a favour by pushing that hard. Be patient with yourself – it will come to you in good time.
- Pick the right teacher and style. When it comes to yoga – it’s not one size fits all. You might find a teacher brilliant when your friends find their classes a tad too slow. If you are young and fit, you can try out a variety of yoga styles. However if you are in late 40’s and just starting out your Yoga journey, it’s prudent to go for a slow paced class. Same holds if you are trying to recover from a chronic illness or injury. Never be ashamed to ask if a particular class is suitable for your fitness level or health condition. Your teacher would be happy to guide you. If the teacher cannot offer any help or insight, maybe it’s time that you changed them.
- Breathe! I can never say it enough during my classes. If you are all red in the face and not breathing – you are pushing it too far. Breathe, breathe, breathe. The calmer your breathing is, the easier the pose becomes for you. As the breath relaxes, the body gets more comfortable in a pose – thereby minimizing the risk of injuries.
- Look for a sweet spot in every pose. That is where you challenge your body and mind but still stay comfortable. So your sweet spot is the place where your muscles feel a delicious soothing, sometimes deep, stretch without any pain or fatigue.
And in the end, always remember – Yoga is not an extreme sport. Do not strive to turn it into one.