by Barrie Risman
A recent statistic cites that 12% of all North Americans regularly practice some form of yoga. As one of the most popular practices for health and wellbeing today, yoga is found to be highly effective in stress management and enhancing overall wellbeing. Among the proven physical benefits of yoga are increased muscle mass, stronger bones, greater flexibility, coordination and range of motion. Like any physical activity that challenges the body, however, yoga carries its share of risks. Here are some tips for staying safe.
1.Learn basics of good alignment
In yoga, it’s not so much what you do as how you do it. The same pose can be helpful or harmful depending on how it is performed. The body’s alignment is like an antenna, one position creates static while another promotes openness and freedom. By learning to apply basic principles of biomechanics in your postures, chances of injury are greatly reduced.
Allow the breath to move freely throughout your practice. Doing so will make your practice more easeful and support you in the more challenging moments of a class. Being aware of your breath is also one of the most powerful ways of increasing mindfulness and sensitivity to your movements.
3.Listen to your body
Know and respect your limits. While it’s important to move toward the frontier of your abilities, when we go beyond this frontier and push too hard, injury can result. Learn where your edge is.
4.Do your own pose, not your neighbour’s
Resist the temptation to keep up with others. Injuries often occur when we try to conform to an outer ideal of what a posture should look like.
5.Learn the warning signs of injury
Yoga is a physically challenging practice. As a beginner, there will likely be a range of uncomfortable sensations as you move and stretch in new ways. Certain sensations, such as a muscle stretching, are not harmful.
On the other hand, a specific, burning, localized sensation in the body indicates a misalignment and is a warning sign. If you feel this type of pain in a muscle or a joint, back off immediately and bring it to your teacher’s attention who will help you readjust.
6.Find the right style and the right teacher
Yoga is not a one-size-fits-all practice. A flexible 25 year-old woman might benefit from a fast, flowing yoga practice that is not appropriate for a 50 year-old man with tight hamstrings. There are many different styles out there. Some are fast-paced and some are slower and deeper, some are more physically challenging and some are more restful and introspective. Your fitness level and present health challenges will help to determine what style of yoga is right for you.
Do your homework and ask questions about your teacher’s training and experience level, especially if you are working with an injury.
A yoga class should be a supportive, respectful environment where you feel welcome and safe. A knowledgeable teacher will offer feedback specific to any active injuries you are working with and will be able to offer modifications for safe practice
7. Communicate your concerns to your teacher before class.
Let your teacher know of any active or longstanding injuries or conditions. In this way, they will be able to help you adapt your practice during the course of the class..
8. Become a student of the practice
Ask questions and be curious about how your yoga practice is affecting your body. Notice how you feel before, during and after class to observe the benefits of your practice over time. Regular yoga practice should help you get both stronger and more flexible in the long run.
9. Be willing to be a beginner
Take your time to set a good foundation for your practice by learning the basic forms and actions of the postures. Learn how to work safely and mindfully in basic poses before attempting more complex postures, in which risk of injury is greater. The basics learned at the start of your practice can be applied to more challenging poses as you progress.
10. And, finally, if you do get injured
Get a clear diagnosis from a medical professional and discuss it with your teacher. A skilled teacher will be able to answer your questions about when and how use yoga to work with your injury during the healing process and beyond.