by Laura McCorry
When injuries occur in yoga, there’s often a reluctance to admit them and perhaps even a sense of shame. So many people come to yoga after injury and so many doctors recommend yoga* as a gentle exercise that anyone can do, that it makes sense: yoga is supposed to cure you, not cause pain.
But the truth is that yoga is a physical practice. Students are encouraged to challenge themselves. Many teachers tell you to honor your body at the start of class and then ask that you push your “edge” when the going gets tough.
Students and yoga teachers will likely find themselves with an injury at some point in their practice. In my own practice, injury, pain and soreness have all been powerful, if unwelcome, teachers.
Consider Why an Injury Occurred
I went to a class once with a very short warm-up sequence. I remember feeling rushed but wanting to “go with the flow.” Within the first two minutes, the teacher had the class in upward facing dog and almost immediately, I felt something shift in my low back and sharp pain followed.
For many people, upward facing dog is safe and even enjoyable when performed with correct alignment. For me, I need to warm up into backbends slowly. Looking back, I could have spent more time opening my body in cobra (a smaller backbend), I should have engaged my core to prevent sagging in the lower back once in upward facing dog, and I should have trusted the signals my body was sending.
Even if you want to kick yourself for all the reasons leading up to an injury, figuring out why you got hurt is an important step towards injury prevention in the future.
Modify Your Practice as Needed
Sometimes it’s impossible to know how you got hurt and whether yoga is the culprit. My feet are a chronic weakness for me and about a year ago I experienced foot pain for about four months straight. Any pose that put weight directly on the ball of the foot was incredibly painful, so in order to give myself time to heal, they all got tossed out: no more crescent lunge, no chair with lifted heels and definitely no toe stand.
With those modifications in place, I was still able to practice yoga and keep my feet comfortably grounded. I bought better, more supportive shoes. And one day, without being aware of exactly when, I realized that it had been a week or longer since I had experienced any pain.
Always tell your teacher about any injury or chronic pain you may be experiencing. They can suggest modifications to keep you safe and help you get the most out of your practice.
After Healing, Determine If You Still Need the Modification
This is the most difficult step because the instinct to protect yourself from future harm is so strong!
I avoided upward facing dog for a solid year and only recently have I started to re-introduce it to my practice. I didn’t need that long to heal physically, but emotionally I had built up a lot of fear surrounding that pose. Sometimes I try crescent pose with the back heel lifted and it feels okay, other days it feels like too much stress on my foot so I modify to warrior I with the heel down.
Once you know that your body is physically ready, give yourself time to emotionally confront any barriers between you and the poses you’ve avoided. Don’t compare now to what you were able to do before the injury – you could repeat the same mistake! Instead, move mindfully and ask yourself at each step how you feel.
May you all practice yoga in a safe and mindful environment and stay free from injury! And if you do experience pain from yoga or from another area of your life, I hope these tips keep you connected to your practice and help you heal.
*Please remember to seek medical attention when necessary and follow your doctor’s advice. This article is not meant to advise for or against medical treatment, nor to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Yoga and Laura had an on-again-off-again relationship from 2004 until 2009 when they decided to move in together and there’s been no looking back since. Passionate about both yoga and writing, Laura loves to introduce others to the joys and benefits of yoga and healthy living.