Whether you are a seasoned practitioner or a beginner, yoga exercises must be done with caution when you have a sports injury. Thankfully, you don’t have to stop doing yoga altogether. In fact, some yoga poses are good for strengthening key areas of your body to help the healing process when you have an injury.
I spoke to Iyengar-certified yoga instructor Deborah Baker of Park Hill Yoga in Denver, Colorado, about the poses to avoid and the poses that will help when you have the following common injuries.
If you have lower back pain, Deborah recommends doing more floor work and avoiding standing poses, especially if you’re practicing at home. The key is keeping your spine and pelvis aligned, and avoiding anything that pulls on your lower back region. Work on building flexibility in the hamstrings and the hips to help alleviate lower back pain.
Avoid back bends unless you are working with a knowledgeable instructor. Try the tall mountain pose instead. Laying flat on your back, press your feet against a wall as if the wall was the floor. Allow length through your lower back. Never do a movement that compresses your lower back.
Avoid putting any strain on your knees. Deborah suggests doing poses in which your knees stay passive. But, if you are doing a bent-knee pose, for example the warrior pose, she says to be careful not to let your knee roll one way or another. It always helps to have a spotter in these situations to be sure you are in the right position and alignment so you are not putting strain on your injured area. For standing poses, be sure to engage your quads and never lock your knees.
If you are unable to work with a certified instructor, avoid weight-bearing deep knee bends. Yoga should never hurt, so if you experience pain during any pose, immediately stop what you are doing. Try a bound angle pose instead. Sit with your heels pulled in towards your body, similar to what some call a butterfly pose, but do not bounce your legs. Knee problems arise when you have tight groin muscles or when you hyperextend.
The way to really make sure you aren’t putting strain on your knees is to work on opening your hips and building strength in your quadriceps and lengthening the hamstrings.
Shoulders, Wrist, and Neck
Deborah suggests avoiding downward-facing dog and any poses that put pressure on these areas. Instead, she says to do a letter ‘L’ shape—stand with straight legs and fold at the top of the thigh reaching toward a counter top and pressing the thigh bones back. This is so that your shoulders are not bearing any weight.
Another option Deborah gives is to stand with your feet parallel and slowly reach your arms up over your head. Your outer shoulder blade will come up as your elbow lifts. She says that you should soften your inner shoulder blade down towards your waist so that your shoulders are straight.
The most important thing to remember when you have an injury is alignment, alignment, alignment! Do yoga exercises in front of a mirror or with a spotter to make sure that your body is in the correct alignment at all times. Proper technique is essential to avoid exacerbating your injury. When in doubt, consult a professional.
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