As many of you may know, I recently, as of April 2010, obtained my 200hr RYT (Registered Yoga Teacher) certification. Earlier this week I came across an article that hit rather close to home. The article was entitled “Can yoga wreck your body?” This article published recently in the New York Times, argued that it can. Essentially the article declared that the increase in yoga-related injuries, “in recent years”, has direct correlation with the heightened increase in yoga practitioners. According to Yoga Journal, about 14.3 million people in theUnited States practiced yoga in 2010, which is significantly up from 4.3 million in 2001. As yoginis’ and yoginas’ around the world begin to find daily yoga practice more and more essential, the need for yoga practioners indeed increases. However, the blame should not be wrongly placed on just the instructors. One cannot point fingers at just us. The fingers rationally should be pointed at the individuals whom are practicing yoga—those who should become more mindful. The focus must shift away from the trend and more toward individual self-care, compassion and safety.
How to protect yourself from injury:
Yoga students should highly consider the instructor’s training and expertise, but they must deem more important, their individual ability to listen to their own bodies. When simply stated, any type of physical activity that challenges the body should be practiced with individual awareness and caution. Therefore, I feel I am not exaggerating when I utter that body awareness is a major component in fitness, yoga, functionality and overall wellbeing.
I sincerely feel this article’s tag line “Can Yoga Wreck Your Body” is disheartening, misleading and will more than likely hinder the general population from trying yoga, which is such a dishonor. Realistically, it is not the yoga that wrecks the body; it’s the individual and his or her lack of understanding of one’s own limitations, capabilities, body alignment/awareness and most importantly one’s own perception of self- care and physical compassion.
Thus, in light of helping YOU develop YOUR safest possible yoga practice, please read the tips below:
1. Adopt a beginner’s mind. You would not attend an advanced ballet class without having prior knowledge and or experience. Yoga may look comparatively simple, but it’s not. Start with a series of yoga classes targeting the beginner. Beginner classes will help to introduce you to the basics. You must, MUST…MUST build a solid foundation of knowledge, of alignment, body awareness and of comfort before you leap in to a more challenging class like a Vinyasa or hot yoga class.
2. Learn to listen to your body. In any yoga class, your body, not the teacher, is the real guide for what is best for you. Listening to your body and honoring its signals are key to a safe practice. If something doesn’t feel right, ease out of the posture. If something feels like a strain, you’re pushing too hard. If your body feels like it needs a break, listen to it. Remember, yoga is about self-care. If you need to rest, you can always relax in child’s pose.
3. Do your own pose, not your neighbor’s. Yoga is not a competition. For most of us, the mind is apt to overrule the body. So if the person next to you gets her feet behind her head, “holy stretch”, you best believe you are going to do the same! NO. NO. NO. Yoga at its essence is about getting in tune with the body. The only right way to practice a pose is to practice it in the way that honors where your body is at that particular moment. Tune in, and most importantly stay present.
4. Look for gratitude. Look for gratitude and value in every pose. This is where you are challenging your body, but still staying completely within your comfort zone—all balance between letting go and bringing in. Your grateful place is that place in the posture where you are feeling a soothing stretch and your muscles are working (a certain feeling of heat, gratitude and compassion) but there is no pain, strain or extreme fatigue.
5. Pick the right teacher and approach. When it comes to practicing and teaching yoga, it is not a one size fits all. As you read above, there is a continued need for yoga teachers. Every teacher will vary in approach, style, experience and training. Know your style and/or goals and then pick the one that best suits you. In regards to injuries and/or physical limitations, the number one rule of thumb is to not be shy. Inform your teacher prior to class. Then, simply ask if the class is suitable for you. Growth does not take place without inquiry. If the teacher isn’t able to offer specific feedback related to your injury and or question, that’s an indication that the teacher might not be a good fit for you.