We always talk about the healing powers of yoga. It builds strength, increases flexibility, and calms the mind. That’s why we all do yoga – to better ourselves, physically and mentally. It’s why I teach yoga, because I believe in its power to help people.
So earlier this year when I pulled my hamstring doing yoga it was a hard pill to swallow. I couldn’t believe the thing I trust so much just caused me so much pain. I felt betrayed and hurt by yoga. How could it do this to me?
After the initial shock and anger, I realized it wasn’t betrayal I was feeling, it was shame. It wasn’t the yoga that pulled my hamstring, it was my ego. It was on our last day in Aruba (you should go this year!) and I went for an extreme pose that I thought I could handle because I’d been doing yoga everyday. What I didn’t do was turn inwards and listen to what my body was telling me. I was more than warmed up. I was exhausted from doing yoga everyday. I should have taken it easy and done what I tell my students to do – listen to my body.
If you can really listen to your body it will tell you where your edge is. Your body is your best teacher. It knows what feels good, and when something feels bad it tells you – the pinching in your low back when you take a back bend too deep or the choppy breath when you’re twisting to far. Have you ever realized you were slouching and then stood up straight and taken a true deep breath – it feels so good. That’s your body talking to you, and take it from me – you should listen! Hamstring injuries are no fun, and do not need to happen. It’s a beneficial lesson to learn, but a difficult one. Eight months later I still don’t feel 100% and that’s after two weeks of complete rest plus six months of not even straightening my right leg, on top of physical therapy. Hopefully you can learn from my mistakes to avoid having to learn this lesson the hard way.
Injuries in yoga aren’t talked about very much because it’s not exactly the best way to convince someone to do something. “It’s great – you sweat, you breathe, you might even pull your hamstring!” I don’t know about you but that doesn’t sell me on anything. But the possible injuries should be talked about. The truth is yoga is a physical activity, like running or tennis there are risks. When you challenge your body, whether it be out on the court or in the studio, you need to be aware of those risks.
Turns out hamstring injuries from yoga are pretty common, most of them come from pushing too hard too fast, like mine. In an article about preventing yoga injuries YogaJournal quotes Roger Cole, Ph.D who “names the lower back, knee, and neck as the most prone to injury, followed by the sacroiliac (SI) joint and the origin of the hamstring muscle (where it joins the sitting bone)”. It’s important that we as students are especially aware of those part of our bodies during practice. If there is pressure or pain in the knee, lower back or neck you should back out of the pose immediately. Here are some examples of riskier poses.
Lotus – extremely challenging for the knees.
Shoulderstand/Headstand – puts most of your weight on the neck.
Seated straight legged forward folds – these put the lower back at risk with the hips grounded.
The hope is whatever pose you’re doing, or rather whatever pose the teacher suggests, you are mindful enough to listen to what your body wants to do. If in any class, any studio, the teacher asks you to do something that doesn’t feel good in your body please don’t do it. Maybe you can avoid an injury by taking a step back, taking a child’s pose, or just breathing.
On the other hand sometimes injuries happen. Yes, my ego probably had something to do with my injury, but I’ll say it again, it was a beneficial lesson. While my hamstring was healing every step had to be mindful or it would re-injure the muscle. During a yoga practice no matter how much my brain begged me to straighten my legs I knew I would regret it.
For eight months I’ve been letting my body lead my practice, not my mind. It’s been challenging, and frustrating, but I know my practice is better because of it. When I say better I don’t mean that I can do a split, because I can hardly touch my toes. But I can hear every whisper of my body and now I actually listen.