Here's the harsh reality: if you practice yoga, it's possible that you could hurt yourself. You could hurt yourself doing most physical activities - but in yoga, the injury is different. Yoga injuries happen most often because of the ego. That part of our being that demands our focus and attention and often wins. Like when your knee joint is speaking up during seated hip openers, but you fold deeper. Or when your shoulders aren't open enough for tripod headstands yet, but you go up anyway.
I've had some issues with my cervical spine and trapezius muscles for awhile thanks to a car accident and an unrelated bulged disc a few years ago. The pain comes and goes and there are times where I know I need to take it easy with arm balances + inversions when it's feeling sensitive. And then there are times where I have this knowledge, but choose to ignore it as I let my ego take the wheel.
Let me tell you, no good can come from this. Mid-August, my Eka Pada Galavasana was strong and stable. Arm balances were coming easily (as easy as arm balances can be). One particular Sunday afternoon home practice changed all of that. Somewhere in there, while I was basking in the awesomeness of Flying Pigeon, Astavakrasana, and Bakasana to Chaturanga jump-backs, my right trapezius muscles said that's enough. For the next week, there was no comfortable position to rest my gaze (or my head). I overdid it, and my body was teaching me a lesson.
The worst part is, it's mostly avoidable. Noticing when a muscle group is fatiguing requires full attention and a sense of surrender that is difficult to recognize and/or accomplish. It's another reminder that the physical practice of yoga, asana, is one of eight components of yoga and the others play equally as important (if not more important) roles. Going into your physical practice with mindfulness is a practice all of it's own, but when you get both practices to work in harmony, you're more likely to avoid injury.
AVOIDING THE INJURY //
- Try and notice what areas of the body are working the hardest in every pose, and then try and soften that area with the breath.
- Notice the difference between sensation + tightness, and pain. Pain is not gain in yoga. Pain always means back off. A good stretch is powerful, but without an ache. Getting to know the difference will change your practice and save your body!
- Listen to your yoga instructor. Hopefully you've got a good one, and they remind you often to rest if you need to and only go as far as you feel comfortable.
- Stop looking around the room! Your body is not supposed to look like your neighbor's body in any pose. Trying to replicate someone else's pose is a recipe for disaster.
- Practice often. Chances are, you're hurting yourself trying to get into poses that are challenging but so intriguing! The more you practice, the more strength and flexibility you'll continue to build. Before you know it, you'll comfortably be in all of your favorite asanas.