Why Are Yogis Getting Hurt?: Common Injuries and How to Avoid Them

by | Jul 17, 2020 | Restorative Yoga, Yoga

Yoga, an ancient practice, is taking the country by storm and as a result, it has become a hot topic in the news. Now that there is a yoga studio on practically every corner, it’s more important than ever to remind yogis about the intensity of the postures.

Yoga is a discipline much like karate or ballet.  The same way one would not walk into a ballet class on pointe shoes, one should not walk into a yoga class and expect they will be able to attempt a backbend, inversion, and especially a downward facing dog with straight legs and heels on the ground.

Having the wrong set of expectations and information, doing the practice from a place of Ego, or simply pushing your body too hard can cause pain and real damage. Some of the most common yoga injuries include: shoulder sprains, separation of the sacral-iliac ligament, hurt ribs, and compression of L4 and L5 vertebrae.

Separation of SI joint and lower back ligaments is probably one of the most common injuries in yoga and has nothing to do with being dangerous for your back. It has everything to do with misinformation. The most common pose being mis-cued is the downward facing dog. It is alas one of the most common poses and most frequently done.

The injury occurs from trying to do the pose with straight legs and forcing the heels to the ground, while having tight hamstrings, which most people have. I have even seen teachers and students try to shorten the distance between the  hands and feet, in this posture, just to get the heels on the ground.

By simply bending your knees and allowing your heels to rise off the floor the injury is easily avoidable.

Shoulder Sprains or other shoulder injuries can result from muscling an arm balance pose; including downward facing dog. To the untrained eye, it seems that fancy, impressive arm balance poses, such as flying crow, require upper-body strength. However, like most characteristics of yoga, it is not as it appears.

Arm balance postures come from two main components, which take time to develop. One component is the ability to fold at the hip joint, to the point where your front ribs can touch your thighs; therefore closing the gap between upper and lower body when in a forward bend position. This position will enable the knees to position themselves in the armpits; which is where they belong in order to activate the second component of arm balance posture.

The second component is the ability to lift up on the internal floor of the pelvis in order to make the lower body light enough to come off the ground. The lifting of the feet off the ground is NOT initiated from shoulder strength. The upper back and shoulders are secondary in their support of these postures. It is primarily, the ability to continuously lift up on the pelvic floor muscles to initiate and sustain these postures.

Another common injury in yoga is a tear of the inter-coastal muscles (muscles between the ribs) during the twisting postures. This is primarily due to working the posture with an incorrect emphasis on the leading shoulder. It is a natural tendency to try to get deep into a twisting posture by pulling the leading shoulder away from the mid-line (or sternum), this will put undue pressure on the smaller intercostals muscles which attach the ribs to the sternum.

A simple correction is to lead with the back ribs, therefore, the whole rib cage can move simultaneously.

The compression of the lower lumbar discs is caused by, again not using proper foot pressure, and clenching the buttocks.  Foot pressure is used to control the movement of the pelvis. It is also used to roll the top of the thighs inward so that the tailbone has the ability to drop down and move forward, through the legs. If the tailbone does not elongate (which can only happen if the butt muscles are relaxed), the pelvis will not be allowed to tilt in a backward bending position.  This compresses L4 and L5 while attempting to move the upper body back in the back-bending position.

Additional tips to help prevent getting hurt:

  1. Realize that each posture (even the sitting postures) is about the ability to move through the legs and the big toe. Notice I did not say leg strength.  It is about activating the legs to continuously ground the posture.  Even when the legs are off the ground; the energy is going out through the toes.  Think of your legs as the roots of a big oak tree.  The deeper and stronger the roots, the taller the tree can get and still have the integrity to get blown around in the wind without coming out of the ground.
  2. In each posture, you must activate the lifting of the pelvic floor muscles. Once I ground myself to the floor (the big toe to the ground), I can begin to move my blood and breath by drawing the energy up internally.
  3. Yoga is extremely dynamic yet unbelievably subtle. For this reason, it is considered a discipline, which needs to be respected and studied.  It is a tool, which can be used to harmonize the body, heart, and mind.
  4. All postures are alive and moving; never stagnant and frozen. We are not posing for photos; we are using our internal perception to align our bodies in the form.  One of the greatest benefits of yoga is that it increases our ability to understand where we are in space. When we intentionally engage our neural receptors we are increasing our ability to focus, which is another benefit yogis receive from their practice!

Susan Kullman, founder and CEO of Bodyology System, is a certified Spiritual Life Coach, Health Coach, Body Ecology Coach, Psychology of Eating Coach, Yoga Therapist and an expert at turning fear and confusion into health and freedom. For almost two decades, Susan has empowered, celebrities, college students, and individuals to a live a life of intentional health and wellness.

A positive, energetic, life force, Susan has used her knowledge and experience to educate and inspire others.  Her unparalleled ability to connect and motivate not only comes from her vast education but also compassionately fueled by her own personal journey towards wellness.  Susan “walks her talk” with an emphasis on balance, evolution, and integration.

Susan has appeared on the Martha Show, held an audio yoga program and periodic appearances on Martha Stewart Living Channel on Sirus Satellite Radio.

Susan launched Bodyology System as one of the best holistic weight loss programs to end emotional eating, without guilt, without stress, and to achieve total self-mastery.  For more information and additional articles go to www.bodyologysystem.com.