When you think about sport injuries, yoga might be the last thing that crosses your mind. We don’t consider yoga to be potentially harmful – in contrary, the general understanding is that yoga is a universal cure for any common ailment. And while I am convinced that there is a right yoga for everybody, I don’t think that every body is equally capable of doing just any yoga pose.
Yoga is not about wrestling your body into a certain shape for the sake of that shape.
Traditionally, the main goal of any yoga school is to heighten awareness. Not only on the mat, but in your day to day life, in all your actions and thoughts. It’s about moving about in this world a little more mindful, a little more compassionate, a little more… aware. The concept of heightened awareness might be an elusive one for many budding yogis, thus beginning on the mat with our breath, our bodies and the way we move is a great starting point. Becoming aware of what you are doing to your body on a day to day basis will hopefully make you want to move in a more anatomically kind and natural way, to breathe deeper and to be a little less reactive.
A lot of the poses in modern postural yoga are inspired by 1930s gymnastics – the way they are taught often involves hands-on adjustments which purpose it is to ‘bring the body into the shape it is supposed to be’. According to some teachers, getting the body into certain shapes is part of the long path to enlightenment. While I am sure that this approach works for some (especially if those practitioners pair their asana practice with regular meditation), I am not sure Yoganastics on their own will add to heightened awareness. You might be able to fold into a pretzel shape – but you can still be an arsehole.
As I see it, the main issues with ‘bringing the body into the shape it is supposed to be’ are the risk for injury and the slightly concerning relationship we have with pain. A friend of mine recently told me that she went to a yoga class and, after being rather forcefully (btw, Hatha means ‘forceful’) adjusted by the teacher in a forward bend, pulled a tendon.* I asked her if she had complained to the studio, but she just shrugged my question off with the excuse of too little time and something along the lines of not wanting to make a fuss. Unfortunately, we live in a no pain no gain culture where injuries are often viewed with shame. Mix into that the common misconception in yoga that injuries or illnesses in our body are somehow self-inflicted shortcomings that need to be overcome, battled through or broken to allow to resurface like a Phoenix from the flames, and you’ll have the recipe for a potentially disastrous yoga class.
Some things to look out for during your practice:
- never push through pain. Yoga should never hurt!
- tell a teacher (kindly) to back off if they are pushing you too far
- don’t let your breath become choppy. Bulging eyes, throbbing veins and erratic breath are signs you’ve gone too far
- rest if you are felling faint or dizzy
- stop whatever you are doing if you experience tingling sensations in hands, arms, feet or legs
*tendons attach muscles to bones