Fitness Magazine

When to Stop Practicing Yoga

By Ninazolotow @Yoga4HealthyAge
by Shari

When to Stop Practicing Yoga

Swan at Rest by Brad Gibson

Sometimes we do things that we think are healthy or beneficial for us, but which are actually not. Even practice of yoga, whether at home or in a class, can occasionally be problematic. Have you ever gone to a class feeling a “bit off” and then walked away from the class feeling drained or in actual pain? Or, have you ever gone to a class feeling a “bit creaky” but hope that the “kinks” will work themselves out, but instead of feeling in less pain, you are in more pain after class? I don’t think this is a situation that only I have experienced in my over 30 years of practice! And I have begun to think of this topic as a means of exploring self-empowerment and non-judgment.
So, why do we continue to participate when we know we should stop? All of my fellow bloggers have addressed this issue in slightly different ways, whether it is in our approach to eating, sleeping, or basic life stressors.
I think we can explore this idea on a psychological /emotional level or on a gross physical level. I will start this discussion with the gross physical level of the body. First off, the practice of asana is not just a physical body moving through space following the commands of our central nervous system. Each time we move into a yoga pose there are a flurry of self-judgments and criticisms—”Oh no, not this pose again, I can’t ever do this, I hate this…”—the internal psychological dialog can be unending. It takes a lot of mental discipline to quiet the mind to be fully in the asana. But then the actual physical body starts its own chorus of complaints—“This is making my knee hurt, or my back or my shoulder.” The mind can and does ignore a lot of this noise, “strong arming” the body into submission. But that cranky joint knows when to strike back and it often does. So, when should we listen to the body over the noise of the mind?
I often tell my students that it is extremely important to understand our own physical as well as mental limitations and to respect them. Pushing beyond one’s actual abilities does lead to injuries (see Baxter's post Getting Clearer on Yoga and Risk of Injury). So when and how do we improve our abilities without causing injury or damage? We have to know when to stop!
With that in mind, here is a list of physical warning signs that would be important to acknowledge:
  1. Pain progression in both intensity and location. A back pain that is located centrally in your spine that starts to spread outward or downward is a warning sign to stop that activity. Another warning sign is when the area of pain totally changes location from back (spine) to arm or leg.
  2. Pain intensity. Pain is usually quantified on a 0-10 point scale where 0= no pain and 10 is excruciating intense pain. Any pain that moves from negligible, like a 3, to a 6-7, is not something you want to encourage. 
  3. Loss of sensation in a limb, an increase of numbness, a tingling, or burning that doesn’t stop once the position is changed.
  4. Increase in a sense of “unease.” You don’t know why this activity is making your nervous, unsettled or agitated, but it would be wise to stop the activity and ask your teacher afterwards.
  5. Any sensation of dizziness, nausea, double vision. These are not symptoms that are a healthy benefit from asana.
  6. Any signs or symptoms of heart racing or feeling that your heart beat feels irregular.
  7. Physical exhaustion. Instead of feeling better as the class progresses, you start to feel more and more exhausted.
  8. Mental exhaustion.
If any of these events occur during a class it would be wise to stop and sit leaning against a wall. Sometimes closing your eyes or going to get a drink of water will be helpful. Other times just stopping and lying down in Savasana will work. Finally, there may be times actually leaving the class is necessary. If this occurs, quietly get up and leave the room. Your teacher may or may not come to talk with you. If he or she does approach you, briefly let the teacher know what is going on with you. If you are concerned about discussing medical issues in front of the class, only discuss what you feel comfortable with. Then, especially if this is a regular class that you attend, consider contacting the teacher afterward to give him or her the complete information. Having complete information about your condition will help your teacher do a better job of making your next experience in class a good one.
For information about what you might want to tell your teacher before a class, see What Your Yoga Teacher Really Wants to Know.

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