Is Yoga Injury A Real Problem?
This is an unfortunate way for yoga to end up in the news, but there are many ways one can injure themselves in physical yoga (postures or asana). And if the story wasn't being talked about enough, the New York Times article last year, based on the book titled The Science of Yoga by William J. Broad, broke the story wide open. Please See the article on yoga injury in New York Times Magazine HERE.
I'll take a closer look at that article in another post soon, but Yoga injury statistics from many sources do indicate it's a far wider and deeper problem than most people realize. However, we must maintain a proper perspective on yoga injuries.
We'll talk about these and other article and book in another post on this website, but let's look at the realities here.
In my Private Practice of Yoga/Bodywork Therapeutics, I've worked with many people whom had a bad experience or two with yoga. As a result, some of them avoid yoga like it was a plague. Or even though they still love yoga, they've developed many aches & pains, limited range-of-motion, dysfunction, poor posture, and so on. They often resist the fact that yoga can and does cause such problems, if one doesn't know how to prevent them.
Yes, the author of The Science of Yoga was absolutely correct, there ARE many yoga practitioners — even professionals — who've injured themselves while practicing yoga. Some of them are world class teachers who got to the point they could not even demonstrate a yoga posture without pain. A few of them ended up with injuries so severe they opted for surgery.
So, a yoga teacher getting a hip or knee replacement, or spinal fusion for a blown disc, is something to pay attention to, and think about. If THEY are having problems, what chance does a more casual practitioner have? (Actually, being a casual practitioner might save some people, if that means they don't practice very aggressively.)
But hopefully, if we learn something about how such problems can happen, maybe we can develop some strategies for prevention of yoga injuries along the way.
Delayed Feedback in Yoga
One of the Big Problems in yoga is that very often, when you do injure yourself, you won't even know it for hours, days, weeks or even months later. In fact, some people go for YEARS slowly "injuring" their body — in imperceptible, micro-amounts at a time — such that they don't feel their tension, stress and/or trauma building up in the background.
At some point, even though the actual percentage appears to be small, a significant number of people end up with injuries to their neck, shoulder, knees, upper of lower back … pretty much anywhere.
A complicating factor here is that up to a certain point, when a person is deep into a yoga posture (or asana in Sanskrit), they often feel GOOD. That's often because the stretch triggers neurotransmitters in their blood stream. If they stay within a certain range of intensity — which varies for everyone, and for each of us from day-to-day — they only experience a "good" feeling, or even pleasure. Some even report feelings of bliss coursing through their body.
Is Bliss A Good Thing?
Some people say, what's wrong with that? Well, often times, that pleasurable or blissful feeling is masking underlying sensations imperceptible to the conscious mind … sensations indicating over-stretching or even micro-damage to the muscles. In some cases, the student or teacher ends up going too deep for too long, and way too fast. The muscles cannot relax, release & lengthen quickly enough, potentially causing numerous problems in various body parts and systems.
As Joel Kramer, my primary yoga teacher, once said:
Bliss isn't everything it's cracked up to be.
Various people in the field of yoga have declared Joel to be The First American Yoga Master, and the Father of American Yoga. So, assuming they know something about yoga, we can learn a thing or two from him.
What Are The Primary & Common Causes of Yoga Injuries?
Dose "Proper Alignment" Help Prevent Yoga Injury?
Unfortunately, achieving and maintaining so-called Proper Alignment is NOT necessarily the solution. Sometimes, it is actually the cause of the problem in the first place. Here's why …
When the body will NOT go easily into a desired alignment within a posture or body position, it is most of the time because there's one or more muscles that are chronically contracted* and shortened up. They will not lengthen enough, or soon enough, to allow the body segment to move into the desired positioning. Resistance is generated if you start trying to push into it.
I call this chronic muscular contraction C.E.M.&.N.T. or Chronic, Excess Muscle & Nerve Tension. In fact, C.E.M.&.N.T. is the primary physical resistance to performing yoga postures or asana. Done in the spirit of integrative physical/mental yoga, C.E.M.&.N.T. becomes the meditative focus of the posture, rather than a barrier to overcome or push through. It is the NEXUS between body and mind, between one's psycho-neuro-musculo-fascial history and the many internal and external conditions of the present moment.
When we come up against that resistance, the tendency for many people is to try and push harder, to pull themselves deeper into the posture, rather than waiting for it to let go. Or better yet, use the resistance as a meditative focal point of self exploration to get deeper insight into the nature of that resistance, which is an expression or result of psycho-neuro-musculo-fascial tension.
This resistance sets off a number of reactions and problems we'll detail in another post, yet in turn has it's own background causes.
And of course, we must now discuss Yoga Injury Recovery.
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