When we talk about yoga, we inevitably at one point talk about injuries. There’s almost no seasoned yogi who hasn’t had the one or other nagging pain in the body. Usually it’s just a matter of time until the pain goes away. Sometimes it doesn’t and then the physical therapist, chiropractor or osteopath comes into play.
So you’ve been paying a lot of money for yoga classes, and now you pay for medical treatment? How ironic is that?! Fact is: Medical practitioners see more and more – young and supposedly strong and healthy – patients walking through their doors, complaining about hip, knee and shoulder pain, caused by yoga.
Maybe it’s because today more people than ever before are practising yoga (simply resulting in an overall higher number of injuries), or maybe it’s because yoga gets more of a media star treatment due to all the celebrity and Instagram yogis, or maybe it’s all got to do with William Broad’s awareness-rising NYT bestseller ‘The Science of Yoga – The risks and the Rewards’ – I don’t know.
In this recent interview, physical therapist Phil Rolfe highlights some of the key things every yogi needs to be aware of:
I see patients injure themselves specifically their back and pelvis doing yoga [...]. I often see pelvic and lumbar dysfunction, which can be thought of as an asymmetric presentation of the lumbar vertebrae often including the pelvis. [...] I also see, with yoga patients who are experiencing back or pelvic pain, a shutdown of their local stability system, along with joint hypermobility.
Ultimately our bodies need a balance of strength and flexibility [...]. I consider excessive flexibility to be risky and may lead to a length tension ratio problem: too much length in a muscle reduces the tension that helps maintain normal joint mechanics. [...] the threat of excessive flexibility needs to be considered with regard to the peripheral joints, as well as the spine.
Flexibility: I don’t recommend attaining or striving for excessive flexibility. This would remove the body’s soft tissue restraints, muscular and ligamentous, such that joint stability may be compromised. It would be a rare occurrence that large amounts of flexibility are functionally necessary.
Strength: With regard to the spinal column, [...] strength is not equal to stability. In my experience with yoga, the functional strengthening component is excellent, the lengthening or flexibility aspect is great as well – in moderation; but there is no spinal stability work to keep the spinal segments safe. [...] it would be prudent to consider stability training for yoga practitioners; certainly if they are experiencing spine pain.
These are Phil Rolfe’s 3 tips for a safe practice:
Excessive flexibility should not be the goal of the yoga practitioner.
With back pain, strength does not equal stability.
If it hurts, don’t do it. Pain can inhibit the stability system.
What’s the most challenging posture? I believe it’s Savasana – taming the monkey-mind!
Do you modify postures in a group class? Have you experienced any pain doing yoga and how did you work with it?
Please share your experience in the comments! Have a wonderfully safe practice,