Yoga can be a profoundly healing art. I’ve personally found so much comfort physically, mentally and emotionally. I’ve heard stories of yoga easing pain and relieving tension in the body, alleviating years of frustration. But it’s not a cure-all and there are ways you can injure your body in yoga if your pushing past your boundaries or not being mindful – it’s a physical practice. Some of the injuries I find most prevalent in yoga have to do with the joints.
Here are some tips to help you protect your joints during yoga class:
- Awareness of the Body – Yoga in Sanskrit is yuj, often translated to mean to yoke or bind the mind, body and spirit. If we are to truly protect our bodies (including the joints) during yoga, we are encouraged to build our awareness of the body. There are many paths to awareness: full and complete presence of the moment, connection to breath, and noticing sensations in the body as they arise. You can go even further by connecting to how you feel mentally and emotionally, but that goes beyond the scope of how to protect your joints :). Awareness of the body is a crucial piece of the puzzle in how to stay healthy and avoid injury.
- Mindful Movement – This is directly tied to our awareness of our body. If we are not aware of the body, we cannot be aware of the movements our body makes. Going even further, becoming familiar with the mechanics of our body will inform you how to move and when you may be going into unsafe movement. Charlotte Bell writes in her blog post for Hugger Mugger, “For clarification, ligaments connect bone to bone in our joints; tendons connect muscle to bone at the joints. Ligaments and tendons are constructed of dense, regular, collagenous, connective tissue. Ligaments are dense, fibrous tissues that are designed to limit the movement of our joints….This is also very important: Ligaments and tendons are considered to be avascular, i.e. containing no blood flow of their own. Oxygen and other nutrients diffuse into ligaments and tendons from cells outside the tissues. Because these structures need to be strong, they are largely comprised of collagen fibers with some elastin to create a small amount of stretch.” When we understand our own body and how they are designed to work, we are better able to put that into practice – daily life as well as our yoga practice.
- Engage and Stabilize – It’s very important in our yoga practice that we engage the muscles around the joint to strengthen them and stabilize the joint while also finding the balance between finding range of motion to lubricate the joint. Practicing all of this takes a real willingness to get to know your body and explore where your edges are.
- Modify – If you’re uncomfortable in a pose, you can always grab some cushion/padding/props to help your body find your variation of the pose. Using blankets, blocks or bolsters can be really effective in creating accessibility for all postures in yoga. If you are feeling any pain or severe discomfort, you may want to choose to avoid the pose all together, and there is nothing wrong with that. Learning to appreciate your body for all that it does do for you, rather than focusing on what it might not be able to do is an invaluable life lesson.
- Taylor Lawrence, ERYT200/RYT500