How to Avoid Common Yoga Injuries

The risk of injury in Yoga is small, especially when compared with other sports. With wise practice, you can avoid injury entirely. After all, you're practicing Yoga to feel better in your body and mind — and perhaps to both heal old injuries and prevent new ones in the course of your daily life.

Here you find pointers for avoiding injury in the three areas most common areas Yoga affects: the lower back, the hamstrings, and the knees.

Safe Yoga practice begins with selecting a Yoga style that matches your physical abilities and limitations. Your general fitness level, your age, and your lifestyle all factor into this selection process. Some Yoga styles, such as Ashtanga, or "flow," are inherently more physically demanding than others. A physically demanding style isn't more "Yoga" than a gentle one, though. Remember, Yoga is the union of body, breath, and mind; if you have those elements together, you're practicing Yoga.

  • Be mindful of your lower back. Lower back pain is the most commonly reported Yoga injury. To protect your lower back, allow your knees to soften and even bend as necessary. Also remember to lengthen your spine and fold from your hips when doing bends of any sort. With seated forward bends, consider sitting on a blanket to elevate your hips, especially if you're a guy. This modification lessens strain on the lower back.

  • Loosen tight hamstrings, mindfully. Tight hamstrings are part and parcel of modern life. Many people spend hours of their days seated, whether at the computer, in the car, or on the couch. Sound familiar? If so, you're vulnerable if you dive into seated forward bends or approach other forms of forward bending with too much zeal. Soften or bend your knees when you begin to feel a pull in your hamstring muscles. With practice, you'll notice improvement, but try not to focus too much on how far you can bend — that's ego, not Yoga.

  • Protect your knees. Of all your joints, your knees are perhaps the most susceptible to injury. Your knees absorb the impact of all the walking, lifting, and kneeling you do during the course of your day. If you engage in high-impact activities such as running and basketball, they put up with even more. So be especially kind to your knees on the Yoga mat, and tread with deliberation so that you gradually gain flexibility without injury.

    The knees are one area that especially require precision and alignment. Track where your knees go as you step into standing bent leg positions (warrior I and II, for example). You want your knee to be in line with your second and third toes. This position takes attention because, unchecked, your knee wants to migrate elsewhere, putting strain on the joint. You should also avoid the classic lotus position, unless you have extraordinary flexibility in your hips.

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