Is your practice safe? Here are common overlooked mistakes and how to practice smarter & safer
Most people who practice yoga may be aware of the health benefits. But like any physical activity, it's not completely risk-free. Lately, concerns over yoga and injury have been in the media lately. Fortunately, there are ways to practice the healing discipline of yoga in ways that minimize the potential for injury.
I've chosen the most common and overlooked mistakes to help ensure an injury-free yoga experience:
Too Much, Too Fast
I remember being that student who would turn red and pull/push as hard as I could on my yoga props because I was determined to look exactly and keep up with a class full of nimble, flexible practitioners led by an equally flexible instructor. It's really easy to get sucked into imitating them as they effortlessly twisted into these cool pretzel shapes, thinking I don’t want to show weakness or look like the worst one in class. As a beginner, I remember thinking that if I don't replicate the pose in its fullest expression, like everyone else, I must be doing it wrong. It's because of this competitive reason that most beginners have a rough time progressing or keeping up with their practice, mostly because they aren't guided properly on how to adjust key poses to their level. Beginners to yoga make the mistake of forcing their way into postures to achieve what they consider to be the pose rather than appreciate and accept modifications.
Having a home-based practice makes it easier for us to listen to our own body without the need to compare to others. My yoga videos provide modifications, variations, including ways to use props to help suit various fitness levels and flexibility, while respecting the integrity of the pose. For those who prefer a shorter, simpler, easier yoga workout, I've re-edited the original videos to include shorter variations so beginners can progress their way up to the full 75-min version.
Yoga Everyday As Exercise
Yoga does a body good, but if you up the intensity or frequency too soon, you can overtax your body and risk injury. If you're bringing an aerobics or gym workout mind-set to your yoga practice, you're missing out on what yoga is truly about. Yoga is not about how fast, how much or how perfect the practice is when you get to the finish line. It's really about self-awareness. The poses or asanas are vehicles for self-discovery. Improved fitness, flexibility and health are by-products of the practice. Especially with power yoga which is a strength-building type of yoga practice, you'll need to give your muscles a chance to recuperate and recover
from those microtears that happen every time you practice. Otherwise your exhausted muscles may cause you to get sloppy and you'll increase the likelihood of injury. The yoga videos I provide are ideal for cross-training with other sports and are popular among cyclists, rockclimbers, gym-goers, runners, golfers, basketball players, rugby players, etc. Pretty much all participants of any major sports can hugely benefit from a regular strength-based yoga workout to undo, correct, and re-align the imbalances caused by their sport or activity.
Proper Warmup and Cooldown
Under a time crunch, you may be tempted to skip some warm-up moves and go directly into a complicated posture, but that definitely increase your risk of injury. It takes roughly 15, sometimes 20 minutes to warm up the body to the point where it's safe to go into those serious poses that require a deeper level of strength, balance and flexibility. Every yoga class should involve getting your heart rate up safely with simple poses to warm up your body, including your muscles, spine, joints and ligaments. It’s not just a matter of practicing in heated rooms, cause the body needs to warm up from the inside. And just like with any workout, a cool-down for about 10 to 15 minutes is vital to help your muscles recover and repair before your next activity. It will also help you avoid dizziness or fainting which can occur if too much blood pools in your legs during standing postures. My yoga videos were carefully designed to gradually increase to peak intensity before guiding you down to a resting energy level.
Taking Only Studio-based Yoga Classes
While I completely agree on supporting your local and global yoga community by attending studio-based yoga classes, it shouldn't be your only way of practicing yoga. If you have a chronic pain from an injury, instructor who teach those large classes have way too many client to focus on without modifying every posture to suit your needs. With large classes, it's really easy to get caught up in our competitive, comparative nature when we eye each other to see who can do the pose the best or how they stack up against the rest of the class. But it distracts from your journey of self-discovery to constantly compare yourself against others or even yourself. Every day is different. A certain pose might be easy one day and hard the next. Developing a home-based yoga practice allows you the perfect opportunity to practice yoga that is completely tuned in to what you can do at that moment and honoring it.
Discomfort vs. Pain
Bringing the "no pain, no gain" mentality into your yoga workouts will make you more liable to getting hurt or injured. Pain is a strong signal that you're doing the pose the wrong way or too deeply for your flexibility. Back off or come out of the pose the moment you feel pain and take the modification. Never ignore pain. At the same time, if you interpret all sensation as pain, you'll end up in corpse pose for the whole class! It's natural to feel some discomfort when you ask tight muscles to engage, but that's different from pain, and it will decrease as your strength and flexibility improves. Always move slowly into a posture, pause when you feel a moderate stretch and wait until the muscle releases. If you can't release the muscle, you're too close to your edge and need to ease up. My yoga videos provide you with ways to practice the healing discipline of yoga in ways that minimize the potential for injury.
The Importance Of Breath
Using the breath to guide your practice is one of the fundamental tools in yoga. It not only oxygenates your muscles, but also keeps you centered and helps you stay focused on the postures. In fact, your breath should match your movements in the posture, generally inhaling as you reach up and exhaling as you move more deeply into the stretch, bend or twist. Struggling to breathe during a pose is a sign that you’re in it too deeply for your fitness level
or flexibility. If you’re practicing on autopilot, you’re not doing yoga. You’re just stretching or exercising, and you aren’t getting the full power of the discipline. Yoga is about the union of body and mind. Mindfulness is an integral part of it. Every time you step on your mat, bring your full attention to the practice. If your mind wanders during class, gently bring it back to the present. This took me years to figure out, and I still struggle with it every single time I practice. This is why I remind you to find your breath and cue it often with my yoga videos. It's realizing the importance of breath that makes all the difference. The breath makes it yoga. It balances you, calms your mind, focuses your attention, and benefits you physically in myriad ways.
Giving Up Too Soon
If you stop practicing yoga after an injury, you lose the opportunity to learn from it. An injury can help you appreciate modifications and show you that you can practice yoga even with limitations. To avoid injury in the future, explore how it happened. Were you paying attention? Did you follow instructions? Were you tired, angry or ambitious? Were you pushed too hard, either by yourself or an instructor? Are you practicing the right type of yoga for you?
Besides giving up due to injury, giving up because things get tough is another overlooked mistake common in yoga. I disliked arm balances when I first took up yoga. I had the strength, but with many yoga poses, it isn't about strength but balance, integration and patience that kept me from understanding the concepts and importance of arm balances. In fact, in the early days of my yoga practice I got so frustrated that I refused to participate when my teachers insisted on teaching arm balances. After some time I finally understood arm balances and their significance in what you can learn about your relationship with fear, what's possible, discipline and perserverance that they quickly became my favorite type of pose.
We all make mistakes, especially when we’re beginners. These “mistakes” are often the things that give us the feedback we need to learn and grow from, especially when it comes to the practice of yoga. I’ve fallen down so many times before I learned how to stand on my head! I am so thankful for each and every little falter I’ve encountered along the way, for it’s through these mistakes that I’ve become the yoga student I am today –imperfect, definitely with lots more lessons ahead, but with a far more understanding about who I am am what I’m capable of than when I first started.
Mistakes can be great teachers. They invite you to uncover your personal roadblocks due to flexibility constraints, misalignments or overzealous attempts to force your way into poses. And since we’re all on our own personal journeys on the mat, we're not always accurate in judging which aspects of our practice can pose the most danger. I'm on a mission to make yoga part of your daily life. I've created yoga videos to help you start and build a home-based yoga practice that is safe, fun and effective. Discover more about them here...
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