9 Ways To Prevent Getting Injured From Yoga
The most common words you hear in a conversation about yoga are usually variations of "healing" and "relaxing." It's not surprising, because yoga effectively treats stress and anxiety, improves the health of your heart, and equips you with an impenetrable layer of self-confidence. But, as with any other kind of physical activity, there are injuries that can happen during yoga.
Before you burn your yoga mat in a fit of anxiety, though, you should know that yoga has a relatively low rate of injury. In 2007, 3.5 out of every 10,000 yogis reported getting hurt, while between 15 and 39 out of every 10,000 folks who do other workouts like weight-training at the gym were facing injuries. Some argue that more severe complications arise from yoga, such as vertebral artery tears and strokes, but there is little-to-no scientific evidence to back this up. The most common ailments you see in yoga happen in the shoulders, back, and hamstrings, and these are all injuries that can be prevented if you merely tap into a little something called common sense, which you've already got in spades.
Bustle spoke with Kathryn Budig, internationally renowned yoga teacher, frequent contributor to Women's Health, and author of Aim True: Love Your Body, Eat Without Fear, Nourish Your Spirit, Discover True Balance , who says, "I see my fair share [of injuries], as you will in any sport or physical endeavor. Mainly rotator, shoulder, lower back and hamstring connector." But she reminds us that it takes just a little extra attention to ward off aches and pains from these parts of the body.
Here are nine ways to prevent yourself from getting injured during yoga.
1. Do Yoga With Experienced Instructors
"Practice under the diligent eye of a senior teacher who can teach you proper and safe alignment," Budig recommends. If you have no idea what a teacher's credentials are, ask around and gather information. You have a right to know who you're practicing with and what they know. Also, remember that whatever teacher your friends love may not be the right fit for you. Be prepared to shop around for a while, test out different instructors or studios, and find a teacher who is both qualified and interested in your wellbeing.
2. ... And Listen To What That Instructor Says
A no-brainer, right? You'd think so, but it can be hard to constantly tune in to what the instructor is telling you when you're a nervous beginner, or just someone who has a lot on their mind after a hectic day. Do your best to follow along with their alignment cues, though, because even the smallest adjustments can be a game changer in your downward facing dog. This goes for the most experienced practitioners as well —you're probably missing out on a lot more instructions than you might think.
3. Don't Be Afraid To Ask Questions
When in doubt about anything you've heard in class, ask questions about it after the session is over. I've had a lot of students come up to me at the yoga studio and actually apologize for something they're about to ask, only to find out that their inquiry is actually really crucial to understanding some fundamentals in yoga. No matter how "dumb" you think your question is, ask it.
4. Don't Take Yoga Advice From People Who Aren't Teachers
You would be surprised. While I was teaching in Peru, I met an American expat who would lead small yoga classes in her living room for free because she enjoyed the practice. She'd never been to a teacher training and she'd never taught at an established studio. I witnessed her giving instructions about stretching out the lower back, a high injury-prone area of the body, that were flat-out wrong — and the people were listening! Unless they're a certified instructor and have the credentials and the experience to back it up, it's probably best you don't take their advice. Stick with what you learn from the teachers you know and trust.
5. Back Off When You Feel Sharp Pain
Women are naturally more flexible than our male counterparts, particularly in the hip area, due to the wide range of movement our joints have — so we have a lot more to gain from being cautious in our yoga practice. Michaelle Edwards, yoga teacher and author of YogAlign, told the New York Times that, even though yoga is a fantastic way to heal and repair the body, our elasticity could be a liability if we're not careful. The most basic yet most effective rule you can follow is, ease up in the posture if you feel alarming discomfort.
No matter how bendy you're feeling, the second you feel sharp pain anywhere in the body, Edwards said, "You may want to back off." In order to avoid getting to the dangerous stabbing sensation, don't go so deep in the posture that you can't still move comfortably. Once you've lost the ability to shift, you've put strain on your body, and you might get hurt.
6. Don't Try To Mimic Everything You See On Instagram
The Internet is oversaturated with everyday people doing challenging yoga postures in pretty places. There's nothing wrong with striving to get yourself into an arm balance you saw on someone's profile, but don't let it be the driving force behind your yoga practice. Focusing too much on landing that tough pose might rob you of the awareness you need to know when you've gone too far. Pay close attention to how your own body functions, too.
7. Don't Be In Competition With Your Classmates
Similarly, while it may be easy for your neighbor to pop up into a headstand, you might have less stable shoulders, and throwing yourself in the air could result in an injury. In her latest book Aim True, Budig talks about the right way to work towards sticking a challenging posture. Believe that you can do it, but be gentle with yourself and take your time. It won't come overnight, so there's no point in pushing it. She writes, "The physical body continues to grow, and as the mind frees itself, the pose arrives."
8. Do Other Physical Activities That Complement Yoga
In other words, cross-train. Budig tells Bustle, "I'm a huge proponent of cross-training. Injury can come from lack of alignment awareness, but it can also be a result of overly repetitive movements. Cross-training prevents the latter from happening." Split up your time between yoga sessions, routines at the gym, workouts on the beach, etc. By mixing it up you'll build all kinds of strength and flexibility in your body, supplying you with an extra layer of protection. Plus, you won't bore yourself.
9. Practice As Often As You Can
One class a week won't cut it if you've got some yoga goals you want to achieve, which goes for any physical activity, really. A great way to fend off injury as you experiment and try new things on your yoga mat is to give your body enough time to become accustomed to the practice. The more it flows in and out of those postures, the more it'll get used to the movement, and the less likely you are to find yourself in a pile of pain later. Because feeling crappy after your class is over would defeat the whole purpose of yoga, wouldn't it?