There are 16.5 million adults in the U.S. that regularly practice Yoga, according to the Yoga Journal, and an additional 25 million that say they want to try Yoga. Yoga classes, based in Yoga asanas (physical forms), are a national phenomenon that can be found in almost any gym. There are well-established benefits from learning the asanas that have pushed its popularity: increased muscle tone and flexibility, stress reduction, and a sense of community born out of the class experience. Yoga also has a somewhat gentle reputation—a perception that Yoga is “less intense” then other workouts, and that there’s little or no downside to adding Yoga to your routine.
That gentle reputation is taking a hit, however, as more and more Americans are getting injured in Yoga classes. Those injuries cover the full range of severity–from sore backs and strained hamstrings to torn knee cartilage and sprained necks. Roger Cole PhD., a scientist and Iyengar Yoga teacher in California, names the lower back, knees and the neck as the most prone to injury in Yoga. Injuries most often come from just being too aggressive—a forward bend that goes too far aggravates the back, for example, while falls from challenging headstands and forearm balances can cause neck injuries.
The Nimble team is here to remind you that though there are significant risks associated with practicing Yoga, there are some simple recommendations that can keep your practice safe and effective, regardless of the style of instruction:
*INTENTION—take a few moments to make sure your head’s in the right place before you step on the mat. Usually, we’re to blame for our injuries. We watch the rest of the class and let our egos take over—we want to be the best in that new pose, even if we’ve never tried it before! No amount of ego is going to help you if you push your body too far.
*3 KEYS—in Anusara instruction, there are 3 basic “checks” we use for each pose: foundation, alignment and breath. If your foundation is strong, whether it’s your feet, hands, shoulders, forearms, or hips, you’ve greatly reduced your chances of falling. Alignment basically refers to the spine, pelvis and joints. Be especially mindful of these areas—your body will let you know if you’re going too far out of your natural alignment. The last is obvious: if you can’t breath in a pose, we humbly suggest you back off and start over!
*PRIVATE INSTRUCTION—most people in the U.S. experience Yoga asanas for the first time in a crowded classroom, where there’s minimal instruction and minimal space. If you’re starting out, find an experienced instructor who can take you through the basics before you head into a class. You’ll feel more confident and enjoy it a lot more.
*GO AT YOUR OWN PACE—a Yoga practice should be built around your body’s strengths and limitations—you should never try to adapt your body to a form your body’s not ready for. What’s the point? Your body will react by trying to protect itself any way it can, and the results are usually not good. Slow and steady wins the race here—and you’ll surprise yourself at how far you progress when you’re consistent and attentive to what you’re ready for on the mat. Plus you’ll really start to enjoy yourself!
Please share your Yoga experiences with us!—submit a question or comment on our community board at www.nimblefitness.com. Also, stay tuned for more Yoga info in the coming months as we break down the keys to an effective practice. For those of you who are new to us, Nimble Fitness is a health and wellness company based in New York City that offers instruction in Anusara Yoga, either privately or semi-private groups.