When practiced the right way, yoga offers numerous physical and mental benefits. It has an immense impact on the body and body for everything from relieving stress to strengthening organ health to pain management. But pushing beyond limits, overstretching, improper alignment, practicing without awareness and neglecting a teacher’s instructions can cause injuries. However, there are precautions, tools and safety tips you can follow to enjoy the benefits of yoga without succumbing to injuries, whether you’re a newbie or a seasoned practitioner. Let’s look at some of the
Common Yoga Asana Injuries and How to Prevent Them
Strains and sprains
The first type of likely injury, strains and sprains, occurs due to overstretching and pushing beyond one’s limit. This is common in forward bends and splits. Sometimes due to lack of flexibility, practitioners find it difficult to achieve the final yoga pose. However, many try to overstretch in an attempt to achieve a posture. Poor alignment and incorrect techniques can also cause strains and sprains. Furthermore, if one jumps right into practicing intermediate or advanced yoga asanas without warming up properly, this type of injury is common.
How to prevent strains and sprains in yoga: A few things to keep in mind is ensuring you practice within your limits. Be consistent and regular, and slowly your flexibility will improve. You can also use props to aid a posture rather than trying to overstretch. The idea is to ensure the correct alignment and technique is applied. With regular practice the final posture can be achieved. One must also remember to never skip warm-ups.
Lower back pain
Lower back pain occurs in yoga when one tries to overarch the lower back in backbends. If the core is weak also lower back pain can occur. Improper alignment or trying to hold an asana when the alignment is wrong, can lead to lower back pain.
How to prevent lower back pain in yoga: The core and back are interconnected with both supporting each other. Ensure you focus on building core strength before attempting challenging backbends. In any posture related to the back, engage the core muscles to protect the lower back. Do not hesitate to take the support of props in backbends. Backbends can be tricky and must be practiced safely, so always take guidance from an experienced teacher.
The wrists are often taken for granted. It is when you start doing asanas that put weight on the wrists that one realizes the importance of strong and flexible wrists. Poses such as Downward-facing Dog pose and Plank pose put pressure on the wrists. Hand balancing asanas such as the Crow pose, Peacock pose and Handstand bring all the body weight on the hands and wrists. In such practices, weak wrists or improper hand placement can lead to wrist injuries.
How to prevent wrist injuries in yoga: Ensure you regularly practice wrist strengthening and mobility exercises. Even simple wrist rotations are helpful. During your asana practice, ensure weight is distributed evenly by spreading the fingers. Do not hesitate to use wrist support or modify the pose if needed.
Lack of strength and stability in the shoulders are common causes of shoulder injuries. Overdoing certain repetitions or exercises that add too much pressure can overstrain the shoulders. Forcing shoulder flexibility and movement in asanas such as Chaturanga (low plank) can cause injuries.
How to prevent shoulder injuries: Targeted shoulder exercises can help build strength, mobility and flexibility in the shoulders. Keep the awareness of practicing with the right alignment, rather than excessive repetitions or achieving the final posture. Always engage the shoulder muscles and do not let them lose.
Common causes of knee injuries include hyperextension or locking of the knees. Poor alignment in certain standing asanas such as the Warrior poses, Chair pose, etc. can add an unnecessary strain on the knees. Pressure from incorrect alignment in balancing asanas like the Tree pose (placing the foot of the raised leg on the knee of the opposite leg is incorrect) causes harm to the knees. Any sudden or excessive pressure on the knees also causes harm.
How to prevent knee injuries: During standing asanas, maintain a slight, micro bend in the knees. This will prevent the knees from locking. Proper alignment is the most important aspect. Practice under the guidance of an experienced yoga instructor to ensure you avoid knee injuries.
Hamstrings injuries occur due to overstretching in forward bends. Trying to push too hard to reach forward or place the head on the mat when the hamstrings are not warmed up or flexible enough can lead to injuries. The hamstrings get tight due to sitting, walking or standing for a long time. So, without warm-ups injuries can occur.
How to prevent hamstring injuries: Ensure you give sufficient time to warm-ups. Practicing gentle hip openers such as the Cobbler’s pose, Garland pose and lunges are helpful. Be patient with yourself. With consistency you will gradually develop hamstring flexibility and be able to go deeper into the stretches. Use props to help you reach the floor in forward bends until then.
Neck strings occur due to poor alignment in inversions such as Shoulder Stand and Headstand. Forcing the head or neck into a position beyond comfort in asanas such as the Fish pose also causes a strain. Lack of support for the neck during inversion is a common cause of a neck strain too.
How to prevent neck strains: Make sure you keep the neck in a neutral position. Avoid pushing beyond comfort. Take the support of props and modify a pose if you need to. Focus on initially building neck strength, flexibility and mobility. Finally, do not avoid warm-ups for the neck too.
General tips to avoid injuries when practicing yoga
- Don’t skip your warm-ups. Surya Namaskar is a wonderful sequence you can do before diving into the practice of other asanas. It stretches and strengthens the entire body, loosening up tight muscles - from the arms to the hamstrings and calves.
- Do not neglect certain body parts. For example, skipping wrist strengthening exercises or neck rotations won’t help you. Give equal importance to all areas.
- Don’t be in a hurry to do advanced variations. In fact, apply modifications if you must until you are comfortable with a pose. Be patient and consistent and you will progress effectively.
- Practice under the guidance of an experienced teacher as they will ensure warm-ups are done and practices are at a level that suits you.
- Always listen to your body. Keep your awareness on the targeted region. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Immediately pause, inform your teacher, sit in a comfortable posture for a few minutes and then try again.
Most injuries may not be severe but they can dampen your progress. Even a strain on your wrist can set you back from achieving the Crow pose by a few months. Some injuries may even develop after years of overstretching, straining and poor alignment. So do not ignore or downplay the importance of practicing yoga. After all, yoga is not meant to be practiced in a hurry nor is it supposed to hurt.