As a pilates teacher, I was often faced with client’s injuries sustained in yoga classes. We used equipment such as the Reformer, Cadillac and Wunda Chair which helped me teach clients how to rein in their bodies so they didn’t compromise their muscles, tendons and ligaments because our shoulders, low backs, hamstrings and necks are so vulnerable to overuse and misuse.
In a yoga class, while we have props we don’t have the same equipment as we often do in pilates classes so we need to be extra mindful of how we move our bodies in order to stay injury free. After many years of teaching pilates, here are 5 tips that could help you avoid injury in a yoga class.
1. Respect Your Body’s Boundaries
My yoga teachers are always warning us about overstretching and how important it is to know how far to push your body. Despite the breath you are transporting to your hamstrings, there is only just so far you can go. You should know your limitations. And never compare your flexibility to the body on the mat next to you. Work to increase your range of motion, but remember taking things too far may result in a torn muscle or a lax ligament.
2. Know If You Are Hypermobile
When I straighten my legs, my straight results in a hyper extended knee. Same with my arms and my shoulders. It’s just the way I’m made. In order to not injure my knees and hamstrings, shoulders and arms, I have to keep a slight bend at the joints. So my straight is your bent. Softening the leg or arm is a good self -cue. Once I understood how to protect my joints, I had more confidence that I wouldn’t hurt myself in yoga class.
3. Twist Correctly
Wringing out our core, massaging your organs and eliminating toxins makes us feel great. Remember to rotate from your thoracic spine. This is the part of your spine that is designed to move in this way. Rotation from your lumbar spine isn’t physiologically sound. Your lumbar spine flexes, extends and side bends. It doesn’t rotate. Flinging your arm around trying to achieve more spinal rotation will only result in shoulder girdle injury.
4. Warm-Up Your Body
The smart yogis are the ones who are on their mats 10 to 15 minutes before class starts. A little Cat/Cow to warm up your spine and thread-the-needle to open your upper back and gently rotate your spine will allow your body to respond quickly once class begins.
5. Please Don’t Hyperextend Your Neck
I just cringe when I see this happening in class. Your neck spine should be in line with the rest of your spine. Your head is heavy and your cervical spine is delicate. Letting your head drop too far forward, or extend too far backward,s is courting disaster. The cervical spine is meant to flex, extend and rotate but not to an extreme and not to compensate for a stiff thoracic spine or lumbar spine. Try thinking of increasing the space between your vertebrae because an injured neck is no fun!
Yoga movements should be free and flowing. Setting some limits will hopefully allow you to spend more time in class and less time injured.