Sunday, September 15, 2013

Want to Practice Yoga Forever? Be Nice to your Body!

This Fall, I'm approaching the 3 year mark of being a yoga teacher. I've seen many wonderful things happen to my students' bodies and minds as a result of a consistent, dedicated yoga practice. But, unfortunately, I've also seen lots of injuries caused by this same consistent, dedicated yoga practice. Getting hurt in yoga....Say what?!

Yes, it's true. Even in the ancient, methodical, beautiful practice of yoga, people can get hurt. The majority of the time, these injuries are 100%  preventable and usually from students (or sadly, even teachers) pushing their bodies too far.

A good rule of thumb I've discovered: If you're naturally flexible, you need to build strength. If you're naturally strong, you need to work on your flexibility.

Where we see most injuries arise is when naturally flexible people - like myself and lots of other women - push themselves into extremely bendy poses (backbends, deep folds, deep twists, etc.) and overstretch their joints and ligaments to a point of no return.

Charlotte Bell is a yoga teacher, practitioner and anatomy scholar of almost 30 years and is among a collective of yoga teachers who have seen more than their share of yoga-related injuries. There is a new uprising of teachers who are issuing a "call to arms" of sorts, urging yoga practitioners to be more careful with their bodies, as the popularity and demand for super fast-paced, hot power yoga is on the rise.

In her recent article for Elephant Journal, Charlotte explains the issue at hand....

"Flexible people have a much stronger tendency to overstretch joints than stiffer people do. Armed with the pervasive “no pain, no gain” philosophy, we flexies tend to keep stretching until we feel pain. Because our muscles are loose enough that we don’t feel much there, we collapse into our joints where there’s plenty of sensation. Not only does this overstretch our ligaments, it can also wear down the cartilage that protects our joints and keeps them articulating smoothly.....

....many asana classes encourage people to push past their limits and rock those fancy poses. If a person’s ligaments are made unstable by relaxin—or by excessive heat or any other outside factor—that creates a situation of imbalance in the joints.

You wouldn’t encourage a muscle-bound yoga student to lift more weights and stiffen up. Equally, a too-flexible student doesn’t benefit from becoming even more flexible. Too much flexibility is just as unhealthy is too much stiffness. 

Balance is what we’re going for in asana practice.

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