Sprains, fractures, and dislocations – oh my! Yoga is great for stress relief, chronic pain management, and flexibility training, but like any exercise, there is the potential for injury. The leading cause of pain associated with yoga stems from misalignment or improper form. This can lead to wrist, neck, shoulder and back pain, overextension (in the knees especially), and joint discomfort. By practicing with a certified teacher and moving at a pace that is comfortable for your body, you can reduce the risk of developing these types of injuries.
One of the most commonly reported yoga injuries is lower back pain, which is often the result of misalignment but can also be caused by attempting a pose that requires a good deal of flexibility in the back before you are ready. The strain is also placed on the back when you have tight hamstrings and, in poses like the forward fold, you round your spine in an attempt to compensate. This can lead to disc problems because your spine is forced to flex the opposite way it’s meant to. Have you ever heard your yoga instructor tell the class to keep their spines straight and make a flat tabletop with their back? This is to reduce the chances of someone injuring their back in exactly the way described above.
Two of the best ways to avoid straining your lower back are to 1) Bend your knees as much as you need to instead of rounding your back to compensate for tight hamstrings, and 2) Any time a pose requires you to bend, fold from the hips instead of curling down from the back. You want to engage your natural “hinges.”
Some poses to watch out for and ensure you are performing correctly:
- Forward Fold
- Seated Forward Fold
- Wide-Legged Forward Fold
- Upward Facing Dog
- Downward Facing Dog
If you have pre-existing back problems that you need to look out for, avoid these poses altogether:
- Any type of twist: put a lot of pressure on disks
- Camel: stretches out the lower back and is not good for disc problems
- Wheel: deeply curves the back, which requires a lot of flexibility and can trigger an old injury
- Boat: leans on your lower spine and strains the back if not properly supported
- Shoulder Stand: not enough lower back support, easy to do incorrectly
Aside from practicing proper alignment and avoiding poses that may re-invigorate existing injuries, there are a few more things you can do to keep back pain at bay:
Don’t try a pose that you are not physically or mentally ready for. We all want to do our best, and that sometimes makes us feel the need to push ourselves. If you are not physically fit enough for some poses, don’t despair. Every master yogi started where you are now. If you push yourself too hard you may injure yourself which will only make the journey harder.
Come into a pose slowly and with micro-movements. Yoga is not about who can go from Downward Dog to Cobra the fastest. Keep every move intentional to make sure you are properly aligned.
Move out of a pose as slowly as you moved in. You are just as likely to injure yourself exiting a pose as you are when you’re in a pose. Never use jerking movements or pull quickly out of a posture, especially if it’s a deep stretch or twist.
Use props whenever you need to. Modifications exist for a reason. Don’t be afraid to grab a block if you can’t touch the ground, or place a blanket under your knee if your mat doesn’t provide enough cushion. Aiding your practice with props doesn’t make you a weak yogi; it makes you smart. Now, get dressed in your favorite yoga leggings and hit the mat. Be safe and have fun.