If you’ve been practicing yoga for a while, you are likely to be in pain from a yoga injury. As with any physical activity, yoga asana carries some risks, especially when practiced vigorously or without proper awareness of the limitations of the body. At best, these injuries are minor, heal completely, and serve to inform your practice through a deeper, more attuned awareness of your body. If injuries are not allowed to heal properly, they can become chronic areas of pain and discomfort.
Serious physical injury from yoga is still quite rare. In 2015, a 38-year-old man in Ireland broke his leg while practicing Ashtanga yoga. While moving into the Marichyasana B pose, he heard a loud crack as his right femur fractured 4 inches above his knee. While most yogis don’t have to worry about an unusual injury like this one, it raises important questions about yoga asana: What can one gain or lose by practicing a repetitive sequence like the primary series taught in Ashtanga yoga? And what should you do if you experience pain during or after practicing yoga asana?
Repeated yoga can put stress on the body
In my own Ashtanga practice, I have discovered that learning a set sequence can help develop a personal home practice. Repetition means spending more time focusing on the breath and current posture rather than anticipating what will come next. However, one disadvantage to practicing a set series is that it can result in injuries from repetitive stress. The tendency to repeat an action in the body becomes harmful if it is wrongly practiced, and without variation we can continue to burden the body.
Most likely, we’ve all been told at one point or another to “listen to our bodies”. But how we listen to our bodies varies from person to person, and learning to differentiate harmful pain from non-harmful ailment is something that even experienced yoga practitioners struggle with. So how can we take our own advice and allow our yoga practice to challenge us while still protecting ourselves?
Relieve chronic pain with these yoga poses and practices
- Distinguish the difference between discomfort and pain in your body. Discomfort is challenging, but pushing the discomfort too far can lead to pain. If you feel like you are on the verge of discomfort, it is likely a sign that you need to relax and withdraw. The discomfort should focus on the abdomen of the muscle that is stretching or attacking. If there is pain or discomfort in the joints, this is an important red flag to stop and back off.
- Vary the style of yoga you practice. If you start to develop chronic pain or suffer an injury, take a break from normal practice. Variations in the asana provide physical benefits and can help heal injuries. A restorative or yin yoga practice can help you demonstrate the benefits of slowing down and deepening your physical awareness in the poses.
- Get advice from professionals, but always trust your intuition. Consult a skilled yoga instructor, physical therapist, or doctor if you experience pain in your body, but don’t let others’ advice replace you. Remember that you are your greatest teacher.
- As you practice, focus on relieving tension and loosening muscles. Some muscles should work hard to help stretch the opposing muscles. Yoga asana should rarely be all strength or all liberation. Keeping this in mind can help prevent painful injuries from going too far in one direction.
- Learn the basics of alignment. Understanding how to maintain structural integrity in the body and how to support it rather than hurt it is important for anyone looking to avoid pain and injury in yoga. Use yoga blocks and other props to aid in good alignment in your practice.
- Do These Yoga Poses For Chronic Pain Relief: Start with simple gentle movements like cat and cow and gentle seat flexions and back movements. Then add Mountain Pose (Tadasana) and some slow sun salutations. Practice some restorative poses like Legs up the Wall Pose (Viparita Karani) and Supported Child’s Pose (Balasana).
- Try concentrated relaxation. Whether you try a relaxation pose like savasana or a targeted relaxation technique like breath awareness and body scanning, targeted relaxation can help relieve chronic pain. Integrate Yoga Nidra into your concentrated relaxation practice.
- Various meditation practices can help you become more aware of your life and ease your pain. Practice a calming or healing meditation technique like our inner peace meditation or our pranic healing meditation for the best results.
- Calming pranayama (yoga breathing exercises) like Dirga Pranayama and Nadi Sodhana Pranayama can relax the nervous system and reduce stress and tension.
Have you used yoga to relieve or eliminate chronic pain? What yoga poses or practices have been most helpful for your pain relief?