Yoga a course in miracles of peaceful meditation, relaxing stretches and trips to the emergency room. Wait, emergency room? Just as with any other activity people can suffer injuries from yoga. Yoga injuries are most commonly mild muscle strains, but torn tendons and severe back injuries have been known to occur. Teachers need to think about yoga student safety when preparing for classes and during classes.
Too much too soon
Students who attempt moves they aren’t ready for are more likely to suffer injury. Simply advertising a class as “intermediate” or “advanced” rarely provides enough detail for students to be able to select classes of the appropriate skill level. Requiring students to complete a beginner class under each program or teacher is the safest approach because it allows the teacher to be sure of the student’s skill level before advancing. Teachers also need to remind themselves to teach the students in the room, not to try to teach to a set curriculum. All students advance at different rates. Students who aren’t advancing as fast as other students shouldn’t be encouraged to try to keep up but should instead be encouraged to work at their own level.
A common cause of injury is competitiveness. Students in group class may try to out-do each other or show off for the teacher or another student and go too far. The teacher should try to promote a non-competitive environment by emphasizing the non-violent, self-honest meditative nature of yoga. Students should be instructed to listen to their bodies and to not push beyond their limits- if it hurts don’t do it cannot be emphasized enough. Teachers can remind students that striving for excessive flexibility is neither necessary nor healthy. Excessively flexible joints are unstable joints and unstable joints are injuries waiting to happen.
Some yoga poses will aggravate prior injuries. Teachers should ask students about bad backs, rotator cuff tears, tendonitis, and arthritic joints. Poses may need to be modified or skipped by some people. When it comes to prior injuries, however, the basic mantra if it hurts don’t do it isn’t enough to ensure yoga student safety. People with uncontrolled high blood pressure should avoid all inverted poses- strokes have been triggered by the sudden elevation of pressure in the head caused by inverted poses. If the teacher is unsure about how a particular injury might respond to yoga poses, referral of the student to a physical therapist or to a different teacher or even a different style of yoga might be best. Some organizations that certify yoga instructors have begun educational programs about the impact of yoga on various injuries. Teachers may want to look into such programs if they haven’t already.
Using incorrect technique can of course stress the body and cause injury. The teacher can easily intervene here by emphasizing the correct technique and helping students to learn it. Students should be reminded of the correct technique for moving into and out of poses- collapsing suddenly out of poses, or aggressively springing into a pose, are common causes of injury. Of course it helps if the teacher knows the correct techniques. Even if a teacher has been practicing and teaching yoga for some time it is a good idea to attend a certification program.