As a yoga teacher myself, I of course want to be a cheerleader for yoga and tell everyone to do it. But many people approach yoga as a cure-all — something that can help with back pain, can provide flexibility, etc. — so they are shocked when they actually get hurt doing yoga. In fact, there have been many media outlets spewing the idea that maybe yoga isn’t safe or good for you at all. I say, of course yoga isn’t safe or good for you — if it is done incorrectly. It is a physical activity, there are going to be some risks. The same way you can walk down the street and roll your ankle. Here are some ways to protect yourself from injury:
1. Make sure you warm up. Though many people still think that yoga is just om-ing in a room masked by lavender incense, there is a physical aspect to yoga, especially in the United States. In many classes, people have to towel off before being blinded by their own sweat. There are some challenging poses! You want to do poses that prepare you for these intense shapes. For example, if you are working on a split, make sure that you are warming up your hamstrings, hip flexors and psoas before just jumping into it.
2. The same way that you don’t want to miss the beginning of a class, you don’t want to miss the end, either. Try not to slink out of class when it starts to slow down. Just like many types of exercise, yoga elevates the heartrate and energizes the body. After an intense sweatfest, your body needs to cool down and return to homeostasis.
3. Do not be afraid to use props. Remind yourself that it is not a crutch. If a teacher tells you to bring your hand to the floor and you can’t reach it, perhaps put a block underneath your hand to bring the floor closer to you. If you are at home and don’t have a yoga block or have no idea what a yoga block is, improvise. Grab a textbook to rest your hand on. If you are reaching for your toes in a forward bend, wrap a strap around your feet and hold on to that. A belt, towel or long sock works well, too.
4. Finally, listen to your body. There is a difference between challenging yourself and causing physical pain. Learn to decipher the two. Do not push yourself because you see the teacher doing it or you want to impress the stranger next to you in hot pink yoga pants. If you get into a pose and you are feeling like your quad is going to snap or you’re wondering if you are having a heart attack because your left arm just went numb, you’d probably want to ask your teacher if you are doing the pose correctly or if there are any modifications for the pose. Be kind to your body!