Fitness Magazine

How to Stay Safe While Practicing Yoga, Version 2

By Ninazolotow @Yoga4HealthyAge
by Nina

How to Stay Safe While Practicing Yoga, Version 2

Inquietude by Eugene Grasset

Although we can’t guarantee you’ll never hurt yourself while doing yoga (no physical activity is risk free—I mean, you could hurt yourself walking your dog, taking care of your garden, or even just sitting at your desk), there are some common sense approaches you can take that will greatly reduce your chances of injuring yourself. And as you’ll see when you read through these guidelines, taking these approaches will also enable you to practice your yoga asanas mindfully—paying attention to pain levels, breath, energy levels, motivations for doing poses or not doing them—which is one of the points of the asana practice.

So we recommend that you use the following guidelines to keep practice yoga wisely at home or in class. And we recommend that if you’re a yoga teacher you share these guidelines with and encourage your students to follow them to keep your class safe.

Although I, Nina, originally created this list of guidelines, with input from Shari, I've since updated it with feedback from Baxter. So now this list represents the collective wisdom from an MD, a physical therapist, and a long-time, older practitioner, all of whom practice as well as teach yoga.1. Inform your teacher. If you’re in a class, tell your teacher about any injuries, illness, conditions or problems that might affect your ability to certain poses or put you at risk so your teacher can help you figure out what you should not be doing and give you alternatives. See What Your Yoga Teacher Really Wants to Know for information about the kinds of information to share with your teacher.2. Pay attention to pain. Learn to tell the difference between sensations that are potentially good for you, such as the healthy stretch of a tight muscle, and those that are potentially injurious to you, such as over-stretching a tendon or ligament, or compressing structures to the point of injury. And if you catch yourself moving into a sensation that feels dangerous or that you are concerned about, try backing out a bit, perhaps by letting go of a stretch or by using a prop. If you can’t back out for some reason, come out of the pose and rest (see below). See Tensions versus Compression for information on the difference between a healthy sensation and a potentially dangerous one. And, keep in mind that, as Baxter says, the closer pain is to a joint, the greater the potential is for a problem. 3. Listen to your breath. Although your breath may come more quickly in demanding poses such as backbends or long-held standing poses, gasping for breath indicates you’re over-stressing yourself, so see if you can back out of the pose a bit, possibly by using a prop. If you can’t back out for some reason or if doing that doesn’t help you catch your breath, come out of the pose and rest (see below). Also, as you practice, notice if you are holding your breath because this a possible sign you are becoming a bit fearful or anxious, or reacting to pain. If you find you are holding your breath, consciously relax your breathing and try to avoid holding it. 4. Rest if you need to. If you feel you’ve reached our limit with your time in a pose, no matter what the rest of the class is doing, come out and take a rest. Likewise, if you are suddenly sweating much more than normal, this may also be a sign that you’re over-stressing yourself, and you should take the same precautions. See Resting Between Poses for information about ways to rest. And if you feel like you just can’t finish the rest of a class, either let the teacher know so they can give you a resting pose to finish with or just lie down in a comfortable Relaxation pose (Savasana) Don’t just leave in the middle of a practice, without cooling down.5. Stay balanced. If you are weak or have trouble with balance, use props, such as a chair or the wall, to stabilize yourself so you don’t fall over and can practice with confidence. You can practice with your back to a wall, with one foot on the wall in standing poses, or with a hand on the wall in certain poses. If you know you have problems with balance, come to class early and stake out a place next to the wall so the wall will always there when you need it.6. Use props. Even if you have not been specially instructed to use a prop and you know that it is important for your safety (to keep you from over-stretching or falling or to use as padding for sensitive areas), go ahead and use it. And if you know you typically need a certain prop, such as a block or blanket, have one ready at your side before class starts. (If your teacher disapproves, consider finding a new teacher—see Cheating at Yoga?)7. Resist peer pressure. If your class is doing a pose that you feel is beyond your capabilities or that you just aren’t ready for, just don’t do it. Ask your teacher for an alternative or take a resting pose. Or, you can just watch the others do the pose, and learn through observation. If you find your class is consistently too challenging for you, lookof another a class that fits your level of ability, such as an eight-week introductory series for beginners or a class that is designed specifically for older students. 8. Only do inverted poses if they’re okay for you. Inverted poses are contraindicated for people who have uncontrolled high blood pressure or who are having eye problems, such as glaucoma or detached retina (see Friday Q&A: Cautions for Inversions for other situations in which you might want to avoid inversions). And if you are having neck problems, refrain from Headstand and Shoulderstand, please. If you have no contraindications and want to learn inversions, start by finding a special class, series, or workshop that is designed to introduce you to step by step to the inverted poses, so you can learn to practice these poses safely, under the careful guidance of an experienced teacher.9. Talk to Your Doctor. If you have had a surgery, or if you have a medical condition or an injury, explicitly ask your doctor or physical therapist which physical actions are safe for you and which are not. Don’t wait for the medical professional to tell you! Some doctors in particular (no offense, Baxter) often don’t even consider that you might be going upside down or twisting yourself like a pretzel, so you have to be sure to ask: Can I go upside down? Can I round my spine? Can I twist my spine? Can I cross my legs? Can I put pressure on this or that part of my body? And if you get no for an answer to any of those questions, be sensible, and follow the doctor’s recommendations.Subscribe to Yoga for Healthy Aging by Email ° Follow Yoga for Healthy Aging on Facebook ° Join this site with Google Friend Connect

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