Let’s face it people, yoga injuries do happen! And, they’re on the rise. In 2007, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reported 5,500 yoga-related injuries that were treated in emergency rooms or doctors’ offices. In 2010, that number increased to 7,369. Whether the growth of reported injuries is a result of more people taking up yoga or because we’re finally admitting to it, the fact is, they are happening. Moreover, these figures are probably also understated as there’s still reluctance amongst many in the yoga community to concede to the notion that yoga can do harm.
Now wait a minute! I’m a yoga teacher, so why am I telling you this? I should be telling you about all the positive things that come with developing a regular yoga practice right? Well, I’m about to do that too. But the important lesson here is that, just like other physically challenging activities, you can hurt yourself. Accepting this is the first step in injury prevention. Yoga used to be viewed by many as a practice that could do no harm, so people practiced as if this were true. We now know this view to be incorrect. Approaching your yoga practice with awareness of your body and awareness how the practice relates to your own body is essential.
So now, the good stuff. I’m off course a strong proponent of yoga. I’ve practiced for 10 years now and seen my body transform over the years. I’ve managed chronic knee and back pain through yoga and even kept my lymphangioma, a malformation of the lymphatic system, under control. Yoga has been known to relieve medical conditions from arthritis, to auto-immune diseases such as multiple sclerosis. From a mental and emotional perspective, it helps us to sweat the small stuff less. But all this would be for nothing if we don’t learn to keep our yoga practice safe.
I know it sounds cliché, but ultimately, the ego is the number one cause of yoga injuries. It’s not just the ego of the student that can be harmful, but that of the teacher as well. To quote an article by Sura in the Huffington Post (The Dark Side of Yoga):
“The way people approach life is the way people show up on their yoga mat. And yoga teachers are no exception. Some yoga teachers may lead with a sense of aggression and competition while others will promote a feeling of safety and peace.”
While yoga is a practice that’s supposed to help us let go of our ego, the reality is that we are ego-full beings. It’s not uncommon for the ego to be unleashed before it is diminished. For students, this may mean forcing ourselves into a posture that our bodies may not be ready for. For teachers, it may mean telling students to come to class despite their injuries, just to keep attendance high. Both are incredibly dangerous.
It’s also not uncommon in class to hear the teacher say things like “breathe through the pain” and “work around your edge.” I’m not a fan of the “one size fits all” approach and find that phrases such as these can be incredibly harmful. For someone that’s more sluggish, lacks energy and harder to motivate, encouragement to work around his or her edge can be safe enough. However, for the competitive, high-energy, driven person, these words may be the extra half centimeter in hanumanasana (forward split) that leads to a torn hamstring, the straight legs that leads to an injured lower back, or the extra 3 breaths in sirsasana (headstand) that causes the neck and shoulder injury.
Furthermore, teachers need to feel ok to tell their students to stop their yoga practice until they consult a physician, especially when the teacher is not well informed about the student’s condition. And certainly there’s nothing wrong with saying, “I don’t know, but let me consult a senior teacher or yoga therapist and get back to you. In the meantime, avoid this posture/practice until I find out more.”
Yoga can be an incredibly beneficial practice to all, but it’s up to each individual, whether student or teacher to ensure the practice remains safe and sustainable.
Blog post by Julie (juliehana.com)