Yoga Injury Prevention: How World-Class Yoga Teachers Get World-Class Yoga Injuries
Part 4 (of 4 Parts)
An Introduction to Some Basic Realities of
Yoga Injuries and Stopping of Yoga Injuries
In Parts 1, 2 & 3 of this article series, we discussed many of the potential problems showing up in a yoga practice:
Now, we’ll look at what I believe is one of THE Central Issues, and SOLUTIONS, to the problem of Yoga Injury.
WHO GETS INJURED IN YOGA?
For sake of easier discussion, let’s narrow it down to three major categories:
1) Advanced Practitioners who are self-driven to some perceived idea of accomplishment or “perfection,” including achieving a “Proper Postural Alignment” in any particular pose;
2) those, from Beginner to Advanced, in classes where the instructor or guru has a belief that pushing their students harder is “good” for them; and
3) Beginners who really don’t know what’s going on at all.
The First Category is about coercing or forcing, be it verbally or physically, students or yourself, into precise alignment of specific yoga postures before your or their bodymind is ready for it.
The belief that “proper alignment” solves issues of “safety” in postures is, most of the time, backwards. Such thinking causes practitioners to over-stretch and over-stress muscles, joints and other structures prematurely. … Yes, a lot of people get away with it. But not everyone.
The Second Category is where the instructor projects their own sense of, or hoped for, achievement or perfection onto the student(s), then expects the student(s) to comply with the instructors’ own subconscious, ego driven needs. …
And unfortunately, some students are all too eager to comply with that need. … Often with gusto! … And some people do this to their own selves. …
On the other side of that psychological coin, the student is, for example, transferring some disowned sense of self or authority, some desire to please someone from their past or other aspect of their life — or to achieve some idealized “state” represented by a particular body position — over to their instructor.
So it’s a two-way street. The leader in the Authoritarian Paradigm needs followers to impose his or her will upon. No followers, no one to push around. And all too many students, the other side of the Authoritarian Paradigm, are more than willing to comply. …
Yet it is the responsibility of the competent yoga instructor to actually WARN their students of such possibilities, and how to avoid or deal with them. Getting yoga teachers more conscious of such human proclivities is vital. One recommendation toward that end is Joel Kramer and Diana Alstad’s ground breaking book, The Guru Papers: Masks of Authoritarian Power:
The Third Category, beginners, are on one hand told to “listen to their body,” yet on the other hand that the “Perfect Alignment” will keep them safe. In many cases, this sets up a contradiction and conflict, making it even more difficult to “listen to their body.”
And when they are told to “listen to their body,” or “respect your edges,” WHAT does that REALLY mean, anyway? How much instruction on THAT is the average student given?
Or when the instructor goes into a deep posture, what is the student supposed to think?
Most of them think THAT is what they are supposed to do with their body, and push themselves to achieve that posture. Or they just give up. Or more likely, they hurt themselves, often times not knowing till much later they are indeed injured.
In MY mind, it is a disservice to beginning students for an instructor to go too deep into postures when demonstrating. In most cases, if they only went half way in, they would already be doing more than a lot of students can handle.
Yes, some beginning students will be inspired, and a few will actually be able to do the pose as demonstrated. Others? It puts too much pressure on them to comply and perform “correctly.”
IS PROPER ALIGNMENT THE ANSWER?
“Proper Alignment” is often taught as the Holy Grail of yoga practice. Achieving the Perfect Posture is often taught as if attainment of such is akin to, or at least well on the path toward, some sort of Enlightenment. At very least, we are told, this is one of the most important ways to prevent physical yoga injury, to keep us “safe.”
In that vein, some of those World-Class Instructors, trained by their World-Class Gurus, whom suffered yoga-related injuries, were SO precise in their alignment it’s hard to imagine anyone doing it more “perfectly.” Yet some of them lamented they just must have not achieved the exact joint & bone alignment necessary to be safe in their postures!
They just were not, they thought, being precise enough in their yoga. And this would imply not just an occasional mess up, but consistently over long periods of time.
