Practicing Yoga with an Injury

But what if I’m injured?

In the January 2016 issue of School Nutrition, registered yoga therapist and writer MacDuff Perkins details why yoga is an ideal form of activity for all participants, despite age, body type or fitness level. However, she notes that many potential yogis are hesitant to practice because of a possible injury.

You might be surprised to learn that many practitioners—both teachers and students—got into yoga due to injury and simply never looked back. Maybe it was a knee injury that sidelined you from running or a torn rotator cuff that keeps off the tennis court. Regardless, injuries are welcome in the yoga class, once your doctor clears you for light exercise. Take this research, for example: A 2009 pilot study looked at roughly 100 men and women who suffered osteoporosis or osteopenia. With a daily 10-minute regimen of yoga poses, study results showed that, of the participants who successfully completed the program over the span of two years, nearly all reported improved bone mineral density scores in both the spine and the hip.

Yoga is often considered the ideal mix between a mental therapy session and a physical therapy session, with a bit of cardio thrown in for good measure. To make sure you get the most benefit out of the class, it’s important to tell your yoga instructor exactly what your injury is before getting started. If the instructor is experienced, he might incorporate some asana (poses) to specifically benefit your body or avoid others that would keep you sidelined on your mat.

However, one of the toughest parts of dealing with an injury in a yoga class is understanding and respecting the injury while refusing to be afraid of it. During plank pose, when the student is in a high pushup position, it’s common for a student to announce a shoulder injury prevents her from practicing the pose entirely. However, the experienced yoga student listens to the body and diagnoses what is happening as either pain or intensity. (There’s a difference!) If it is pain, and there is the risk of injuring tendons, muscles or joints, then the practitioner should back out of the pose. If it’s intensity, the thoughtful student approaches plank pose, diagnoses the level of intensity in the injured shoulder and then, instead of focusing solely on the injury, she should engage the abdominal muscles, lift the ribs, squeeze the elbows together to straighten the arms, push the heels back and pull the crown of the head forward. Doing all of this takes the strain out of the pose, getting the whole body involved and builds strength in the shoulder while not entirely depending on it. By transferring the work around the rest of the body, the student becomes stronger and healthier.

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