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The Ultimate Guide to Doing Yoga When You're Injured 

Simon McDermott-Johnson

In a perfect world, when you're injured, you'd give your body a break and rest until you're healed. But if you're a Shape reader, you're most likely too type-A and exercise-obsessed to even think about “taking a break” from your favorite active stress release (I’m guilty!).

To avoid compounding your injuries, here's a quick guide on what to skip and what to substitute in yoga when you're hurt. Remember: It's important to let your teacher know if you're injured so he or she doesn’t encourage you to try moves that might exacerbate your injury. And as always, check with your doctor before performing any physical activities—they went to med school for a reason! If your doctor tells you to wear an air cast or a compression sleeve while exercising, be sure to do so. Use common sense—if something in your body is tight, yoga can be great to release it, but if you have broken bones, you need to slow down and give your body space to heal. 

Many people turn to yoga when they're injured, but having a less-than-100-percent-healthy body is not the time to push your practice; it's the time to tune in and listen to your body's signals. Never do anything that doesn’t feel good.

Injury: Back
Back issues are probably the most common injury we see in yoga—people come in with slipped discs, they're recovering from surgeries, pulls, you name it. If you have a slipped or herniated disc, it's important to consult with your physical therapist to find out which direction the disc is moving. Depending on their answer, either flexion or extension will aggravate the injury. 

Steer clear of jumping and extreme backbends. Instead, step forward and back, and take softer backbends (as long as they don’t aggravate your injury). Work on more hip openers to give your back extra space as it heals. Be sure to incorporate more full-core poses into your practice, too, like plank and forearm plank variations.

Injury: Ankle
When you have an injured ankle—rolled, sprained, or anything else—single-leg balancing poses will be challenging, as will some of the warrior poses and jump backs. Avoid jump backs and jump forwards all together, and instead, step—lighter impact is always better with injuries. For single-leg standing poses, either place your hand on a wall for balance (that will take the pressure off the joint) or skip them all together until you are stronger.

Depending on the severity of your injury, simple sun salutations and two-legged standing series should be good. With ankle injuries, seated postures are your friends. However, be sure to have proper ankle alignment in hip openers—no sickeling. Ask your instructor if you have any discomfort.

Injury: Wrist
This is a tough one in yoga, but not completely unmanageable. If your injury isn’t too severe, you can try to do four-limbed poses on your fists or your fingertips. But steer clear of arm balances and inversions while your wrist is not 100 percent.

Take boat poses and boat pose variations to work your core rather than planks or other four-limbed yoga abs. Fill your practice with standing series, and take locust, bow, bridge, and camel for back bends, rather than wheels. If you want to make sure you're still getting your arm workout in, do forearm planks, and dolphin pushups.

Injury: Knee
Be cautious in single-leg standing poses, jumping, and hip openers, as you would with an ankle injury. Be sure to consult with your instructor on proper knee alignment of the poses, as this is crucial for you.

Avoid single-leg side lunges, and use your hands and blocks to support your body when moving into single-leg balances like half moon. 

Injury: Neck
Have you ever woken up to a neck that had a “crick” or simply didn’t want to move in a particular direction? Ouch! And, why?! The good news is, if you leave it alone, it will probably go away on its own. But, you need to be careful not to aggravate it! When your neck is bothering you, skip headstands, shoulderstands, and any neck positions in poses that don’t feel good. 

Certain poses can be easily modified for more comfort: In triangle pose, look down instead of looking up. If any given pose's “gaze” point is bothering you, change where you are looking.

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