By Ramesh Bjonnes
A friend of mine mentioned once on her Facebook page that she practices yoga. To her great surprise, she received an angry response from one of her friends, who said that after trying Power Yoga, she got seriously injured. Not surprisingly, my friend’s friend discontinued her yoga practice and is now urging other people to stop this “painful” form of exercise.
Yes, indeed, the wholesome practice of yoga can sometimes be bad for your health.
Carol Krucoff reported in Yoga Journal that increasing numbers of yoga injuries are being reported to medical offices these days. Even insurance agencies are paying out an increasing number of yoga-related injury claims. Krucoff herself is one of the practice’s many victims. She “felt a sickening pop in [her] hamstrings” after practicing Utthita Padangusthasana (Extended Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose).
“Hamstring tears heal slowly,” she wrote, “and mine required rest and extensive physical therapy. It took me six months to be able to run again and more than a year to fully extend my leg in Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose.”
While yoga injuries are not at all as frequent as bicycle injuries or soccer injuries, for example, they do sometimes happen, and it is important to be careful. Here are a few tips to prevent injuries:
1. Easy does it.
Practice yoga gently, especially in the beginning, and in coordination with the breath. The literal translation of the word asana (yoga posture) is, after all, “comfortably or easily held posture.”
By gently massaging and pressurizing the various endocrine glands in the body, the various yoga poses are balancing the body’s energy centers (chakras) and the hormonal secretions from many important glands.
These glands include the prostate and perineum, gonads, testes and ovaries, adrenals, pancreas, thymus, para-thyroid, thyroid, pituitary and pineal, all glands that, when properly balanced, positively affect our physical health, mental mood and spiritual well-being.
Practicing yoga too energetically, or too forcefully, may not give the same physical, mental and spiritual health benefits as doing the poses slowly, in harmony with the breath, and with ease.
2. Combine yoga with a meditation practice.
Yoga postures are of two kinds: 1. those primarily for physical and mental health and secondarily for spiritual elevation, and 2. those primarily for spiritual elevation.
Hence, many yoga postures were clearly not just designed for the body. They were developed for the mind and spirit as well.
According to Shrii Shrii Anandamurti and other yogic teachers, it is essential for optimum physical, mental, and spiritual development to combine yoga exercises with meditation. Indeed, it is said in the Tantric scriptures that physical yoga (Hatha Yoga) should be combined with spiritual yoga (Raja Yoga).
3. Listen to the body.
Pain is an indication that you should stop; take a deep breath and be gentle with yourself. Pushing the body too far may lead to injury.
4. Yoga is not a competitive sport.
Besides, showing off may not just increase your ego, it may lead to injury. Serious injury.
Here’s some sage advice from Carol Krucoff: “I learned the hard way that there is no place for showing off in yoga.”
So, do not succumb to peer pressure or to a zealous teacher urging you to perform a-next-to-impossible pose when you know in your heart that you are not ready for it. You may soon end up on your back at the chiropractor’s office.
5. Pick an experienced teacher.
Yoga’s popularity has resulted in a shortage of experienced teachers and sometimes teachers with inadequate training are being hired at a studio. “Even new graduates from highly reputable teacher-training programs often lack experience,” wrote Krucoff. Indeed, this potentially hazardous combination—new student and inexperienced teacher—is one of the leading causes of “injury-overzealousness.”
6. Know the weakest links.
The lower back, knee and neck are usually the parts of the body that are injured the most during yoga practice.
If you have been a couch potato, trying to sit in lotus position or do headstand the first time you practice yoga is definitely not advisable!
7. Accidents do happen.
A few years ago, I tore my meniscus while falling sideways in the bed of my friend’s pick-up truck when it jerked into motion.
For a long time, I had pain in my meniscus when I sat in meditation. Too immersed in my mind and spirit, I did not listen to my body.
Then suddenly one day bending down to pick something up from the floor, my knee went out. The pain was excruciating, and the healing process took a painstakingly long time.
For nearly two years, I was unable to perform my asana postures properly and also unable to sit in siddhansana (half lotus) during meditation.
Our bodies change with age. Sometimes we sleep improperly, or we slack off on our practice and become less flexible. Or, like I did, we have an accident. Suddenly the body says “pop.”
So, once again, listen to the body.
Listen carefully. Treat it gently. One yoga pose at a time. And remember, you are not doing yoga for anybody but your own body, mind and soul.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ramesh is the Director of the Prama Wellness Center where lifestyle is considered our best medicine. Ramesh is also a writer, yogi and workshop leader. He studied yoga therapy in Nepal and India, Ayurveda at California College of Ayurveda and is a certified yoga detox theraphist from the AM Wellness Center in Cebu, Philippines. He has taught workshops in many countries and is the author of four books, including Sacred Body, Sacred Spirit (InnerWorld) and Tantra:The Yoga of Love and Awakening (Hay House India).