We often hear our students asking if there is any way to prevent injuries in yoga. In this post we gonna explain you how to prevent the most common injuries and to avoid pain in your yoga practice. Let’s start right away with one of the most important things to do not only in yoga but in everyday life.
1. Listen to your Body
Our body knows best what is good for us and what is not. It’s important to observe the quality of your sensations while moving on the mat. How does it feel to stretch your legs? Where in your body do you feel the influence of that movement when you go a little deeper into that stretch?
If there is pain, then look for the level and quality of your pain. Do you notice a sharp pain? Then you’ve probably gone too far. Allow your body some rest or even stop with your practice.
If you notice it’s more of a pleasant pain because the sensation feels more like a release, this is the “good” kind of pain. Especially when doing a lot of stretches and long holds as in Yin Yoga. After time you will get a sense for how far you can go.
Develop a feeling for the quality of your sensations. Get to know your body right and learn to listen to its signs.
2. Proper Alignment and knowing your Limits
Although yoga is a relatively save practice compared to other sports, there are certain poses which should be done with higher awareness and caution.
Depending on the pose, you’re targeting different parts of your body. A downward dog, a crow pose, Chaturanga or plank pose can put a lot of pressure on your wrists. When you’re a beginner or still learning about proper alignment that’s important to consider. A headstand, shoulder stand or camel pose might be very stressful for your neck when you overdo it. And when not being conscious with pigeon pose, this can lead to knee problems.
Tight hamstrings and short hip flexors are quite common in today’s society, resulting from long hours of sitting every day. So just be a bit careful with poses that stress your hamstrings, e.g when doing forward folds like Uttanasana. Don’t force yourself to reach the ground with your hands and keeping legs straight when your body is not ready for it.
Feeling a nice stretch in the back of your legs and working on those tight structures is good, but stressing them too much is not.
Listen to the instructions of your teacher and ask for showing you the proper alignment. You are allowed to alter or come out of your pose – you don’t have to look like your teacher. Bend your knees, use blocks and keep on breathing.
Keep in mind, it’s not that these poses aren’t good in general. Like in every other sports, just moving mindfully and keeping a balance is the right way.
3. Let your Breath be your Guide
Through the flow of breath, we notice in which emotional, physical and mental state we are in this moment. The sound of breath gives us a continuous feedback and is similar to a “biofeedback” system. As soon as our thoughts start to wander, when we ask too much or simply lose our attention, our breath starts to alter or stop.
Your breath can be your teacher
As breathing improves our concentration and lets our body move more naturally, injuries are almost impossible when keeping a constant breath throughout the practice.
Most yogis use Ujjayi breath for this reason. Ujjayi is an ancient yogic breathing technique (Pranayama) and should be long and smooth. You can do it by breathing in and out deeply with closed mouth and constricting the muscles in the back of your throat at the same time. Ujjayi breath creates a soothing tone which sounds like waves in the ocean rolling in and out. Try maintaining your Ujjayi breath throughout your practice.
4. No Comparison to Others
Yoga is about being compassionate not only with others, but especially with yourself. Yoga teaches you to be aware of your current state: your are exactly where you’re meant to be. Just on your mat and in the present moment. No-where else.
You are exactly where you are meant to be – right here, in the present moment
As we continue on our yogic path, we are making progress with our body and mind changing over time. But for now, accept where you are. Only you know best about your limits. Remember, your neighbor on the mat next to you has another body, another mind, another condition, another past, another practice, another attitude and is in another mood today. Drawing your attention away from you will put you out of presence and increase the risk for injuries and frustration.
5. Practicing Mindfulness and Presence
We are all familiar with the term ‘mindfulness’. Mindfulness was widely made popular in western society by the academic Jon Kabat-Zinn. According to him, mindfulness is a particular form of attention where one is:
focus in the present moment
in a non-judgmental way
Mindfulness is one of the key things in yoga to prevent injury. Being present means we can feel and observe more easily those subtle alterations going on in the body. Being present means we are totally aware of our feelings, emotions, sensations and transformations during our practice. And this is essential to protect us from injury.
Practicing presence and mindfulness is also part of the “Eight Limbs of Yoga”, an ancient roadmap for yogis to reach the “high state of yoga”. We wrote about those eight limbs in our blog “The Eight Limbs of Yoga explained”.
Remember those things…
Challenge yourself, it doesn’t always have to be comfortable, but know your limits, keep the focus on your own practice, and let go of forcing your body into a position which it is not yet ready for.
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