I recently read a piece by William Broad in the New York Times about yoga injuries and how they're on the rise in women. While I found the article to be very over-simplified and lacking in real reporting, Broad did make a few claims I can agree with. Ultimately, yoga is meant to heal you. As with most workouts and exerise routines, if you're practicing properly and listening to your body, you'll become more connected to yourself and will be able to prevent injuries. [Tweet this!]
A flaw in Broad's piece is that he includes a lot of numbers without a lot of context. For example, he spoke with a surgeon who noted that he performed surgery on around 50 to 75 patients per year who danced or did yoga, but Broad's piece doesn't specify the total number of surgeries the doctor performs per year, nor does Broad clarify if any of the patients actually performed yoga or how many of the injuries were proven to be caused by yoga.
He also quotes a doctor as saying, "If they’re doing things like yoga and have pain in the hips, they shouldn’t blow it off." However, this shouldn't be exclusive to yoga. I always advise that if someone experiences pain while exercising, they shouldn't blow it off.
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That said, Broad make some valid points. Some yoga instructors do "encourage their students to push through the pain," as he writes, and that's not okay. Pain is nature's warning system; it tells you that something has gone awry. To me, that's another reason to practice yoga—it helps you to become more connected to your body, so that you're able to understand when something is wrong.
Broad also notes that research has long reported that yoga can help fight joint inflammation and closes the piece by saying, “Better to do yoga in moderation and listen carefully to your body. That temple, after all, is your best teacher."
With that in mind, here are a few common yoga-related injuries I see and how to prevent them:
1. Hamstring tears, pulls, or over-stretching
Cause: Hamstring injuries can arise from forcing yourself too far in forward folds with straight legs, or forcing your legs straight in any pose. They can also be caused by super quick, jerky movements.
Fix: Don’t force anything! Think less about getting your legs straight and think more about breathing into each pose. Use each inhale to lengthen a bit, and each exhale to relax a bit. Never use your hands to pull yourself deeper into a forward fold. When doing inversions, it's important to keep your knees soft. Remember: Your body knows its limits!
2. Wrist pain
Cause: We aren’t used to being on our wrists! Plus we use them so much on keyboards and texting that they are already aggravated.
Fix: In down dog, plank, or arm balances (or anywhere you are on your wrists), think about alignment. Try to line your wrist creases up with the front edge of your mat and get a good spread of your fingers. Press into the bottom knuckles of your fingers (where they meet your hand), especially the knuckles of the forefinger and thumb. Also press into the top of your fingertips. Combined, these should help to alleviate the pressure that causes wrist pain.
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3. Lower-back irritation
Cause: Rounding your spine trying to bring yourself too deeply into forward folds
Fix: When doing forward folds, try to think about lengthening your spine through each inhale you take. If seated forward folds are very challenging to you, try doing them sitting on a block or blanket, which will give you more room. Remember to keep your knees soft to avoid a hamstring injury.
Yoga is not a competition about forcing yourself into the shape of the person on the mat next to you or a picture you have seen. Your body is incredibly intelligent: If it tells you to back off, back off. Learn to move with ease and go with the flow. Find that flexibility in your mind, and your body will follow. [Tweet this tip!] Namaste.