Injuries from any kind of movement — yoga, soccer, stepping off a curb — are always a possibility. There's not much you can do if someone kicks your knee in a soccer game, but when it comes to yoga, you can take precautions to help prevent injuries and ensure a safe practice.
It's always important to remember the basics when practicing yoga:
- Communicate with your instructor.
- Warm up gradually.
- Learn the correct alignment.
- Transition slowly and consciously between poses.
- Listen to your body.
- Stay hydrated and keep breathing through your practice.
If you have a current injury, speak with your doctor or physical therapist before practicing yoga. Below is a deeper exploration of these tips to keep your practice beneficial, fun, and injury-free.
Communicate with Your Instructor
If you have an old injury that sometimes acts up, tell your teacher before class. A smart teacher will usually ask if anyone has existing injuries, but it's never a bad idea to take the initiative just in case. He or she will be able to offer modifications for poses that might irritate or worsen your condition.
On that note, it's vital that you learn yoga from a qualified teacher who has earned a Yoga Alliance certification of at least 200 hours. While certification is no guarantee of a good teacher, the standards required by Yoga Alliance greatly reduce your chances of being injured in a fraudulent class.
It's important not to attempt deep or advanced poses without warming up. Gentle yoga classes often begin with softer moves like neck rolls, supine leg stretches, and Cat-Cow Pose. Intermediate and Advanced classes sometimes begin with Sun Salutations to warm the body and get the heart pumping.
Your (qualified) teacher will likely be teaching a specific sequence, designed to safely guide your body from the stiffness of everyday life into the fluid depths of yoga. It may seem boring or silly at first to spend so much time warming up, but listen to your teacher and follow along — there's a method to the madness!
Also — it's poor form to arrive late to class, but if for some reason you must show up after the warm-up poses, spend a few minutes breathing deeply and moving gently to get your blood flowing before joining in with the rest of the class.
Learn the Correct Alignment
While there is some disagreement between yoga traditions as to the correct alignment for certain poses, there are some generally accepted guidelines. Listen to your teacher's cues and try to feel the alignment in your body, instead of looking in the mirror. By maintaining proper alignment in your practice, you'll be able to achieve greater benefits from the poses, as well as avoid injury.
Transition Slowly & Consciously
The majority of injuries happen when students are transitioning into and out of poses. Make sure you learn the proper, safe way to move through the asanas before attempting them. Never rush into one or jerk out of one suddenly.
If you're not sure of how to get in or out of a pose, ask your teacher before moving forward.
Listen to Your Body
Many yoga teachers will tell you there's a difference between 'good' pain and 'bad' pain. Muscular tightness and trembling limbs are generally good — you're gaining strength and building muscle tissue. Pain in your joints (elbows, knees, etc.) or pain that pinches, sears, or bites is not good.
It's good to challenge yourself in yoga, to find the edge of your resistance and to be okay with discomfort as your body learns new movements. Listen to your body. If your muscles are trembling, try to breathe and hold the pose.
However, if you are experiencing "bad" pain, never wait for your teacher to tell you to release the pose. Slowly make your way back into a resting position.
Yoga is not a competition! Never force yourself into a pose if you aren't ready. Ego-driven desire to achieve a pose your body can't yet reach is likely to set you up for both disappointment and injury. Relax into your own practice and work within your own skill level. There's no glory in injury!
Stay Hydrated & Breathe
Staying hydrated and breathing continuously throughout your practice means your muscles will receive the two crucial ingredients they need to function: Water and oxygen. The more stress your muscles are under, the more oxygen they need. Some forms of yoga can be very physically strenuous — and you need to account for that added strain.
Stay hydrated throughout your day and cut down on diuretics like caffeine. Focusing on your breath, especially during difficult poses, will also calm your mind and help to prevent injury by bringing more awareness to your body and to the present moment.
Give it a Rest!
The biggest part of injury prevention is giving your body the rest it needs to recover. By taking some time off, your muscles will be able to heal and rebuild any damaged tissue. That way you can go back to class strong and supple, with no vulnerable areas. Remember, be smart and you will stay healthy!