1,000s of people get injured each year practicing yoga or taking yoga classes. Surprising perhaps when the reputation is that it is supposed to be safer than many physical activities that have more obvious associations with injury. With doctors referring people to yoga classes with health issues, what is going on here?
Yoga is usually low impact and if done with attention and with good and appropriate instruction should and can be safe, even for less able bodies and those with serious health conditions. But not all yoga classes are suitable for everyone, you have to find the right yoga for you. And once there, perhaps the safe perception of yoga leads people into a false sense of security and usual self-restraint is forgotten just because they are in a yoga class?
I have worked with students who have come from other yoga classes after sustaining injury, and have myself been injured from a well-intentioned adjustment from an enthusiastic teacher that left me in pain for a week. (He encouraged me to go that bit further into a twist by placing a hand to my back and gently pushing, I immediately knew I had pulled something and needless to say, haven't returned to his class.)
Students who come to my group classes tell me of existing health issues in the initial health form they fill in. Most are happy to listen to advice and modify what they do to accomodate their issue, erring on the side of caution, especially at first. Very occassionally the student still wants to have a go even with advice recommending them not to, sometimes they get away with it, sometimes you see problems starting to arise.
As a recent New York Times article comments:
Training for yoga teachers can vary, and classes are so large in some studios that instructors do not pay enough attention to everybody.
This only makes the problem more difficult, as the safe perception of yoga, compounded by large classes with teachers who have taken perhaps as little as only a month of training could be a recipe for the injured contingent to grow.
One Bristol yoga class disclaimer left me rather nervous and must be signed before participating - stating that: 'wrongful death could occur due to negligence', blimey. Of course disclaimers are extreme, and I signed the same disclaimer when I went sky-diving, but I kind of expected it then somehow... Perhaps it is a good reminder to us that ultimately we are responsible for our own bodies and should remain so at all times, even when we are sky-diving or in a yoga class.
As yoga teachers, we are often working with people who aren't strong and fit when they begin. People who may have been sitting at a desk all day before they come to class and have associated weaknesses, stiffnesses and perhaps susceptibilities waiting for the right moment to reveal themselves.
A student new to my class will often hear the instruction, go for all the easiest options offered today to see how your body responds over the next day or two. Even after understanding existing health concerns you never know whether an old sciatic problem will feel aggravated or a back problem might rear its head and complain.
Working carefully initially, with safe instruction and supervision gets you started more safely. And it is one of the many reasons why regular practice is key. To come intermittently may mean that you feel you can work harder than you should, you managed to do this last time so you should be able to do it today, even though you haven't practiced in 3 weeks.
Regular practice with a developmental approach and a well-trained teacher will open up doors for you that will be safe and in the long more rewarding than the thrill of having survived an extreme experience. Preparing you for the extreme experience if that is what you are seeking.
Enjoy yoga, take care and practice safely until you are confident that you can stretch yourself beyond your usual boundaries. Find stability first before you reach too far.
Having done some recent work on yoga for the older age group (culminating in yoga suitable for those with hip replacements which is on the more extreme end of the scale of things to consider), and also having discussed it with some of the over 55s in my current group classes, it seemed that it would be good to put on a class especially for over 55s. Not because they aren't just as capable in many cases of working well in a mainstream class, but more to give that feeling of familiarity of the mix of people in the room.
As bodies get older, the impressions of life manifest themselves differently on different people. Knees, back problems, stiffnesses are different from person to person. Some people are strong and fit in their older years, others less so. The class will be a chance to offer a range of adaptations suitable to the people who attend the class and will be a safe and comfortable place to practice yoga.
Beyond our physical limitations, Ramaswami has also taught on yoga for the three stages of life and the type of yoga practices that would be recommended at different stages.
The first stage, the early years and childhood where the body is still growing and the mind is still maturing so a focus on asana (postures) is the emphasis.
The middle years where we are adults, working, raising families and having busy and full lives, where we maintain our health through asana and progress our pranayama (breath control) practice. Then the later years, when we are more reflective, the body is left with impressions of our lives, here the focus moves towards maintaining health through asana, pranayama along with developing meditation and reflection. The stages of life supported by the different limbs or petals of yoga. More on yoga and the stages of life are in this excellent book Yoga for the Three Stages of Life, Srivatsa Ramaswami.
Anyway, the new class, Yoga for Over 55s, will be starting on September 14th and will be from 11.15am until 12.15pm. Beginners very welcome!
Founder of YogaSpace, 2009
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