On January 5, 2012, The New York Times published an article on the risks of practicing yoga. With extreme examples of paralysis and stroke, author William J. Broad inevitably will scare the average yogi to terminate her practice. However, as a medical professional and yoga-enthusiast, I believe there are risks involved in any physical activity we participate in. The best way to ensure a safe and effective workout, regardless of the technique, is to listen to your body, always ensure proper form, and go at your own pace. In response to the Times article, I’d like to offer these five simple tips to help you keep your yoga practice safe and injury-free.
Tip #1 – Go at your own pace.
Yoga is designed to be all about the individual. Focus on how far you can move into each pose without competing with the woman next to you. We all have past injuries and structural imbalances that may prevent us from holding certain poses.
Remember that it’s completely acceptable to sit out of certain poses if your body isn’t ready. Tip #2 – Pain is never normal.
It is the goal of fitness instructors to push us past our limits to help us achieve our fitness goals; however, this never means you should continue to exercise through pain. Because pain is individual, the fitness instructor will not know when an exercise is causing you pain. Listen to your body. If you feel pain, stop.
Tip #3 – We all have off days.
Daily stresses, dehydration, and poor diet can all influence our daily yoga practice.
If your balance is off or if you feel weak one day, put the workout behind you and try not to let it influence tomorrow’s workout. Try to find the positive aspects of each workout, such as mood elevation, improved blood flow, and socializing with your gym friends.
Tip #4 – Choose a safe, yet effective, instructor.
One of the most important aspects to a good workout is the instructor. If you feel your instructor is pushing you into dangerous poses or beyond your comfort zone, do not hesitate to switch instructors. A yoga instructor should be encouraging and safe and should have a thorough knowledge of exercise modifications.
Tip #5 – Accept that yoga isn’t for everyone.
Remember that not all workouts are designed for every body. Just because a workout is trendy does not mean that it is for everyone. Some people respond more to dance classes, while other are better adept at Pilates. All of our bodies are unique structurally and therefore require different classes to tone and define. If yoga doesn’t agree with you or with your body, that’s o.k.—you can always try something else!
Dr. Emily Splichal is the Fitness Director at Lucille Roberts. With 11 years of experience in the fitness industry, she holds a Master’s in Human Movement and is in her final year of medical residency at Mt. Vernon Hospital in New York. Dr. Emily has combined her passion for both fitness and wellness by specializing in corrective exercise, Pilates-based core training, and barefoot balance training.