Rox Does Yoga

Yoga, Wellness, and Life

Avoiding Injuries Through Mindfulness January 12, 2012

A lot of people have read the recent NYT article about how yoga will “wreck your body”. As a brand-new yoga teacher, I obviously disagree with a lot of what the writer says: I mean, I just spent a significant amount of time and money dedicating myself to learning about yoga, which would be kind of a waste if this guy is right. Here are my thoughts.

Of course many people have injured themselves doing yoga. It’s not difficult to do – I’ve done it myself, and so has almost anyone who’s practiced yoga with any dedication over an extended period of time. You can injure yourself hiking or dancing or playing video games or gardening, too, but that doesn’t mean that we stop hiking and dancing and gardening. These are things that feed our spirits, and so is yoga. To single out yoga as an activity that can wreck your body doesn’t make sense, because there are so many other activities that can wreck your body! We humans are equal opportunity wreckers. Accidents can happen no matter what you’re doing.

The key thing, for me, is to keep in mind what the true purpose of yoga is. According to the ancient texts, yoga is a way to get the body healthy so you can then sit in meditation. The point is not to sculpt the body or lose weight or to get a great workout, and people who approach yoga with that attitude (or, with that attitude only) may in the long run be more likely to injure themselves. The point is to be healthy: whatever healthy happens to be for your particular body. And the point of being healthy ultimately isn’t the body at all – we’re working on the body so that we can sit comfortably in meditation. A healthy body won’t be aching and complaining when you sit still for ten minutes. That’s the point we’re trying to get to: improving the body so we can focus on more important things.

Keeping your focus off the body and on the mind can actually help yoga practitioners not to injure themselves. You want to be aware of what’s going on in the body, certainly, and it’s really important to cultivate that awareness of how the body feels and the difference between work and pain. Being mindful of your body is crucial, but it doesn’t do any good to be looking in the mirror or comparing yourself to other students and forcing your body toward something you’re not capable of. And don’t think ahead to what this yoga class is doing for you; keep your mind right in the moment, on your own mat. Stay present and focused on the pose you’re doing right now.

When you take part in any activity, you do your best to be careful and to be mindful of what you’re doing. When you go hiking or ride your bike, you watch where you’re going, but if your mind wanders, your foot can slip or your bike can veer off the path. It’s the same thing in yoga. Staying present and mindful and focused on what you’re doing will help you to avoid inadvertently causing an injury.

Here are a few other responses to the article by nvnehi and anytimeyoga and Michael Taylor. I think it’s interesting to see the very different, thoughtful ways that different yogis have reacted.


Headstand Drama June 5, 2011

Filed under: yoga — R. H. Ward @ 3:34 pm
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Yesterday I went to the 10:30 morning yoga class. Class was good and I was feeling great until we got to inversions. I decided to do a headstand (which I rarely do at the yoga center, only when I’m feeling particularly strong and confident). I did my headstand, held for a few minutes, and came down, and then J came over to me. He explained that I had my elbows too wide in the headstand – the elbows shouldn’t be wider than the shoulders, so I should bring them in closer together. He also said I should bring my feet close together, as that would make it easier to balance. Then he told me to try it again.

I had some difficulty lifting back up into headstand – I’d already done it once and was a little tired. Also, the new arm position felt unnatural. J helped me lift my ankles. As soon as I was vertical in the pose, I knew it wasn’t right for me: I felt very uncomfortable and my neck really hurt, which is a major problem in a headstand. Thinking back now, I think that with the new arm position I wasn’t able to press strongly enough through my arms, putting all the pressure on my head and thus my neck. Either the new position made it physically difficult for me to press strongly, or I wasn’t confident enough with it to press strongly, but either way it was a problem. I wanted to come down out of the pose right away, but J was in front of me holding my ankles, so if I had dropped down I would have kicked him in the face. I panicked and didn’t say anything because I was afraid I’d (A) cry or (B) shout, so I just kept my mouth shut. I tried to press down through my arms to alleviate the pressure on my neck, but I don’t think it helped much, and I tried to follow J’s instructions about lifting my hips and keeping my feet together. I have no idea how I did with this. The base for my headstand was so uncertain and uncomfortable that I don’t know how well I held up at all. As soon as J moved aside, I dropped down. I tried to do a few neck stretches, but I was really shaken. Then it was time for sivasana.

