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Advil becomes you buddy when yoga hurts!

Y-ow!-ga: When Yoga Hurts Instead of Heals

As I type this, my neck really hurts. I am laying on the couch with a heating pad on my neck and a bottle of Advil within arm’s reach. Why?

I pulled a muscle doing yoga.

Wait, what? Yoga is the panacea for all that ails you, isn’t it? Many yoga enthusiasts, including myself, are quick to tout an endless list of the health benefits yoga offers. In fact, the internet is chock full of personal stories about how yoga transforms people for the better.

But what happens when your yoga practice has the opposite effect?

The notion that an exercise like yoga can cause injury is far less appealing, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true. I’m living proof. Yoga isn’t considered a high impact activity which is why I think many people don’t take the risk of injury seriously. I know I didn’t. But the grim reality is the risk of injury is present no matter what kind of exercise you engage in.

So this week I’ve been reading up on injury and prevention and thought I would share my findings. Maybe it will spare some poor soul out there a week of pain-killers and neck braces.  

Take it Slowly to Start

This is the one that got me last weekend, and to be totally honest, it’s not the first time. Whenever I have a new surge of motivation to exercise, I always jump in and give it 110% intensity and the next day I’m inevitably nursing some sort of injury. In this case, it had been a couple months since I’d been to a vigorous vinyasa class, and I hit the mat as though I’d been going every day for weeks. It’s a recipe for disaster – or a least a strained tendon.

If you’re just starting yoga or coming back from a hiatus, take it slow and skip more advanced variations of the poses if you haven’t done them in a long time.

“No Pain No Gain” is the Worst Motto Ever

I get that the concept behind this saying is that you won’t grow if you don’t push yourself. But the phrase needs a refresh because it sounds more like the goal of exercise should be agony, which is just wrong.

Especially where yoga is concerned, if it hurts, don’t do it! No pose should ever be rushed; the transition into and out of the pose is more important than the pose itself. Ease very carefully into stretches and back off the moment anything feels too intense.

You Don’t have to do Everything the Teacher Instructs

When your teacher tells you it’s time for scorpion pose, it’s an invitation, not a challenge. At no time during yoga class should you feel the need to do every pose the teacher instructs in it’s most advanced variation. This can be a difficult lesson for some people with a competitive nature. (I should know!)

You may look around in envy at your classmates who effortlessly pop into difficult postures, but it’s not worth risking your health if it hurts or your body is telling you no!

I stopped attempting headstand a couple years ago because every time I tried it, it just felt completely wrong. If this pose comes up in class, I always substitute it with a posture I’m comfortable with.

Funnily enough, a lot of the pitfalls that can lead to yoga injury are the same things you’re supposed to check at the door to a yoga class anyway; impatience, ego, and competitiveness are a one-way ticket to Ow-Town.

Once I’m all healed up I look forward to hitting the mat once again – this time with 110% mindfulness.