Why are injuries now accepted as part of yoga practice?
The benefits of yoga are undeniable as a survey conducted in 2005 indicate that around two thirds of GPs reported that they had referred to, or suggested that their patients use yoga or meditation in the previous 12 months. Yoga can improve respiration, heart rate and metabolism and help reduce pain (in certain conditions).
On the other hand, a 2012 Yoga Australia survey found 1 in 5 survey respondents had incurred some sort of injury (or exacerbated an existing injury) in the previous 12 months by practising yoga.
Do the benefits of yoga outweigh the risks then?
The answer to this comes down to how you practise and how much body awareness you have.
Whilst yogis have been repeatedly told that they need to practise everyday to attain a "life changing" experience, such advice is not accompanied by careful evaluation of each individual's body and the types of yoga that one needs to do to give the body ample time to recover.
Modern yoga practice has taken the ancient 5000 year old practice (when yoga was about moving every muscle in the body in a gentle manner) and given it an intensity booster to suit all the Type A personalities out there. This is great but what most of us do not realise is that when yoga practice turns into a highly intense physical activity, the "daily practice ritual" will need to be revised as well. Power or other yang based yoga practice places stress on joints, the spine and ligaments with repeated asanas even when practised with perfect alignment. Packed classes further add to the problem when misalignments are not detected by instructors.
Yogis see yoga as a challenge rather than a means to calm the mind and rest the body, building strength in muscles slowly and steadily. We see yogis smashing wrists, joints in the hope of getting into a shoulder or hand stand in record time (hopefully before their friends can do them).
Unless we feel ok living with long term injuries (much like what professional athletes need to endure), we should all take a step back and examine our current practice:
- Are we doing too many power and/or yang based yoga classes per week?
- Are we listening to our bodies rather than "setting our minds" to pursue our egos? Whilst it is true that human potential are limitless in a lot of respects, we still need to listen to our bodies. This is especially true when it comes to extreme and prolonged physical exertion.
- Do we work through pain? Pain is our built in mechanism to signal danger if we are a professional athlete, training under close supervision, the expert guidance would help. Do we, though, get this expert guidance from your yoga instructor?
- Do we just attend a yoga class and focus on creating nice shapes (at least nicer than our neighbours) with our bodies without turning inwards to feel what each pose is doing to our bodies? The most flexible bodies can make the most striking poses but these bodies are also the ones that are most prone to injuries as they usually do not have the required strength to go into most postures safely.
- What are our true intentions for doing yoga? To snap beautiful photos and make instagram posts to entertain our followers and friends? For health and fitness benefits or as a social outing like going to the cinema or dining with friends?
Once you have truthfully answered the above questions, you will be in a better position to determine the next step in your yogic journey
If you are in your 20s, you bodies are strong and can recover quickly. This, however, applies only to removing lactic acid that has accumulated in the muscles, reducing muscle soreness so you feel stronger for the next round of exercises. Such recovery does not extend to:
- joints that are stressed when doing too many chaturangas
- injury to the shoulder girdle or rotator cuff with over-extending or over stretching in up dogs
- over extension of the hips' range of motion in splits, warrior poses and wide-legged forward folds where inner groin muscles may tear
- knee pain caused by ligament injuries
Are you aware that these injuries take longer to heal and consistent overstitching, misalignment and stressing of joints can develop into serious long term injuries?
If you are in your 30s and over, more attention will need to be given to choosing the combination of yoga styles that you practice as many injuries will now take longer to heal completely.
The good news is that you can reduce your risk of injury by:
- attending classes where you get more personal attention from caring and professional teachers
- listening to your body and use pain as a guide and not view it as a challenge
- turning your practice inwards and welcome change from the inside (this can be hard when you practice in front of mirrors)
- seeking out a comprehensive training plan which will cover all elements of fitness (which we will look into in our next article) and nutrition devised by professionals. It is important that benefits to the your body (in fitness terms) are measurable as well