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Common Cause of Yoga Injury
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Yet many thousands of people do these same postures every day and maintain an injury rate lower than that of golf! … How can THAT be? What’s wrong with THAT picture?
Are we to believe that all those many thousands of practitioners were able to get into the correct postural alignment, yet the World-Class Teachers just were not quite able to do so? Is THAT it? …
How logical is that? … Not Very.
INTERNAL RESISTANCE TO ALIGNMENT
Getting into proper alignment is fine, IF your body is ready. BUT, if your body does not easily get into such positioning, it is most of the time because you have chronic neuro-musculo-fascial tensions — Resistance* — preventing your bones & joints from moving into the desired alignment.
* Resistance: In the context of yoga poses or exercise, I generally call this C.E.M.&.N.T.S. or Chronic, Excess Muscle & Nerve Tension & Stress. It is C.E.M.&.N.T.S. that prevents most of the movements into a “proper posture,” until you run into a bone-on-bone or situation, or take a ligament to it’s maximum normal length.
Also, years or decades of DE-Sensitization from various causes prevents us from feeling the subtle sensations of where “The Edge” of such resistance starts. Often, we are already WAY too far past our edges before we even feel it or know it.
It is Descending SensoryPathways in the lower brain that selectively block incoming sensory signals. Our brain and central nervous system literally block out 99.9% of incoming sensory signals, so we are VERY limited in what we are actually feeling out there in our body. (Unfortunately, no one asks YOU which signals should or should not be blocked. Very often, it’s the stuff we most need to feel.)
From my perspective, your challenge is NOT to overcome those resistances to achieving “proper alignment,” but to directly engage with your Resistances, to directly experience such resistance, to BE with it, to learn from it, and learn to dissolve or otherwise manage them. It’s about experiencing those tensions as they actually are, NOT trying to overpower or overcome them.
However, The Not-So-Secret-KEY is to start by going UP TO the Minimum Edges (the very first sign of any resistance at all), and explore the very first signs of it. And to do this for quite a bit of time, as well.
You do NOT, initially, want to go very deep into them. This is about using Low-Intensity Stretching, or Homeopathic Doses of Stretch, exploring and learning about the periphery of your subtle sensations before going deeper into them.
THE PARADOX OF LOW-INTENSITY STRETCHING
Get to KNOW your resistances before trying to challenge them too aggressively. You will find that in most cases, your psycho-neuro-musculo-fascial tensions — showing up as resistance — will start to dissolve with VERY low levels of stretch.
A paradox? Yes. But the yogic paradox is that experiencing yourself as you actually are in the moment, without attempting to coerce or force any change, is in many or most cases the best way to change what needs to be changed. …
Being Here Now is about Being With
WHAT IS, AS It Is, Right Now.
Low-intensity stretching combined with focused attention tends to help reverse de-sensitization, as well. Becoming more sensitive allows you to feel subtle signals warning you of impending or occurring damage to your bodymind system. Soon, you’ll have a MUCH better sense of where those “edges” really are.
Yet exerting willpower tends to override your experience of the present moment. In some cases, it adds to the DE-Sensitization, preventing you from truly feeling your resistance in the first place.
This conscious focus on “what is,” the in-the-moment sensations evoked by a yoga pose, is called by some, including Joel Kramer, “Playing The Edge.” It is about developing and refining your ability to FEEL, to pay attention to, your sensation levels, and interpret them accurately.
Listening To Your Body is not always as easy as it sounds. The body does NOT speak English. Your body speaks “Body.” We need to learn to perceive, interpret and respond to those sensations more precisely and accurately. Learning to get onto and follow, NOT pushing, your Edge as it moves in and out, moment-by-moment, day-by-day, is an art form in itself.
THE SPECTRUM OF EDGES
Yet too, there are Maximum Edges, Minimum Edges, and everything in between, or the Moderate Edges. Most people should be spending a LOT more time at their Minimum Edges to start, to RE-Sensitize and get familiar with the sensations of what is really going on in their body.
And use Minimum Edge Yoga as your Warm Up.
