YOGA is often hailed as the cure-all for aches and pains.
But all that downward dogging may, in fact, be making your aching back worse.
At least, that’s what a study published in the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies claims.
It says that 21 per cent of existing injuries are exacerbated – not cured – by yoga.
It also says that in 10 per cent of all people who do the exercise, yoga actually caused musculoskeletal pain (so that’s anything related to the joints, bones or muscles).
That’s surprising because many of us believe that yoga is a preventative form of exercise that can protect runners and gym goers from seizing up and getting injured.
So what’s the truth? We spoke to Michael James Wong from Boys of Yoga about the potential danger from yoga.
Men’s Health reports that blokes now make up “an unprecedented 28 per cent of all downward doggers”, so we asked Michael if he could talk us through exactly what yoga we should be doing if we’re injured, and exactly what risk all that backward bending might pose.
“Yoga is not a practice that will exacerbate injuries if practiced with authenticity and integrity,” Michael told The Sun.
“The physical side of the practice will help to strengthen and support the body and mind, but there is a mindfulness to all parts of the practice, and listening to your body, creating ease in any effort and prioritising the breath are all essential.”
In other words, if you’re attempting to do yoga without thinking about what you’re doing, then A. you’re not really practising yoga, and B. that’s when you’re more likely to do some damage.
As for existing injuries, Michael told us that you have to be hypervigilant about how your body feels.
“When dealing with injuries, it’s important to understand that we’re in a state of healing and recovery, so the focus that we must have with everything and anything we do is immensely important,” he told The Sun.
“Injuries have a way of reminding us to slow down, take it easy and have more awareness in our action and attitudes.
“Without it, anything can exacerbate our injuries. The physical practice of yoga, if done with a lack of knowledge, awareness, control or care may not be supportive of injury rehabilitation, but that goes to same for anything we with a lack of awareness.
“If you are dealing with an injury, practice lightly.
“Speak to you doctors, physios and specialist to ensure that you’re ready to step on the mat, and once ready, start gently.
“There are styles and practices like restorative and yin yoga that are easeful and integrative providing low impact on the body.
“If you need to strengthen and build, then stronger, but considered practices like Iyengar or slow alignment based dynamic practices are also valuable.
“At the end of the day, do your research, listen to your body and practice mindfully.”
Injuries affect everyone – they’re not gender specific.
However, according to Arthritis Research UK, more women live with hypermobility (HM), and that’s something to be aware of.
“If you have this range in your joints and body, extra attention to needed to ensure safety and alignment in the body,” Michael said.
“For myself and students who have certain levels of HM in the body, my advice is to never go to extremes. Practice at 80% to the range and extensions in the body, but with enough space to maintain muscular engagement and attention.”
OK, so that’s what the yoga expert says.
But what about your weight lifting PT?
Rob Leiby is a trainer at Ultimate Performance – a gym dedicated to body transformations.
He told The Sun that the 20 per cent of people mentioned in the study whose injuries have been exacerbated with yoga “may have seen yoga as the only option within a wide range of treatments and strategies available”.
“This means they may have blindly participated in yoga without realising that it is unsuitable for dealing with their injury and this in turn will lead to the injury potentially getting worse.”
Specific cases aside, Rob told us that one of the main reasons for musculoskeletal pain is weakness in the body.
“If a muscle is not doing it’s job properly then this can lead to a whole host of complexities in other areas of the body such as pain, tightness, or imbalances.
“The tension and tightness is then misinterpreted for inflexibility and yoga is chosen to alleviate that when in actual fact it is the weak muscle not doing it’s job properly that is causing the problem.
“Yoga works more on flexibility/mobility than strength which makes participants more flexible but also weak in certain cases and areas.
“However yoga can be great for mind and body when used properly but like with anything it is important to have a balance of different disciplines and practices to create optimal health.”
“Find the type of yoga that is specific to your fitness level, yoga experience, physical needs and desired enjoyment level.
“For rehab, performance or any other goal, I would not recommend solely doing yoga and would always be looking to add in resistance based work or specific training suited around the injury or goal.
“At UP, our preferred method is to focus primarily on strength combined with flexibility and mobility if needed in order to build muscular balance and an ability to handle impact.
“When you are strong, the body has a massively decreased chance of getting injured and if done properly then weight training can help improve a vast array of different injuries.”
The study mentions a lot of injuries are around the extremities such as ankles, wrists and shoulders, and Rob said that most of those will be related to the weight bearing stress on those specific areas involved within yoga – “and that is directly associated with how weak the individual is”.
“Once you get those areas strong then the likelihood of an injury will be decreased.”
Of course with any study like this, you have to look at the numbers.
21 per cent of injuries are more harmed by yoga, but that means that 89% are helped or not affected by the practice.
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That’s a huge number of yogis who are being helped, or at least not injured, by going with the flow.
There’s an element of risk with all exercise – particularly if you’ve already got an injury.
Before any class, an instructor (should) always ask if you’ve got an injury, and then give you modifications if any moves might concern that particular area or muscle group.
But as Rob says, if you’re injured because of your gym routine or running route, the chances are that there’s a weakness somewhere.
Yoga has a whole load of healing benefits but if you really want to avoid injury, you might want to work on strength training and use yoga as a tool through which you can learn to really listen to your body.
Michael will be teaching at this year’s Wanderlust 108 Festival – the world’s only mindful triathlon – which is due to take place in London on 15 September.
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