After reading the NY times article How Yoga Can Wreck your body, I decided that I wanted my next adventure in group exercise class to involve yoga. I started to practice yoga about two years ago when I decided to, once again, try something new. I was on my honeymoon in Costa Rica when I saw an offering for beach yoga and decided to try it. After that, I was hooked.
Since then I have been practicing yoga at least once a week, usually using exercise TV as my choice of workout. Very infrequently would I join my yoga class at my local gym. Before I wrote some of my recommendations, I decided to join the other yogis at my gym and attend one of the yoga classes to see the types of things that were being taught.
The class started with an instructor teaching the class in pranayama breathing. I enjoyed this because it was not assumed that everyone knew how to do this properly. Then a basic vinyasa, or exercise flow, was taught. Once the vinyasa was practiced, then a series of different poses were held for a period of time. The class ended with some deep breathing exercises and a period of meditation. I am not usually good at this part since I am usually thinking about all the things I need to be doing, but I do believe this is probably the most therapeutic part for most people.
After taking the class, I was able to see both sides of the story. Yoga is fantastic as far as a form of relaxation and meditation, as well as a great form of gentle therapeutic stretching. However, I can see how someone may get hurt from it. So here are officially my recommendations regarding yoga:
1) Anything done in extremes usually is not good for you. Practice yoga in moderation and interchange yoga with strengthening exercises, pilates classes, and/or cardio exercises. Just exclusively doing yoga for your workouts will lead to overall muscle imbalances. Being excessively flexible is not a good thing for your joints.
2) Do not have an ego! When you are in a class, do only the things you feel comfortable doing and do not push your body to do things that it can not. Just because your neighbor is doing a difficult twisting pose does not mean that you should do it as well. Only hold a posture to a point just right before you feel a strain. You will eventually over time be able to get further but do not push it. Yoga should not be painful!
3) I think it is safe to say a large majority of people should not do headstands or shoulder stands. A majority of the major injuries reported had to do with sustained inversion with compression of the neck in a flexed posture. This can put pressure on the bones in your neck and can damage the nerves that come from your neck and radiate into your arm. It also can put extreme pressure on your eyes as well as on the major arteries of your neck. Experts have come up with a way to modify a head/shoulder stand so it does not injure you, but for the sake of this blog I will suggest that you forego the headstand.
4) Take full advantage of the meditative practice that is yoga. The relaxation and deep breathing techniques in yoga are very restorative and help to relieve the main cause of injury: stress. These parts of yoga are just as important (if not more important) as the vinyasas or poses.
5) Practicing yoga in a group setting is meant for healthy individuals. If you are having pain anywhere, you should see your physician or physical therapist to further evaluate the source of pain. Yoga poses are often incorporated into a physical therapy treatment plan but should only be prescribed by a licensed professional who knows which poses would be best suited for your condition. Taking a yoga class should never take the place of supervised care under a licensed healthcare provider. Check out our website and come see the team at Performance Spine and Sports Medicine if you are having any pain or would like to be evaluated by one of our practitioners.