I spent most of sivasana alternately being really angry and upset and trying to calm myself down. I felt angry foremost at J for making me do this modification that turned out to be so painful and so scary. But I knew I couldn’t be too angry with him – he’s a yoga teacher, not a mind reader. Also, he knows I’m an experienced student and should be able to trust me not to do something that hurts (while I on the other hand should be able to trust him not to hurt me, but this is a circular argument). I was angry most of all at myself for not being better able to respond to the situation. I know that I can have trouble with my neck in headstand and I could have been more careful; I could have told him I didn’t want to do the pose again; or I could have said something when it hurt, even if it resulted in me crying or shouting. Sticking it out through a tough pose is one thing, but when a pose actually causes pain, you’re supposed to come out of it or modify it right away. I felt angry that I let that situation happen, even though there didn’t seem to be anything else I could do at the time (short of kicking my teacher in the face).

I got myself mostly calmed down by the time we got to meditation. After class, I tried to wait to talk to J, but there was a new student in the class and he always likes to check in with new students after class. I used the rest room, and when I came back upstairs, everyone else was gone except J and the new student, who were talking in the back room, so I left too. I spent the afternoon with my parents and managed to put the bad feelings out of my mind.

I woke up this morning with a really, really sore neck. I still feel upset with J, and with myself. I think I do need to talk to him about this because I don’t want this to affect our working relationship (considering we’re stuck with each other until December) and plus he just deserves to know. Also, I want to talk about the pose itself and why he felt it necessary to modify my headstand in that way. Would keeping my elbows wide eventually lead to some other sort of injury? Right now I’m torn between wanting to practice playing with the new arm position in a safe way at home (after the current soreness heals, of course), wanting to ignore what he told me and keep doing it the old way, and wanting never to do a headstand again. Choosing the last option would mean giving in to the fear that I feel about the pose now, and that’s not a good idea. I also really, really don’t want to have to confront J. I could go to one of N’s classes instead this week but I feel like that would be avoiding the issue.

So, dear readers, what do you think? Tips on practicing headstand safely? Authoritative suggestions on correct arm positioning? Ideas on how to approach J?


Yoga and Wrist Health May 11, 2011

Filed under: yoga — R. H. Ward @ 2:01 pm
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Here’s a link to an interesting little article about yoga and wrist health: Floating, Flying and Balancing: A Guide To Yoga Wrist Care and Proper Alignment.

Since I’ve experienced wrist pain associated with yoga poses in the past, I find it interesting to check out what different people have to say about this. For my wrists, I bought a wrist brace from Walgreens – just your basic carpal tunnel style brace, but it kept my wrist immobilized and allowed it to rest, and after a few days, it felt much better. I also found generic wrist supports (again, from Walgreens) to be useful when experiencing mild discomfort. I now have two of the generic wrist supports and a wrist brace for each hand (the braces are hand-specific, while the supports can be wrapped on either hand). I don’t usually have problems now but at least I have something to fall back on if pain flares up.

Waiting for pain to happen isn’t the best idea, either, though – we should try to prevent the pain from occurring. The article above gives some good tips for keeping wrists healthy. I’ve thought about getting these wrist-assured gloves that are supposed to be very helpful for poses that put strain on the wrist. One of F’s yoga classmates has a wedge that she puts under her hands in downward dog and other wrist-intensive poses. The wedge looks to be more cost-effective than the gloves, but the gloves might be a little more versatile. So far, though, I’m glad I haven’t needed either of them.

Have you ever experienced wrist pain, either in a single pose or in a chronic way? How did you treat it?


