Too often yoga is often seen as a passive activity, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. We love yoga for its many benefits to mobility, strength building, body awareness, and even for mental fortitude. It is an ancient activity that comes in multiple disciplines but shares many similarities even throughout those different varieties. Almost all engage muscles, stretch tissue, and require proper activation to effectively prevent injury.
Many people practice yoga regularly with little thought to muscle activation despite the risk of unnecessary injury that this can create — it's easy to prevent getting hurt with a little thought and patience.
Here are some of the best ways to injury-proof your practice:
Push it real good
Yoga often makes use of sun salutations, arm balances, and other upper body pushing movements. These motions in large volumes can create an imbalance if not properly offset with regular pulling exercises in your strength training. Additionally, it’s important to build strength in all different ranges of scapular control. What does this mean? It means that you should be focusing on building shoulder strength at every range of motion.
One final note on pushing motions in yoga— keep your back engaged during all pushing movements. Focus on distributing the weight from just your shoulders and arms to your upper back as well. It takes a lot of strain off your joints.
When in doubt, ask for help
Your class instructor is there to guide your practice but you have to give them the tools to help you. It’s important that you let them know of any injuries you may have so that they can adjust your practice accordingly. You also don’t want to cause any injuries either so be sure to ask your instructor for more guidance at any point throughout the practice.
With great flexibility comes great responsibility
People naturally gravitate towards things they will be good at which is why it makes sense that in yoga many people are hypermobile. Hypermobility can be dangerous as those affected by it easily spill into their joints instead of finding muscular tension and holding isometric contractions.
This seems great for some of the bendier poses but it’s bad for stability and poses a risk for overstretching. Not just that, many injuries can be associated with lacking stability. In any posture or asana be sure to focus on lumbopelvic control (lumbopelvic control referring to the lower section of the spine, called the lumbar spine, and how it moves with the pelvis) or keeping a neutral spine. Abdominal bracing is another important way of keeping your lower back safe— a tight core is a safe one.
Avoiding overstretching has a lot to do with body awareness and knowing how a movement should feel but can also be attained through the use of props. In any stretch where you feel you’re going further than you maybe should or as though you aren’t properly engaging your muscles, use a prop. Yoga is an exercise of self-development and growth, not competition. Knowing when to drop your ego and use a prop can be the difference between getting hurt or not.
Keep your head up
Keeping a neutral spine is of utmost importance in any movement and the neck is no different. It’s understandable to look around in a class to see what everyone else is doing but don’t crane your neck into uncomfortable positions and put your spine health at risk.
One of yoga’s most unique, and beneficial, attributes is the focus it places on the breath. Mindful breathing has profound effects on the nervous system, breathing mechanics, and can even aid in performance enhancement. Pay close attention to your breath throughout your practice to ensure that you aren’t overusing accessory breathing muscles which can cause neck or upper back tightness.
It’s easy to think of yoga as a “stretching class” but it’s so much more than that. To build an enjoyable, sustainable, safe practice, it’s important to maintain mindfulness in every movement. Proper activations are essential to movement awareness and injury prevention.