April 7th is International World Health Day. While this special day, instituted by the World Health Organization (WHO) is about the health and helping of people around the world who don’t have affordable or easy health-care access, it seemed appropriate to discuss reasons why some yoga participants get hurt and how to best avoid injuries, as yoga definitely contributes to healthcare.
I discovered yoga late in life. I had heard of it, and I even attended a class once. Unfortunately, I arrived late and ended up hurting my back because of my inexperience and inattention. I didn’t truly discover the benefits of yoga until more than a decade later, after a relative suggested I try yoga after I went flying down a flight of stairs. I was will to try anything. I hobbled into a yoga class a few days later with a cane and managed to sit in the back. I say “managed” because one of my injuries was a torn meniscus, sitting down on the ground was a challenge. I couldn’t even do a third of what the class did, but I was not heart-broken. Rather, I was encouraged. I saw potential that Tuesday night.
I kept going back, and soon, I felt as if I could do anything! I began taking more classes as I healed over the next few months. I became hooked on yoga and by 2006, a good friend encouraged me to take a yoga teacher training course.
I practiced often, but every once in a while I would push myself into an injury, or exacerbate old ones. And believe me, I had old injuries, from volleyball and kung fu. But I couldn’t understand why the injuries continued if yoga was so gentle. Yoga brings relief from a host of problems, right? I laugh now as I think of how naïve I was. What I didn’t realize was that I paid more attention to volleyball and Kung fu than I did to my body. I was unaware of my unawareness and didn’t realize how focused I was on simply getting into a pose.
Yoga is so much more than poses!
Yoga calls for a listening to, feeling, and a comprehension of my breath and body. Yoga calls for my focused attention to me from the inside out – mind, spirit, breath, body in one accord. ??
Injuries can be caused in a number of ways. In no particular order, here is a short list:
- Misunderstanding what yoga is
- Not warming up before class
- Unawareness of one’s own body
- Pushing beyond one’s capabilities too soon
- Ignoring warning signs of pain or injury
- Not listening to, or forgetting instructor’s advice
- Infrequent or sporadic practice
- Returning to practice too soon after an injury
So, how can you avoid injury during your practice?
- Step onto your sacred mat with the right mindset (ready for yoga, ready to receive good)
- Breathe: inhale and exhale deeply and with intention
- Do a gentle warm up when practicing on your own. When in class your instructor should also do a warm up (I often did, and still do my own warm- ups before classes – even as an instructor)
- Be aware of any injuries you already have
- Only do movements wherein you can avoid exacerbating your injuries
- Use props such as blankets, cushions, chairs, straps and blocks
- Accept that every movement will not be for you everyday. Our bodies react differently depending on our mindsets and the type of day we have had
- Practice often, whether you do your own yoga practice, or take classes
- Practice with body awareness and intention – listen to your body
- Check in with your doctor before practicing yoga, especially if you have certain long-term injuries or conditions
- Incorporate other forms of exercise into your wellness routine. (Also see 7 Ways to Prevent Yoga Injuries for additional advice about avoiding yoga injuries)
That last piece of advice may sound weird to die-hard yoga aficionados but, when done properly, there are benefits to other exercises as well. For instance, walking and jogging are advantageous for the heart and for toning. Careful weight-training helps to strengthen the body. An open mind and heart are beneficial in yoga… and throughout life! Consider a mind-switch. It’s not just International World Health Day (which is fabulous); but let’s make this International World Health Living!