Geared up head to toe in your brand new yoga digs, you look in the mirror, smile, and reaffirm to yourself, "this is going to be a great day!" You grab your mat and Yoga Sak and jump in the car to head to your weekly Bikram class. Traffic is horrible and if you are late, no yoga class. So you panic and rush rush rush to class, making it to the door with only seconds to spare. Your favorite teacher isn't there. Instead, it's a sub. And she looks mean.
You aren't that flexible and your balance is so-so, so full poses aren't always attainable. When your teacher spots your pose modifications, she looks you up and down disapprovingly. She yells at you to push yourself. Suddenly, your back cracks and you are on the ground in child's pose for the remainder of the class.
How did it come to this? I thought yoga was all about love and the breath? Can someone say 'ego-trip'? Yoga just whipped your butt, literally. Increasingly yogis of all schools (not just Bikram) are lining up in emergency room wait rooms and dropping by urgent care facilities after yoga-related injuries left them in pain. We all know that yoga can prevent injury, but like any form of exercise, the risk of sports injuries are very real. And we can't ignore the very real increase in ER visits due to yoga injury over the past decade. We put together a quick list of precautionary tips that we hope will help you avoid joining in this statistic.
• Check your ego at the door. Yoga is not a competitive sport. As such, you should be realistic about your skill level and refrain from overdoing it. That is not to say you should never, ever attempt adho mukha vrksasana (handstand), or any other inversion and/or difficult poses because you could fall and hurt yourself. Injury can occur in any position.
• Find a good teacher. Proper sequencing can be the difference between making it or breaking it. Practicing in an acclaimed yoga studio is a good start. Popular teachers are often the best teachers, so try them out to find one that suits your personality and skill level. Avoid classes at home set to a DVD, in a gym, or in a hot studio (heat can lead to over-extension). These methods are not bad, per se, but they do increase the risk of injury.
• Don't skip the warm-ups. Ever notice that many (vinyasa, power, ashtanga) classes begin with simple sun salutations? This is not a coincidence. It takes about 20 minutes for your muscles to warm/loosen up, preparing you for more difficult classes. This goes for cooling down, too. Cooling down can help your muscles to recover properly.
• Avoid practicing every day. Your muscles do not have time to properly recover if you find yourself practicing too often. If you get stir crazy (I know I do!), run or do other aerobic/cardiovascular activities on your days off of yoga.
• Use props for pose modifications. Do not be afraid to modify your pose, no matter what! If your hamstrings are too tight, if childs pose wears on shin splints, if something simply doesn't feel right, DO NOT DO IT! That is not to say you shouldn't attempt an easier, modified version of the full pose. Using blocks and bolsters to prop up your bum, knee, or leg actually helps you become more flexible in the long run. Check out this article for a few examples.
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