Yoga for Overall Health
Looking for an activity that offers strengthening benefits and can boost your bone health? Yoga may be right for you.
As long as proper injury prevention measures are followed and personal physical ability is taken into account, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons suggests that yoga offers the following benefits:
- Increased strength
- Improved balance
- Better flexibility
- Helpful workout for those with some joint problems, like arthritis
“Even if you are just starting out, or are yogi pro, certain positions may place you at higher risk for musculoskeletal injuries,” says Rebound physical therapist, Mike Baer. “You should consult your doctor, particularly if you’ve had any injuries or medical conditions. We recommend discussing any injuries or difficulties you have while exercising with your certified instructor.”
Be Aware of Your Body
Neck & Shoulder
Distributing your weight properly, moving slowly, using your breath, not overextending, and proper techniques are extremely important in preventing yoga injuries, especially when it comes to protecting your neck and shoulders.
Spine injuries in particular are of concern with headstands and shoulder stands. These are advanced poses that you should work up to and have significant core strength and guidance to accomplish safely. A good rule of thumb with headstands and shoulder stands is to build the position slowly from the ground up, using abdominal strength, never placing excess weight on your head/neck, distributing your weight equal distance and pausing incrementally to ensure your proper alignment. These inversion poses are dangerous for beginners because you create a vulnerable environment for your head and neck. Do not attempt these advanced poses without working with a certified instructor who can determine if you are ready to attempt them.
Never contort your spine into a position that causes pain. Again, abdominal strength is key in preventing strain and injury. In yoga, you often round your spine to enter into a forward fold. When doing so, you should breathe deeply, allowing your inhale to guide you as you lengthen your spine. Be sure to keep soft bends in your knees, and never push to the point of pain. Most often, injuries to the lower back occur when you move too quickly. Warming up also helps prevent injuries to the lower back.
For positions that involve laying on your back with raised legs, press your back to align with the floor, eliminating the gap between your lower back and mat to avoid strain.
Cobbler’s pose, butterfly or wide-legged seated poses can cause some discomfort, particularly if your body is not yet flexible to accommodate such poses. Try to avoid overextending you knees to the sides or rotating your knees too far outwards. Tree pose or a forward bend may be better options for you, as they can offer more support to your knee joints, while still working to strengthen muscles and improve balance.
Your hamstrings are susceptible to overstretching, pulls or tears. When in forward fold, avoid forcing yourself too far into the position to avoid straining your hamstring, and keep your knees in a soft bend. Slowly move into and out of forward fold, to avoid sudden movements that aggravate the hamstrings. With any inversion position, avoid keeping your knees locked.
Our wrists are delicate and complex structures, and positions like plank and downward-facing dog can create strain if your alignment and positioning is off. When in plank, be sure that your fingers are spread wide to create support and balance, with your hands placed equal distance apart, directly under your shoulders. If wrist pain is an issue for you, you can always make a fist in the same position to provide additional support.
- “Always listen to your body, and start slowly and mindfully,” says Baer.
- If you’ve never done yoga, do not take an advanced class. Choose a beginner class, or ask which class would be best suited for your skill level.
- “Warming up is key,” says Baer. “Yoga involves your joints, ligaments, tendons and muscles, and a lack of a warm-up can lead to injury.”
- Ask for modifications if something is causing strain or pain, and don’t attempt postures that exceed your skill level.