Injured List: Yoga

Those down dogs and sun salutations can be tricky. We talked with two Washington yogis about how to avoid injury and get the most out of your yoga practice.

The Experts
John Schumacher, founder of Unity Woods Yoga Center (locations in DC, Bethesda, and Arlington), has been practicing yoga for more than 30 years. Suzie Hurley of Willow Street Yoga in Takoma Park and Silver Spring is certified in Anusara and Iyengar yoga.

The Injuries
Injuries and strain to the knees, shoulders, joints, neck, and lower back are the most common, says Schumacher.

Common Mistakes
“Yoga doesn’t injure people; faulty practice of yoga injures people,” says Schumacher. Beginners might try to force their bodies into tough positions, such as the cross-legged lotus pose, causing injury. “People see pictures and try to do it, but it takes time,” he says. Classes such as hot yoga or ones that include lots of quick, connected moves are hard on the shoulders, which can lead to improper alignment and injuries like a torn rotator cuff. Not surprisingly, most neck injuries are caused by improper practice of headstands and shoulder stands, while lower-back pain is commonly a result of poor form while bending. “People don’t know how to create space when bending,” says Schumacher. “They bend from the lumbar spine (lower back), but it should come from the thoracic spine (upper back).”

How to Prevent Injury
Both Hurley and Schumacher agree that proper alignment is the key to successful yoga practice. A good teacher can make all the difference, says Hurley, so check the studio’s credentials.

“Be patient. There’s no end goal besides enlightenment,” says Schumacher. Since yoga is as much about the mind as the body, attitude is also key in preventing injury. “People come in to focus and get healthy, but then they try to force things and don’t surrender to the practice. They take their type-A stuff into yoga,” he says.

And as in anything, use common sense. “Learn what to stretch, how to stretch,” says Hurley. “If there’s pain, back off.”

How to Bounce Back
The best way to recover? Say it with us now: Practice proper yoga. Schumacher says to take time off to heal if need be, and then come back with a different attitude and technique. “It’s always a balance between effort and letting go—I’m still working on that,” he says.

Yoga can also help with existing pain says Hurley, who cites lower-back pain as the number-one issue: “We help put the person back into the original blueprint of alignment, help them strengthen and walk differently, and we usually see a huge difference in about 90 percent of cases.”

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