Yes, you can get injured in yoga. Just as with any physical activity, doing a lot of yoga, particularly the yang type can lead to injury if one is not careful. Even yin yoga, the supposedly gentle practice can lead to overstretched muscles. Believe me, this can be quite painful. Recently, I have been too hasty in my hip opening yin poses, pushing beyond my boundaries and staying into the pose for 5 minutes. Result? Painful right hip flexors. The last thing you want to do when you feel pain is to continue the sequence under the false impression that your hips are just “opening” up. Pause. Rest. Be mindful.
Here are some tips to avoid injury in your practice:
- Know the proper alignment. While I am an advocate of self-practice and online resources, I see the value of enrolling in yoga classes where the teacher can correct any improper postures. Further, I make it a point to practice in front (and side) of a huge mirror at our office gym studio. This is not to admire myself but to make sure that my alignment is correct. And I listen to instructions carefully. Finally, I make it a point to learn how to use props, modifications, and variations.
- Mind your own business. In this, I mean, focus on your own mat. People are naturally competitive and it is very difficult not to compare oneself to others. In some cases, you may feel the urge to show off. Don’t. Leave ego aside. Each person has different levels of strength and flexibility. The whole point of yoga is to explore and become aware of your OWN body. Yoga is not about touching your toes, but the journey towards getting there. And even if you don’t get there, it does not really matter. What matters is where you are at your present journey.
- Warm Up and Cool Down. This is essential in any physical activity and yoga is no exception. Start with a short centering and basic stretches. And don’t skip out savasana at the end of your session.
- Ease in and out of postures. Don’t rush. The principles are the same with warming up and cooling down. Ever heard of a sickening crack when rushing into a wheel pose without the proper preparation? You won’t, if you are careful.
Finally, Listen to Your Body
Learning your limitations requires paying close attention to your body. Each day will be different; some days you feel energetic, flexible and strong. While in others, you will feel your muscles sore and stiffer than usual. You should be able to distinguish discomfort from pain. With discomfort, you can adjust your breathing, focus on observing and perhaps shift the discomfort. Through time, it goes away. But pain? You shouldn’t feel pain, if you do, back off. In sports, you learn how to push yourself against your limits. With yoga, you play with the edge, and through time you will discover a different edge. When I find a particular sequence in a class too much, I love to go back to child’s pose and rest. Never mind the look of disapproval from the instructor. This is MY body. I know where my limits are.