Proper alignment in poses is key, but it’s not the only factor in a safe yoga practice. To stay blissed out instead of stressed out over injury, follow the basic guidelines below.
Leave the ego outside.
It can be tempting to rush into more advanced poses (how tough can handstands be, right?), but pushing our bodies before they’re ready is a recipe for injury. Yoga is “about finding where you are,” Skaarup says, “not trying to push to a place where your body may never be able to go.”
It’s an important part of any physical activity, and yoga is no exception. Basic stretches (like neck and shoulder rolls and gentle twists) help prepare the body for more challenging poses later on in a sequence And remember to give the mind a chance to warm up to the practice: Take a few breaths to get centered at the beginning of class, or establish a pre-flow ritual (such as chanting some Oms) to get grounded. Any class at Yogalife will involve a warm up and breathing exercises.
No one would expect to run a marathon the first time they lace up their sneakers. Don’t expect to do a headstand or even get the heels to the floor in down dog the first time you hit the mat. Instead, opt for beginner-friendly classes that will develop the foundation for more advanced moves.
Get to know the teacher(s) and be sure to share any pre-existing issues that might require modifications in certain poses. If you don’t know how to modify or use props, ask. And if a pose just isn’t working, don’t be embarrassed to simply… not to it. Instead, focus on the poses that provide benefit and release.
Come out of postures slowly.
This is particularly important if you’ve been holding a certain pose for several minutes. A good rule of thumb is to work out of a pose as gradually as you moved into it.
Use props and modifications.
There’s no shame in not being ready to hold a pose completely on your own. If there’s tightness somewhere in the body, other parts of the body will have to accommodate it — which is why it’s so important not to push the body past what it’s able to do on a given day. Props and modifications allow the body to get a feel for a pose and gradually work up to its full variation without injury.
Never lock your joints.
Hyper-extension (locking) is a sure-fire way to wear out joints and cause injury down the road. Focus on engaging the muscles around the joints to gain stability.
If you do get injured, take care.
If you tweak, pull, or tear something during a yoga flow, don’t be afraid to step out of class early. Care for it like any other sports injury, and seek a professional’s opinion if the pain persists.
Stay for savasana.
It’s easy to head for the door as soon as the instructor calls for savasana (the final resting pose of a yoga flow), but sticking around is good for your health. Savasana allows the body’s nervous system to slow down and brings closure to the practice. Even just two or three minutes can have an effect, Cheng says.
Above all: listen to your body.
At all stages of yoga practice, stay mindful. Really listen to your body so you can be sensitive to any tightness or strain. Just because you did a particular pose one day, doesn’t mean your body will be able to do it the next. “In our yoga practice we are building a relationship with our bodies the same way we build them with other people: by listening."
Most importantly - listen to your body and respect yourself and where you're at in each given day. Your body changes every day, as does your yoga practice, so be mindful to treat your body with respect and grace.