– by Chitra Chandrasiri –

Yoga is not a high-impact sport, but that doesn’t mean injuries don’t happen. Most yoga injuries occur due to overstretch of the muscles involved. When you push your body into a new pose and if it hurts, it is time to release the pose. Never force yourself to go deeper into a pose until you’re ready. Instead, inhale and exhale deeply as your body gently moves into the pose.

The good news is that yoga is one of the safest form of exercises out there. It is said that the injury rate is comparable to that of gardening. But you still need to be aware of any pain and discomfort and be mindful of your body’s limitations.

I encourage my students to practice yoga at home so they can deepen their experience of yoga in a solitary environment, making it a truly personal experience. Most people choose a home practice due to various reasons; perhaps it is just not possible to attend classes due to financial, personal or geographical restrictions. Home-based yoga practice can be effective, invigorating, and calming. Just listen to your body and be careful, without teacher guidance, many individuals end up injured as a result of pushing themselves too far or simply failing to properly align the body while holding poses.

By understanding what the most common types of yoga-related injuries are, you can begin to take steps to avoid putting yourself in a position where these injuries are more likely to occur. Shoulder, elbow, and wrist injuries are quite common, so are pulled hamstrings, lower back pain, and knee and neck injuries.

Shoulder, elbow and wrist injuries

These are common because a lot of people are very tight in their shoulders and they try to force the shoulders to open. Going into shoulderstand, headstand and handstands, before you’re ready is a big mistake, so focus on stretching and strengthening the shoulders first.

To avoid injuries in poses like downward dog and plank, spread your fingers wide and press into the knuckles with the fingertips pressing down for more support. Focus on pressing the forefinger and thumb area down into the mat.

When in Plank, keep your arm in one line, with the wrist underneath the elbow and the elbow underneath the shoulder. This alignment will also prevent elbow and shoulder injuries and make the exercise more effective.

Your body alignment during downward dog, arm balances and handstand also has to be near perfect. You need to bear weight on the proper part of the hand. Make sure your fingers are evenly spread and that both your index finger and the heel of your hand are pushing into the mat.

Hamstring pulls

Just about everyone seems to have tight hamstrings, it is a side effect of modern living, those who sit or drive for long periods of time, runners and walkers tend to have them and some people just have naturally tight hamstrings.

If you push deeply into a forward bend testing your limits, you can pull your hamstring muscle up near your buttocks. If you feel pain, pull back and breathe into the entire length of the hamstring along the back of the leg to be sure you are stretching it gently.

If you are not very flexible, keep your knees slightly bent while doing folds and Downward Dog rather than forcing the legs to be straight or the heels to touch the ground, respectively. This will also prevent lower back strain, especially when maintaining a straight spine at the same time. Never force yourself to go deeper into a pose until you’re ready. Instead, inhale and exhale deeply as your body gently moves into the pose.

Lower back problems

Forward bends can also lead to bulging disks and other low back injuries. The problem occurs when you keep the knees too straight and round your backs going into the pose. Instead, keep your knees soft and aim for a straight back, don’t fold too deep beyond your limits. Engage your abs to keep your core stabilized.

Knee injuries

It’s unlikely that you’ll injury yourself serious enough to require surgery, but a knee tear will slow you down for a few weeks. It can happen if you let the knee twist out of alignment when doing pigeon pose, warrior poses or half lotus. Moving from the hip while keeping the knee bend often prevents these injuries. Do all the preparation poses before moving into something like Lotus pose and use props during pigeon to support the knee.

Neck injuries

Neck injuries are probably the scariest and it does take time to heal.

When doing the full wheel, resting on the top of the head before going up into the pose is a dangerous move, as much of the body weight is on the neck.

Be cautious in headstand, plough and shoulder stand that you’re not putting too much weight on your neck.

Also, in poses like camel and upward dog, you can fling your neck too far back without support. A gentle look up to the ceiling is good enough, if looking at the wall behind is too much.

Listen to your body; if you feel sore or your strength dwindles, tense in your neck and shoulders, you know you have been too ambitious.

Remember that yoga when done correctly should prevent injuries rather than cause them. Work within its limits will not only prevent injury but, paradoxically, may actually result in one day going deeper than you ever thought possible.