Yoga and injuries April 6, 2011

Filed under: yoga — R. H. Ward @ 2:24 pm
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Some folks have sent me interesting yoga links lately, so I thought I’d share. Today we’ll talk about injuries!

Bend, don’t break: How to stay injury-free in yoga: This article looks like it was originally published a year ago, but it’s still interesting. I like the idea of differentiating between “impact injuries” (those that happen quickly and dramatically) and “cumulative injuries” (the ones that happen gradually over time). I’ve had some of both, and there are two that I’m currently struggling with.

  • My latest “impact injury” happened during a yoga class back in December, the day before New Year’s Eve. I liked the teacher who usually taught the class, but that day there was a sub I’d never met before. He had us do “fire hydrant pose”, where you’re on all fours and, yes, lift a leg out to the side. I’d never encountered this pose before and was having a little trouble getting the hang of it, and the teacher adjusted my right leg, pulling it up and into the pose and then holding it there. My right hip hasn’t been the same since. I had a lot of pain and soreness and lack of flexibility in the hip in the weeks right after the injury, and even today, going into triangle pose on my right side makes me gasp. At this point, stretching the hip feels like a good thing, so I keep doing it, and hopefully it’ll continue to improve, but it’s still troublesome for me.
  • I did something to my neck that seems part impact injury and part cumulative. When I write in a journal, I like to lie on the bed on my right side, ideally with a pillow under my right arm, and write with my left hand. On my honeymoon last fall, I was journaling a lot to capture all the special moments of the trip, and this positioning seems to have put a strain on the left side of my neck – maybe I was tensing my neck or something? Then we also had wimpy pillows at the jungle lodge where we were staying, and I slept on it funny, which made the injury worse. There were times during the trip when I couldn’t turn my head to the left at all; since then, the pain’s come and gone, but a sudden motion (like having to look quickly over my left shoulder to change lanes on the highway) can still be problematic. I’ve been trying all kinds of things to solve the problem: one pillow, two pillows, starting with two pillows and getting rid of one midway through the night (it was great fun the time I flung a pillow and knocked over my water glass), plus any variety of yoga stretches. What’s helped the most are a series of neck warm-ups I learned in African dance class, so I like to do those as part of my daily yoga practice. The dance class ran for the month of February, and by the time it ended, I had almost eliminated the neck pain. Now, though, I’m doing much of my practice at the studio, so I haven’t been doing the exercises every day. I need to get back to this.

Of course, I’ve also had problems with my wrists and knees. I would guess that anybody seriously pursuing yoga (or working all day in an office, or both) has also had some sort of problem in these areas. My wrists were bad enough at one point that I went to the doctor, who didn’t have much to say other than to keep wearing the wrist brace I got at Walgreens. It’s just a generic carpal tunnel brace, but it did help. I now have one for each wrist that I keep around just in case, plus a pair of more flexible wrist supports that I’ll use from time to time. Now that I’m stepping up my practice with teacher training, I’ve been considering getting these wrist support gloves, but they’re a little pricey and I haven’t experienced any actual pain from my new yoga schedule. I know, that’s a cop-out answer, if I’ve had pain before I should be trying to prevent pain in the future. But I haven’t been practicing a lot of wrist-intensive poses lately, either (handstand or handstand prep, crow, wheel: the sorts of poses where a high percentage of your body weight is resting on your hands). If I start practicing these sorts of poses more often, then I will look into getting the gloves, but for now I think I’m okay. I do wish that, in the Swenson article linked above, they’d given more detail on how to avoid and/or deal with wrist injuries.

I had some worries about my left knee recently too, but mostly that was in the winter: when I wasn’t walking or running or dancing. Once my dance class started up in February, and then it got warm enough for me to go jogging occasionally, it started feeling better, and I haven’t had any pain now for quite a while. This seems to me to agree with the article, that some cross-training can be good for strengthening the muscles around problematic joints. (I’ve also had issues in the past with twisting this knee, so I’ve been careful of that lately and I think that helps too.)

What yoga injuries have you experienced, and what insights can you share into resolving them?

(And keep the links coming when you see ’em!)