Over the last several decades, thanks in large part to the personal fitness movement, yoga has emerged from the dark and mysterious realm of spiritual ritual to become a mainstream and universally embraced mode of exercise. The age-old practice of mindful stretching, while it has had its variations, remained virtually untampered with for centuries, but yoga as many know it today has morphed into less of a spiritual practice and more of a challenge to practitioners who want to take personal fitness to a new level.
The Myth of Harmlessness
Many assume that because yoga postures lack velocity and momentum, they pose no risk to practitioners. While it may be true that momentum and velocity do add an extra element of risk to any physical activity, their absence does not necessarily make the practice of yoga risk-free. In fact, injuries are as common in yoga as they are in any other sport or fitness activity. Some common yoga injuries include:
- Injuries to the cervical spine from headstands and shoulder stands.
- Spinal injuries from back-bending postures like lotus, bridge, cobra, updog and camel.
- Sciatic nerve pressure from heel-sitting postures.
- Various injuries to the hips, ribs, ankles and wrists and hamstrings.
Why the Upswing in Injuries?
The upswing in yoga-related injuries no doubt correlates with its rising popularity. As yoga becomes more mainstream, it is attracting more students of low to average fitness levels who are drawn to it because they think it will be easier and less risky than cardio or weight training. People with low fitness levels face a variety of obstacles when it comes to doing yoga:
- Core muscles that protect the spine and provide stability are weak, putting the vertebra at risk for injury.
- Overweight students are often top-heavy, adding extra strain to the body’s structures and raising the center of gravity.
- Sedentary lifestyle behaviors that involve long hours of sitting create imbalances in muscle tension throughout the body, with some muscles too flaccid and weak, and others too tight, setting participants up for strains and sprains.
- Unfit populations often have metabolic disorders like hypertension and diabetes, putting them at risk for falls and dizziness during yoga.
In addition to attracting less fit participants, group yoga classes are often taught by unqualified or under-qualified instructors who do not have a sound grasp of human anatomy and biomechanics. The group class environment can also be highly competitive, encouraging participants to push themselves to the point of injury.
Tips for Avoiding Yoga Injuries
Before enrolling in a yoga class, there are a few things you should do to prepare yourself:
- Begin a general fitness program of cardio and resistance training to build endurance and correct muscle deficits. A simple routine of 20 to 30 minutes of walking followed by a basic machine circuit and gentle stretching, performed three times per week, is a good place to start.
- Focus on core strengthening exercises to stabilize your trunk and protect your spine.
- Begin the practice of yoga with a non-competitive mindset. Yoga is all about self improvement. Tune into your body and listen to its messages, and tune out other students.
- Shop around for instructors. Find someone who understands your needs as a beginner and does not promote competition among students.
- Do not force yourself into postures that cause pain or extreme discomfort. Ask your instructor to show modifications for challenging poses.
If you do sustain a yoga injury, seek professional intervention with a physical therapist. PT can help you heal, and can teach you to move in ways that prevent injuries. With effective and educational treatment, you can begin to improve your personal fitness in ways that pose no risk for injury.
As sports and fitness become more competitive and demanding, W.I.T.S. is keeping pace with continuing education that keeps you in the know. As a fitness professional, you need to stay a step ahead of your clients and competitors if you want to be recognized as a top fitness service provider. Lay the foundation with a certification, like Personal Fitness Trainer or Older Adult Fitness Specialist. Then, get valuable renewal credits while you hone your skills with courses like Conditioning for Football or Fundamentals of Sport and Exercise Nutrition. Don’t let your competitors leave you in the dust. Take the lead by staying in step with the latest trends and research in fitness with W.I.T.S.