Injuries often feel like the worst part of our yoga asana practice (or any athletic discipline for that matter). Not only do they physically cause pain, but they prevent us from doing the thing we love.
As someone with several chronic injuries, I used to feel quite frustrated with my body. Until one day, as I was listening for a pop in my hip from the tendon connecting my tensor fasciae latae sliding over my greater trochanter, when I realized, the only reason I knew any of those words, or why my hip popped, or what needed to be stretched and strengthened to make it stop, was because of my injury.
Tendonitis in my elbows forced me to learn the proper way to chaturanga and pain in my lower back taught me about the curvature of the spine and engagement of the lower abdominals. Some of the most valuable lessons that have permeated my practice have come in times when I’ve been forced to research and adapt due to physical pain. On some level, I’m thankful for these opportunities.
Now this isn’t to say we should all go out and injure ourselves for the sake of learning about those injuries, however, here are a few ways you can make the most out of a yoga injury:
Understand that small pains are a learning opportunity. Then do some research, reach out to teachers or physical therapists, and adjust accordingly before they become bigger, chronic problems.
Understand some of the most common yoga injuries so that you’re able to learn from other peoples experiences instead of repeating them.
Understand that some (not all) injuries require gentle movement (stretching and strengthening) to heal most effectively.
To get you started, here are a few of the most common yoga injuries and how to avoid them. Use these as a starting point for your own research on how you may be able to improve your practice while avoiding injury.
Wrist Injuries – New practitioners commonly dump weight into their wrists in inverted weight-bearing positions (think downward facing dog). Instead, press down through the knuckles and grip with the fingertips to distribute your weight evenly. If this is too challenging, try playing with the angle of the hands on the mat so that they rotate externally (a little bit can go a long way). Additionally, don’t forget to warm up your wrists before practice. Functional exercises and stretches for wrist health can be incredible resources (especially if you work on a computer all day with your wrists in constant extension).
Lower Back Injuries– While lower back pain can have many causes, injury commonly occurs when excessive pressure is put on the lower spine while back bending. Two ways to avoid this are by engaging the core and lower abdominals in backbends and also assuring the legs are parallel (knees not splaying outwards) in bridge or wheel.
Elbow Injuries – Think about straightening and externally rotating the arms while they’re bearing weight. When doing chaturanga, be extra sure to hug the elbows into the side body and only bring the arms to 90 degrees before pushing the chest forward into upward facing dog (if you're moving through a vinyasa).
Hamstring Injuries– Hamstring injuries often occur when we attempt to excessively stretch our legs when they’re either very inflexible or not sufficiently strengthened. To avoid this, don’t push yourself into extreme hamstring stretches, instead build flexibility slowly while simultaneously strengthening.
Of course, this list could go on and on, so I’ll leave the rest to your own research. Just be sure to remain self-aware, use injuries as a learning opportunity, and don’t let them discourage you from picking up your practice once you’re recovered. As such, injuries can push us forward, just as much or more than they set us back.
What has been your most frustrating injury? What has it given you the opportunity to learn? Comment below!