If you haven’t read it already, you might want to check out the article “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body” in the Sunday New York Times Magazine (see here). So were Baxter and I—we’ve both read it—shocked and surprised to read that yoga can cause serious injuries? Well, not exactly. As teachers and long-time practitioners, we’ve both seen our share of injuries and had them ourselves, too. And for some time, I’ve been talking about wanting to write an article or post called “Not All Yoga Poses Are Created Equal” that would differentiate between relatively safe poses that can be done frequently by most people and other poses that should probably be done less often due to their tendency to provoke injury. (Think about it: you’re probably not going to hurt yourself doing Savasana unless you’re practicing near a bookshelf during an earthquake or something, however, poses that combine external rotation of the leg with a forward bend, such as One-Legged Seated Forward Bend aka Janu Sirsasana and maybe even Triangle and Extended Side Angle poses, if done too frequently really do have the potential to cause some pretty yucky injuries).
|Forward bend with external rotation of bent leg|
The second myth is that if you do a pose “properly” with the “correct alignment” it is always perfectly safe. And, conversely, that if you injure yourself, you must be doing something “wrong.” As you can see in the NY Times article, scientific research is backing up what many of us have already understood intuitively: that while there while there are certain robust individuals who seem to be able to do extreme forms of yoga without serious problems, that’s not really possible for the rest of us. For example, the Ashtanga Primary series is notoriously hard on the knee joints and Sun Salutations that include Chaturganga Dandasana (Pushup pose) are equally hard on vulnerable shoulder joints.
But does all that mean we should stop doing yoga?
Just yesterday a good friend of mine showed me her hand, which was still swollen and black and blue after a fall she took when she was walking her dog. And when I was in the software industry, a significant number of people I worked with seriously injured their wrists sitting at their desks, typing. My point is obvious; almost any physical activity you take up has the potential to cause injury. And we all need to continue being active. So for our practice of yoga, as in our other activities, it’s really of matter of combining knowledge with common sense. I’ve asked Baxter to work on a post where he specifically lists the poses that you should approach with caution, but in the meantime, here are some common sense guidelines:
- Don’t do a pose that hurts
- Don’t do the same poses or the same types of poses over and over (repetitive stress injuries are not limited to typists, cashiers, and factory workers)
- Come out of a pose early if you need to
- Use props as needed to help prevent overstretching or strain
- Find a yoga teacher who has had a long, thorough training and experience teaching people of your same age and condition
- Tell your teacher about any injuries you may have or any relevant health conditions