No pain, no gain?
An article was recently published in the New York Times extolling the dangers of yoga. Many bloggers are weighing in, and I figured, heck. Why not? I’m not necessarily trying to negate anything about the article. I’m simply sharing my views. In the grand scheme of things, I’m a relatively new yoga instructor. I teach a very athletic style of yoga. I often teach very hot yoga. If anyone is going to get injured in a yoga class, there’s a good chance it could be in mine. I take this responsibility very seriously. I am very clear in every class I teach; listen to your body. Do what’s best for you. Don’t push yourself; take modifications and rest. It doesn’t matter how deeply you go into a pose; only how deeply you breathe.
With rare exceptions (of which a few were mentioned in the Times article) almost every yoga injury is caused by one of 3 things. 1. Straining and struggling to get deeper into a pose. 2. Pushing into an advanced pose that your body is not ready for. 3. Performing the same motion (ie: chaturangas) over and over with incorrect alignment.
In my opinion (remember, I’m not a doctor!) almost all injuries (with those same rare exceptions) can be prevented in one simple way. LISTEN TO YOUR BODY. If it hurts or just doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. I hear stories of instructors who cue their students to push harder and it makes my heart hurt. Teachers who encourage people to “stick it out” in a hot class, to not drink water, to not take breaks. All of these actions do nothing to serve your body; they are serving your ego.
Ego is a funny thing. I watch people struggle in classes. (We’ve all been guilty of this at one time or another!) Trying to do it “right”. As if doing a pose to its fullest will serve us somehow. Pushing, struggling, straining; this is how injuries happen. Yoga is about uniting mind and body. Just because the person on the mat next to you can do headstand doesn’t mean you can; or should. You have to take responsibility for yourself and go at your own pace. If a pose feels funny, back out! Talk to the instructor after class. They have a wealth of knowledge that can’t all be passed on in one hour. Every body is different, and maybe your instructor can help you find modifications to make a pose work. Or maybe, you just don’t do that pose. It’s alright. You don’t have to do it all. Yoga is about connection, not competition.
There is a difference between discomfort and pain. Hip openers, like pigeon, can be very uncomfortable. Same thing with holding chair pose for 10 breaths. Discomfort is ok. That’s one way yoga teaches us not to run away from uncomfortable situations off the mat. You find your “comfort-edge” and breathe there. That place is different for each person. No instructor can tell you where your edge lies. You have to explore that for yourself. But let me be clear. . . repeat after me. . . No pain, NO PAIN!!! A yoga pose should NEVER hurt. Period.
Yoga, as with any form of physical activity, comes with inherent risks. Heck, my best friend broke her foot while walking across a parking lot! There are no 100% guarantees in life. When approached with mindfulness, however, it can be a very safe way to explore what your physical body can do while connecting with yourself on a deeper level.