Shane Dowd, from Got Rom, recently posted an article about why people get injured doing yoga. He had some very important points, points I really hadn't considered. And in large part that's because I generally focus on teaching my students to feel their body from the get go. As a result, many of the points that he brings up don't really factor into my yoga classes.
That being said, let's go over some of his points, and what you can do to help prevent injury when you are just starting (or continuing) yoga.
One of his points was that people get into yoga and do to much of it too soon. As a result they break. And so a big point when starting a yoga practice is not to do too much too soon. Or if you are going to do a lot then to do it slowly.
One possible way around this, and this will be difficult in a led class, is to focus on moving slowly and smoothly. Rather than working with your breath, focus on moving slowly and smoothly and let your breath happen.
I get a lot of comments on my videos about why I don't focus on the breath. A big reason is that when you focus on your breath what you are focused on is feeling your respiratory muscles activating and contracting. It's a way of becoming present.
When you focus on your breathing muscles you tend to become more present in your body. My point is that you can become equally as present by focusing on other muscles, provided you activate and relax them slowly and smoothly.
So for example, doing standing work, we could focus on the feet, or the knees, or the thighs or the hips. And in each case we can relax and contract muscles and focus on feeling those muslces as they work. We can then adjust those muscles as we use them.
Likewise, stretching, we can focus on activating and relaxing the muscles that we are stretching. We can adjust them while stretching and thus reduce the chance of injury, particulary when the relaxation and the activation is slow and smooth.
How slow you might ask? I'd say a minimum of five seconds to activate and another five to relax. Once you can do five seconds in either direction, then vary it slightly. And rather than counting each time, get a feel for how it feels to move that slowly and smoothly. Once you get the feeling, then use that as a guide to moving slowly and smoothly.
As you practice, you'll find on some days you might choose to move slightly slower. On other days slightly quicker. In either case, perhaps the most important thing is moving smoothly. As you get to working a little bit quicker, the smoothness is what you can carry into doing actions quickly, and that's what may reduce the chance of injury.
Another point that Shane brings up is that when you are new to yoga you aren't in your body. You aren't used to feeling it. And that is something that comes with practice. For my students, I like to break things down. I focus on breaking the body down into elements so that they can learn to feel their body a lot more quickly. So rather than just relying on experience, in general, when you are practicing yoga you can accelerate the accretion of experience by breaking yoga poses down into smaller elements.
One thing that Shane talks about that I perhaps haven't got an answer for is soft tissue work. I don't do soft tissue massage, except on very rare occasions. I've tended to focus on slow and smooth rhythmic movements when doing yoga. Prior to that I used to do a lot of standing meditation that could be thought of as types of chi gong. I've often found i've gotten "releases" simply by moving my awareness through my body, focusing on particular parts while standing or sitting still. Plus, it feels really refreshing.
I'm can't remember if this was a separate fourth point or a point that was mixed in with the first point but Shane also suggests a lot of people push themselves because they see what other people are doing.
Here again I'll suggest that a focus on feeling our own muscles activate and relax, and deliberately controlling those actions is one way around this. When you focus on feeling and controlling your body, it's easier to notice when something is beyond your current realm of possibility.
I'll also say here, when you learn to feel and control individual groups of muscles (and the bones to which they attach) you can begin to develop a better understanding of your body. That understanding can then be used to guide the way you do yoga poses, whether you are just doing yoga as a way to feel good, improve flexibility or strength, or to prevent (or deal with) pain.
Do you want a head start on learning to feel and control your muscles (and thus, your body)?
smart yogi proprioceptive elements includes a set of exercises to help you get a better feel for your body. It accelerates the acquisition of experience by helping you to focus on isolated parts of your body.
With a focus on isolated elements, you'll get a better feel for your body faster. You'll also have better control. And you can then use both while taking part in yoga classes, or doing your own yoga practice. You can even apply it to activities outside of yoga. To find out more or order, click here: smart yogi proprioceptive elements
Hi, I'm Neil Keleher
I have a bachelor's degree in Systems Design Engineering from the University of Waterloo.
I've taught yoga for over 20 years with a focus on force perception and using it to improve body awareness, stability, strength and flexibility.
My main interest is in basic principles that can be applied in any endeavor to make learning and doing easier and to make problem solving easier.
You can find more by me on my other website zeroparallax