This is about letting go of tension, stress & negative habit patterns, about relaxing into the tension, exploring your C.E.M.&.N.T., rather than resisting it, as much as possible. It’s the meditative approach, the antithesis of willpower.
On the other hand, Willpower — using a certain amount of mental and/or physical force to change certain things — definitely has it’s place, especially for developing more overt fitness — SECC, or Strength, Endurance, Cardiovascular, and Coordination.
Yet the yogic or “spiritual paradox” is that certain aspects of being human revolt against excessive use of willpower. (Too much to go into here, so we’ll get to that in a future article.)
We need to learn to use willpower in very small doses, or not at all, when it comes to healing and rejuvenating the bodymind. This actually shows up more as “intention,” the fine line between the meditative and willpower aspects of mind.
So for Beginners (in many cases), they are not yet sensitive enough to FEEL when they are overdoing a stretch. They are not self-aware enough to know which stretches, even basic ones, are likely to get them into trouble, or how far they can take them.
They cannot FEEL where their edges are.
(That’s those Descending SensoryPathways I mentioned earlier.)
And beginners often have preexisting injury, trauma and/or stresses lurking in the back ground even they don’t know about, or have forgotten. So they often jump right into a pose not knowing they are jumping into an overstretched muscle(s) or jammed joint. … Or worse!
Advanced practitioners often get over confident. Because many of them enjoy the feeling of intensity, even bliss, that for some people often comes with yoga postures, they are running neurotransmitters through their bloodstream and getting, along with the bliss, a chemically induced anesthesia. Yet that anesthesia prevents them from feeling subtle sensations they need to know about.
Or, they have, unknowingly, been activating their descending sensory nerve pathways for years. The job of those pathways is to block out redundant and/or subtle sensations, which many yoga practitioners were or are doing, even though they thought they were “deepening their awareness.”
So they are going blissfully along not knowing that trouble is brewing in the background.
The authoritarian addicted group has a double-edge sword to it. We need yoga teachers who are far more knowledgeable about the issues of authoritarian power, and whom are far less prone to force or coerce people into poses. … Encouragement or suggestion is one thing, force is another.
On the other hand, there is the fact that more new practitioners should be taught how to protect themselves against such excessively aggressive or not so knowledgeable yoga teachers. Or to know that sometimes, so-called Good Ideas are more likely accidents waiting to happen.
A GREAT BY-PRODUCT of MINIMUM
To MODERATE EDGE-WORK
One of the side benefits of focusing on a less intense practice is that many of the injuries from yoga are from practitioners — and teachers — prematurely getting WAY Too Deep, Too Soon, Too Intensely, for Too Long into a pose.
Pushing joints to their limits, and often beyond, causes breakdown in the joint. Combining willpower with de-sensitization, masked by feelings of bliss and/or beliefs that going deep is a good and beneficial thing, pushing & pulling the joints and soft tissues too far.
Focusing on low-intensity, minimum to moderate edge yoga helps prevent one going too deep, too fast, for too long. Yes, long slow holds in yoga can be a very good thing. But if the joints are pushed passed their normal range-of-motion, or if the soft tissues are being prematurely or excessively stressed, damage will occur.
WHAT ELSE IS THERE WE CAN DO?
OKAY, as you can probably see, I consider The Edge to be a very important aspect of Yoga Injury Prevention, of doing yoga safely and effectively. But there IS more … a LOT More!
IF YOU WANT TO LEARN MORE … You can start by Downloading to your computer — FOR FREE — CLICK HERE my infographic on Common Causes of Yoga Injury.
OR, if you REALLY want to know how it all works, check out my comprehensive e-book on yoga right here:
“Discover MANY More Insights into How Your Human BodyMind Works (and not!) in Yoga, and More Details on WHAT Can Go Wrong, and WHAT To Do About It All”
Discover How to Maximize Your Results
Thanks for Reading,
David Scott Lynn (DSL*)
* DSL: Your Hi-Touch Up-Link to the Inner-Net
Inner-Net: Your Psycho-Neuro-Musculo-Fascial System