Tips for a Safe Yoga Practice

Yoga is not injury-proof.  It is true that you can learn to heal yourself using yoga, that you can use it as therapy, and that it can prevent injury off the mat.  There’s no miracle to it, although it may seem so.  The way to maintain a safe practice is to pay attention to your body, just as you would do in any situation.  The beauty of yoga is that your teachers consistently remind you to do that, and how to do it.  In this article, we will give some tips for finding a healthful practice as taken from what we’ve seen as teachers, as students, and as members of the world off the mat.

PAY ATTENTION

Remember all those times your teacher talked about being present?  That little reminder is meant to help you stay with yourself.  In other words, to keep the mind in contact with the body.  Injury is commonly identified as a sharp, shooting pain, as opposed to the painless discomfort that comes up when your body is tight or new to a pose.  When you identify pain, take one or multiple steps out of the pose until the pain dissolves.  That pain, if pushed, if forced, is what causes injury.  The slight pain that bugs you every time you do a particular pose that you brush off as temporary is a caution sign to you.  Pain in a pose simple means your alignment is off somewhere, or your body is not ready for the level of the posture that you’re attempting.  Keep it simple:  Adjust the pose and stay safe.

The first step toward adjusting a pose is the breath.  Ideally, we are breathing fully in and out throughout our entire practice, but let’s face it, that’s hard to do.  Keep at it and the breath will come.  In the meantime, breathe whenever you find yourself not breathing consciously.  Breathe when you are adjusting your pose!  Breathe when your pose doesn’t feel quite right.  The breath is an accurate indicator of what you’re doing to your body.  If you are breathing in a rushed, erratic fashion, your pose is more than likely too challenging for you.  If you can calm that breath and sustain the pose, that’s another story altogether.  The breath will bring release into your pose; It will move energy-rich oxygen through your muscles, organs, and bones; Your breath will carry you through the pose with a sense of ease that you just can’t find without it.  So, once you identify discomfort or pain, notice what your breath is telling you: ‘there is something I can release’ or ‘get out of this now!’

ALIGNMENT

Hatha Yoga (Identified in the Siesta Yoga schedule as: Align & Connect, Basics Plus, Calm Beginnings YMC, Hatha/Vinyasa Flow, Hatha 1-2, Stretch & Restore) uses specific alignment instruction and props to assist you in finding your ideal pose, or adjusting into it.  For instance, a common instruction for forward folds is to lengthen the torso between the hips and ribs in an effort to release your low back and avoid tension.  We give a great deal of these instructions throughout the class, and as a beginner, you may not understand how to do all of them or may not even hear all of them.  That’s okay.  Listen as well as you can and know that you can always ask your teacher for further assistance.  If you move out of the pose quickly, ask the instructor after class.  That’s what we’re here for!  If you take class from different teachers, ask more than one of them if the first doesn’t shed light on the issue.  We all come from different yoga backgrounds, teachers, trainings, experiences, and lifestyles, so where one teacher may say something you don’t quite connect to, another may tell you the same thing in wording that helps you understand perfectly.  The answer is out there.  Just seek it out until you find it.  That is yoga.  It is a consistent practice of building a deeper and deeper understanding of your body and mind and how they work together.  There’s a great studio in Glendale that uses the slogan: Introduce your body to your mind.  They might just like each other.  Your practice is about introducing them over and over again, allowing them to understand each other in different ways as you grow and deepen.

CONSISTENCY

Ashtanga Yoga (Identified in the Siesta Yoga schedule as: Mysore, Led Primary, Vinyasa Flow, Candlelight Flow, Basics) encourages a consistent practice.  In fact, the Ashtanga practice is meant to be done 6 days per week.  Try not to make that a goal as much as something available to you when you’re ready.  The poses reveal themselves the more you do them.  The order of the four preexisting series’ are meant to open your body in each pose in a way that prepares it for the next pose in the series, and eventually, the next series.  The Mysore practice teaches this most efficiently by giving students one to a few poses at a time as their bodies and minds are ready for them.  Once the student memorizes up to a certain pose in the series and can move through all those poses with at least relative ease, she is ready to add on.  Not only does this open the body slowly, but it teaches the mind to focus inward; to use the breath as a counting system, as a point of focus, as a boost of energy, and as a sense of release; and most importantly, to be patient.  A new pose might take months to get, or it might take days.  Each practitioner is doing their own individual practice in every type of yoga.  That is the point: to find your practice and connect to You.  In Mysore, more than any other style of yoga, this idea is made abundantly clear by the mere fact that everyone in the room is going at a different pace, going up to a different pose, and receiving different instructions and adjustments.  To avoid the developmental process in yoga is to form an underdeveloped practice.  There will be set-backs due to emotions, tensions already existent in the body, and traumas in life off the mat.  They are inevitable because this is a lifelong practice.  Because this is a lifelong practice, you have plenty of time to grow your practice one step at a time, to be patient and wait for the next aspect of it.  This is how you will maintain a safe practice.

THE GOAL

Think back to an experience you’ve had or a made-up scenario in which you are totally at ease.  Maybe something like: You are lying in a pasture with a breeze just light enough to keep your body the perfect temperature, the sun is out, the sky is bright blue and all you hear is the swishing of the brush around you.  You’re relaxed.  Now imagine that you’re in yoga class in Warrior II.  Sweat is running down your forehead, your front thigh is burning, and you just don’t know how long you can handle this. Apply that serene scenario to your pose through the breath and by focusing the mind on ease.  Breathe ease in and breathe it out.  Before you know it, you’re on the next posture.  As challenging as a pose can be, there is always room to soften within it.  If release is not available, you are too deep.  Yoga postures are meant to make you feel good, not just after Savasana, but while you’re in them.  When done correctly, you feel stable, easeful and at peace.  In other words, these poses should feel good.  If you’re just thinking about how to find the pose, then deepen the pose, and avoid injury and breathe, and…, then you’re missing the glory of the experience, the experience of the present moment.  This takes us back to the first point in the article: Stay aware in every moment.  Breathe.  Align.  Be consistent.  Feel good.

DISCLAIMER

Hopefully, you found at least a piece of this information helpful.  If you did, go forth and apply your new knowledge, but always be aware that you are responsible for your own practice.  Your yoga instructors may be the best thing since sliced bread, but they do not know what you are feeling.  It is up to you to protect yourself and to follow the instructions that help you to do that.  These are simply tips from one perspective.  Please apply your own common sense and consider your history when you practice.  And, at the end of the day, as healing as yoga has the potential to be, yoga teachers are not doctors.  Please see your physician for specific concerns.

• If you feel dizzy, light headed, faint or if you experience any other discomforts during your yoga practice, stop exercising immediately and consult a medical doctor. You are responsible for your condition during your workout. Exercise within your limits. Never force or strain. Seek attention and advise as appropriate.

• We do not recommend that you attempt any poses or yoga excercises without suitable experience and supervision. We offer no medical advice. You should consult a medical practitioner before attempting any excercise and particularly yoga, to ensure that you do not injure yourself. This is particularly important if you are overweight, pregnant, nursing, regularly taking medications, or have any existing medical conditions. This post may not be tailored to match your physical and mental health. We accept no liablity whatsoever for any damages arising from the use of this information.

 • With respect to content available on this post, neither Siesta Yoga nor any of its employees assumes any legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of this information.

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