Sunday, 6 March 2011

Yoga Injuries...Fact or Myth

So are Yoga Injuries a myth? … yes and no. If you have a properly trained therapist assisting you through your practice, one who is aware of atleast the effects of every practice they teach, your chances of a Yoga Injury are minimal. You could only get injured if you don’t follow instructions and are trying to abuse your body.
However if you have someone who is trained to contort their body and teach others how to do so without any theoretical and scientific knowledge is likely to have a class full of consistently injured students. In such classes competition is encouraged which leads to the students further trying to force their bodies into positions and practices unnatural to their body. Such classes rarely focus on how the practice is entered into, maintained or released as the teacher is trying to perfect their own techniques. Regardless of how much money you pay to go to a famous yoga studio, a Country Club or Spa, unless the person is appropriately trained they are more likely to harm you than help you.
Now you may think I am blowing this all out of proportion so I will elaborate … Let us assume you are a patient suffering from cardiac disease or have high blood pressure. You go to a yoga class as you feel it will help you. You join in a class of 15 or more people that are just copying an instructor. You start with the practice of Asanas. Along with the 15 others you begin to perform a series of spinal flexion and extension exercises. During the class instructor who effortlessly contorts himself from time to time looks up and barks words of encouragement to everyone to push harder and stretch longer and make more of an effort. In some cases the instructor or an assistant form time to time comes around and physically pushes and pulls your body. (I have even known of cases where instructors have eagerly yanked arms and managed to dislodge a shoulder joint or two!)
Retuning to our scenario where you the cardiac patient is trying his best along with everyone else in the class who is hale and hearty, the others will all benefit from the spinal flexion and extension exercises as they will put raised amounts of pressure on their intra thoracic & intra abdominal cavity leading to increased loads on both the heart & the respiratory airways especially in compromised individuals. There is no doubt that benefits of this are super for when the pressure is released the lungs will take in huge amounts of oxygen and the blood will contain higher levels of Oxygen or in lay-mans terms the internal organs will be infused with cleaner blood.
There is just one drawback, you the cardiac patient will not benefit from the practice. Your having increased your intra thoracic pressure will most likely fluctuate your blood pressure and God forbid if you are in bad shape considerably increase your chances of a myocardial infarction (a heart attack).
However if your instructor was informed of your condition and was trained well enough to anatomically understand your medical condition the instructor could merely have modified the practice to suit your condition.
Let’s take this a step further, lets assume you’re not ready for an Asana, but you believe that Pranayama which you perceive as ‘yogic breathing’ will help you. Your thinking you have read so many articles on the internet and you have spoken to your healthy friends who swear by it what harm can possibly come of it.
Educate yourself to some extent now…most forms of pranayama have a direct co-relation with intra thoracic pressure and will probably be a faster method to raise the patient’s pressure.
Yoga can drastically also affect a person’s emotional and psychological state. A Yoga instructor who is not classically knowledgeable in yoga can unknowingly get a depressed person to go into even deeper depression or a person suffering from stress to get even more stressed.
The reason for my writing this blog is sheer disappointment at the supposed purveyors of yoga. As a healer this week I am dealing with three patients suffering from injuries resulting from yoga classes they attended, all very posh and expensive. One of the three happens to be a very dedicated instructor who practices physical forms of yoga and is forced to work her body thereby abusing it for too many hours every day.
When they asked why I never get injured or why my therapy/yoga patients never get injured I always argue that there are no injuries in yoga. My guidelines are simple. My most important rule is to leave ones ego at the door. I always explain that yoga is not competitive in any way. We are dealing with the body-mind-emotion complex. Therefore on certain days we are all more flexible and energetic than others.
I apply this rule to myself too and I have no shame in telling my patients that I am unable to perform certain practices on certain days. As yoga is beyond physical contortion I refuse to injure my physical body and as my class is educated by me on this principle no one ever seems to mind. In fact this connects me more to my students. This is not to say I don’t expect or request them to make an effort, but I explain the difference between effort and strain and strain is something all my students know to avoid.
If you are a therapist/teacher/instructor reading this I urge you to change your approach to teaching yoga. For every injured student there are ten potential yoga students that are dissuaded from taking up yoga. One hint on how to avoid injuries is to take smaller classes or work with an assistant to supervise your students.
If you are a student be very firm that you only want a qualified and experienced instructor or therapist. Ask to see their qualification, do some research on where your instructor was certified and make sure if you have any physical, emotional and mental problems to convey this to your instructor and more importantly the instructor of your choice understands your ailment.

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