Preventing injury and living up to your potential on your mat.
Getting injured during your yoga practice shouldn’t be ordinary or even possible.
The problem is that many yogis aren’t taught simple safety techniques—or they overindulge their all-American, type-A personalities.
There are so many wonderful ways to stay safe during your yoga practice. To begin, in part one, we’ll look at a few of the easiest places to start:
1. Lift your shoulder heads.
During poses like chaturanga, gravity and poor muscle activation of the shoulder girdle can drop your shoulder heads. Even if your shoulders are in line with your elbows, you still could be dropping your shoulder heads. Over time, this causes strain. I like to think of the queue smile through your collarbones, as it’s a great reminder to engage this shoulder girdle, to broaden through your shoulders—and to keep your shoulder heads lifted during anti-gravity asanas.
2. Engage your core.
I love arm balancing and these poses aren’t as difficult as they appear. The real challenge lies in the amount of mental brawn they require. Still, one of the things that many people don’t understand is that you really need to work your core. Take crow pose; I think of my body as a suction cup, sucking up towards the ceiling. You should be actively pressing into your hands, but from this pressing the strength of your core lifts you up. Meaning, don’t hang heavily on your arms. If you feel the weight of your knees on your arms, you are not engaging through muscles (like your intercostals) enough.
3. Go 50-75%.
I was just hearing from a great friend how several currently famous yoga teachers have varying philosophies of the percentage you should work during your practice, for different, yet similar, reasons. You might have a differing idea on this, and that’s fine, but here’s mine: I practice at an effort between 50 and 75%. Why? If you give it 110%, 100 percent of the time, you will burn out—and be injury prone. I’m certainly not advising that you don’t put effort into your practice or that you shouldn’t try new things. However, I definitely do think that overdoing it means you’re not connecting with your breath and you’re not mentally engaging your body on the micro-level that yoga requires—and this requires not being exhausted. Here’s another way to think of it: If you force yourself into a posture, it doesn’t feel good the brief time that you’re in it and while you were there you held your breath, did you really just perform a posture successfully?
Smiling during practice is a great way for me to know that what I’m doing feels good. Yoga should feel good—and you should feel better when you step off of your mat than when you hopped on.
I’m a prop junkie. I believe that props allow our bodies to reach their full benefit within a posture. Refuse to see props as anything less than what they are—tools that enable you to stay safe and comfortable.
Seemingly minor adjustments like these can make big, safe changes within your body and your attitude. More than anything, I think the biggest thing to remember is that you should come to your practice with a sense of playfulness, curiosity and awareness. After all, safety begins with ease and knowledge.
Let your yoga mat be a no-ego, all-fun zone—and invite this part of your practice to walk off of your mat with you.
(See you soon in part two, where we’ll get into some more anatomy-based tips.)
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Ed: Bryonie Wise