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Keep the 'ouch' out of your yoga practice

Seniors, pregnant women, is recommended for almost everyone...because it's safe, gentle, and low impact.

Seniors, pregnant women, is recommended for almost everyone...because it's safe, gentle, and low impact. However, as the popularity of yoga has risen; so too has the number of people seeking physiotherapy, chiropractic, and medical care for yoga injuries. Let's take a look at the most common yoga injuries and how you can stay safe on the mat.
The most serious yoga injuries would be those related to the spinal disks (herniated disks, fractures, and degenerative disk disease). Both inflexible and hypermobile yoga enthusiasts who push too quickly into postures such as plow, shoulder stand, and forward bends are at risk.
Pulled muscles (or strains) occur when muscle tissue stretches too far or tears. That pain in your butt after an overzealous seated forward bend could be the result of a pulled hamstring (this injury is common where the hamstring attaches to the sitz bones). It is important to keep the knees soft and only stretch to a mild tension in this pose. Standing and seated forward bends have also caused the occasional low back strain. To prevent this, be sure to draw the navel to the spine to engage your transversus abdominis muscles that help protect the low back from injury. It is also advised to use caution in deep lunges to protect the hip flexors and to stay off the neck in plow or unsupported shoulder stand to prevent neck injuries. In plow, think of your head and shoulders forming the basis of support for the pose. There should be no stress on your neck.
Hyperextension or "locking-out" the knees and elbows is an absolute no-no in yoga as it can cause ligament stress and lead to inflammation of the joint structures. It is important to protect your knees in triangle and seated forward bend. Although the legs remain straight in triangle; avoid the temptation to hyperextend. Instead, keep a slight bend in your knee and make sure your weight is distributed evenly between all four corners of your feet. Placing a rolled-up towel under your knees during seated forward bends is an easy way to keep safe and avoid hyperextension. In plank, downward dog, and upward dog avoid "popping" your elbows forward into hyperextension. Instead, allow the "eyes" of the elbow to gaze at each other: in these poses.
Overuse injuries such as tendonitis (inflammation or irritation of a tendon, the part that attaches the muscle to the bone) and bursitis (inflammation of a bursa, the small sacs found between moving structures such as muscles and bones) are also common in the yoga world. The guilty poses for these injuries are more often than not four-limbed staff pose, downward facing dog, and side plank. Yoga enthusiasts who spend a great deal of time in these poses before developing the proper strength to hold them are at risk of shoulder, elbow, carpal tunnel, and wrist injuries. It is important to engage the lattisimus dorsi and lower trap muscles in these poses to properly support the shoulder joint. As well, in downward dog, keep your hands spread wide, press down with the thumb and index finger, and shift most of the weight to your feet.
Alignment is crucial to staying injury free in every pose. Props such as yoga blocks, straps, bolsters, and blankets can help correct alignment, improve stretching, and support tight muscles so that they can release. Scan your body from your feet and work your way up to the top of your head checking every aspect of your alignment. Listen and watch for the subtle and not so subtle cues your body provides you about how the pose feels. Ignore your body's inner wisdom for even a moment and you risk injury. If something doesn't feel right, don't do it, even if that means resting in Childs pose until the class has moved on to something else. And as I've said time and time again, keep your eyes on your mat. Yoga is meant o be non-competitive and self-accepting. It doesn't matter how good (or bad) your neighbour looks doing a pose. Do only what your body can do. As well, ensure your teacher is properly trained in anatomy, human movement, and exercise physiology.
Yoga really is safe (most of the time). Be mindful and your mat should stay injury free. Your yoga practice (and body) will thank you for it!
Becky Cryne is a BCRPA certified Personal Trainer and Group Fitness Instructor, STOTT Pilates Mat and Reformer Instructor, CFP Pre and Post Natal Fitness Specialist, and ETW Yoga Exercise Specialist. She can be reached

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