Unless you are a dancer or gymnast we pretty much all start yoga practice stiff, tense and a little mal-coordinated. Yoga practice involves doing often, extreme things with the very same body described above.
The most common reason for starting yoga is back pain.. and the need to de-stress. So, knowing how to manage your injuries, and what role your teacher has in this, in a group class setting is crucial to ensuring yoga is a healing practice for you.
As a yoga-teacher I know that only a fraction of students that are feeling pain or recovering from an injury announce it to me before or at the beginning of class. Whilst it is useful to me as your teacher to know - I completely understand your silence.
There are no health care environments that advocate public doctoring, and certainly not public diagnosing. The reason is obvious: healthcare provision is fostered on experience, trust and respect. You may not know well or know the depth, experience and specialisms of training of your yoga teacher, of which there are inevitably variations.
Privacy is needed for the whole picture to be disclosed, and since yoga is a holistic system – if we are looking to effectively use yoga to heal or support injury or illness, we would never ‘treat’ one symptom alone. As yoga teachers we do not have the medical training to diagnose, and whilst many of us who have specialised in injury prevention and further anatomy training may be keen to assist you, a one to one session is more suited to this.
What you do need to know is how to manage your injuries in a group class and what to do if you experience pain or discomfort in and out of yoga.
In a group class remember the following 5 points:
Yoga is good for you; don’t be afraid of your body or your practice.
Yoga is low-impact. You are extremely unlikely to injure yourself a yoga class, especially if you are listening to your body. The main issues we encounter in yoga are in the students with excess flexibility over strength, rather than those that are stiff and new to yoga. Yoga related injuries are almost always repetitive strain injuries, and usually related to over stretching, from years of practicing in one style: usually to the shoulders, wrists, hamstrings and SI joint. These are things that can easily be managed by:
a) not ignoring pain in your practice,
b) attending yoga orthopedic workshops for specialist advice,
c) seeking private tuition from an experienced advanced anatomy trained yoga teacher on how to optimize and personalize yoga practice for within a group class setting… especially those with previous injury, conditions or pain.
2. GO UNTIL YOU STOP:
It’s really that simple, go into the pose following your teachers cues until you stop, and then don’t push/force harder. Maintain steady breathing. It is coming regularly and practicing wisely that creates flexibility, not applying force to joints in one almighty wham! Applying force or ‘pushing’ in to joints when they are at their full range leads to injury over time. Equally going all floppy in the yoga pose is not a good idea. Tune in to your teacher’s voice: they will be guiding you through ways of engaging your body mindfully in the pose without needing to push beyond the muscular or bony limitations you experience in your body.
3. NO PAIN:
Pain if pushed into leads to more pain. Yoga should not feel painful. If you feel sharp sudden pain or a feeling of compression in a joint, regardless of the teachers’ group teaching cues, change your alignment and use props until you are not in pain. Feeling a strong muscular stretch on the side the body that is opening is different, deal with this by using props and breathing deeply.
Signal for your teacher if you cannot manage this yourself or come out of the pose and speak to your teacher at the end of class. If you do feel pain, please see a medical practitioner and/or physio/osteo/chiro for diagnosis.
Some yoga teachers work with health professionals in a PT setting to tailor a yoga practice for you in dialogue with medical diagnosis and advice. If you have an acute injury that needs time to heal you may need to stop a physical practice for a specific time period or complement it with swimming, pilates or weights (note, there is still non physical yoga to practice!)
4. SLOW TRANSITIONS:
Come in and out of the poses slowly and mindfully: rushing quickly in and out of poses causes instability, disconnects your breath and prevents you from establishing a strong base of support for your body in the pose – leading to either you toppling over or misaligned joints that could be vulnerable to injury.
5. IF A CLASS DOESN’T FEEL GOOD, TRY A DIFFERENT STYLE:
The body works best trained in different ways. If you have an injury playing up, some types of yoga are better than others. There are no set rules on this but shoulder and sacro-iliac injuries just don’t tend to go well with vinyasa yoga, but hatha and restorative or yin yoga where there is less movement may be perfect. Lower back pain may be hugely alleviated by vinyasa or hot yoga… Your body and your experience of injury will be unique, so unless medically advised to, you may not need to stop yoga, just change disciplines or teaching environment for a bit.
SO what is our role as yoga teachers in a group class?
To teach you yoga: our role is to foster in you the skills to self regulate on the topics of: inner enquiry, discernment, skill in yoga asana (postures), skill in breathing, skill in concentration.
Your teacher may not ask you about injuries. You teacher should not diagnose for you. It is your responsibility to make sure what you do is appropriate for your body in a group class setting. In private tuition, your teacher will ask you in depth and be able to work with you on finding solutions. Your teacher should however support you making yourself comfortable and steady in the yoga poses throughout.
To offer alignment cues and techniques that work for the majority in the room, whilst not forcing a dogma if it causes pain to you. Please note, the instruction for the room, may not be the right instruction for your body.
To not adjust you if you are dealing with injury or would prefer to not be touched.
To not diagnose or try to fix without due training and appropriate environment.
As Patabhi Jois says 'practice, practice, all is coming.' Most often injury in yoga class comes from wanting a short cut to a stronger, deeper practice. Im as guilty of that as everyone! A healthier approach is little, mindful and often. Which also is the only practice that will place the mind in an equanimous contented state... which really is what we are all striving for.
Happy healthy practice.