Hi AA friends, Many of you may know me as the friendly neighborhood yoga instructor at Ambitious Athletics, which is why it’s appropriate that my first blog post would be on … well … yoga! ☺
In this week’s New York Times Sunday Magazine, you may have seen the column “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body” by William J. Broad, which offers the perspective that yoga is inherently risky, providing several examples of students who have suffered injuries and other ailments as a result of their yoga practice. I encourage you to read the column, if only to ensure that your only perspective on the article isn’t my own.
As you might have guessed, I had an immediate reaction to the title of the article, but not just because they were criticizing my line of work, but, more importantly, because, as a student of yoga for many years, I have been practicing precisely because of all the amazing benefits yoga brings me … from increased strength and flexibility to peace of mind and, most importantly, fewer injuries – not more.
As I dug through the article, it got me thinking about how the negative yoga experiences shared in this column came to be and what words of wisdom I could share with all of you to ensure that you only see the good side of yoga (as I do). What follows are my best recommendations for reaping all the benefits that yoga has to offer and ensuring a safe and rewarding experience every time you hit the mat. I can only assume that the students whose stories were featured in the NYT piece weren’t operating with these tips in mind:
How Yoga Will Not Wreck Your Body: 4 Tips
1. Listen to Your Body. The most surprising part of this article was the suggestion that yoga cause injuries and ailments in practitioners. I mean, yes, Savasana can sometimes feel like an out-of-body experience, but this isn’t The Invasion of the Body Snatchers. You are still in control of your own body. Right? For that reason, only you can know your limits. Enter all poses with great care and, if something doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. A good teacher will always offer modifications for poses, so never feel like you have to go into headstand just because everyone else is doing it. This leads me to …
2. Don’t Let Your Ego Takeover. In yogic philosophy, we talk a lot about the ego and, in the simplest terms, how the ego can often stand between you and your goals. It’s not about getting rid of your ego (you can’t, we all have one!), but it’s about getting out of the way of your ego and not letting it drive your actions. In the great words of Carmen Sturniolo, if you’re going to compete with someone “compete with yourself.” Yoga is challenging enough when you’re focusing 100% of your attention on what you are doing. Don’t worry about how great Morgan’s Warrior 2 is or how far Melissa can bend into Patchimottanasana/Seated Forward Bend. When the ego takes over, that’s when someone gets hurt.
3. If You Don’t Know, Ask. This is an important one. At Ambitious Athletics, whether in yoga, with a resistance band or on the TRX, we pride ourselves on offering clients very clear direction when it comes to alignment and proper form for every exercise. And we repeat those instructions over and over and over again – not because we like to hear ourselves talk, but because your safety is our #1 priority. But, not all teachers and coaches have the same philosophy. In fact, in some yoga classes, the instructors will simply tell you the name of the pose and nothing more. My personal opinion is that classes of that kind are for the more experienced practitioner … someone who might as well already be a yoga teacher, because they know every pose, including alignment points and actions, by heart. If that doesn’t sound like you, I would encourage you to seek out teachers whose classes focus on proper form and alignment. But if nothing else, when in doubt, ask your teacher or coach for more information. Your bodies will thank you.
4. Mix It Up. I am stealing this one from Carmen’s last post, but I think it bears repeating. Variety is the spice of life, people. Mix it up a little and your bodies will thrive. I know I differ from other instructors here, but I would never advise a client to make yoga his/her only form of exercise. A regular yoga practice is an essential part of a well-balanced fitness program thanks to its measurable impact on the body and mind (think improved strength, flexibility, breathing, posture, mood and more!), but it isn’t a substitute for strength training and cardio. After all, isn’t yoga all about balance anyway?
In short (because I know this post wasn’t), Practice Safe Yoga! What did you think I was going to say?