Even in a mostly non-aerobic form of exercise like yoga, there are some risks which must be considered before you start. Information provided by the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons shows that most injuries resulting from over-stretching and muscle strain. Repetition will increase the likelihood of these injuries, so it is wise to be made aware of them before hand. Below you will find the most common areas that these problems can occur.
If you have any previous injuries in these areas, extra care will need to be taken. Additionally, some poses can also aggravate conditions if you have been diagnosed with any of the following conditions:
- Pregnancy ( includes certain risks to your unborn child )
- Osteoporosis, especially in severe cases.
- Spine or back problems
- Ear problems
The simple guidelines listed below are not just for those with the above mentioned conditions, but should be followed by anyone who is looking to get started with yoga. Following these tips will go a long way towards preventing injury.
Pre-Existing Conditions or Pregnancy: Before starting any fitness routine it is very important to consult your healthcare provider before starting. They will help to determine what forms of yoga are safe for your specific conditions.
Get an Instructor: By having a trained instructor help you, they will be able to ensure you follow the proper forms and techniques. Many injuries can be avoided simply by having someone with experience nearby to make sure you properly utilize the routine.
Start Slow: Yoga is not a competitive sport. There is no need to try and outdo anyone. It is very important to learn the essentials such as proper breathing, and maintaining balance before you begin the more advanced stretches.
Yoga will NOT a Replacement for Medical Care: Yes there are many benefits, and yes yoga is often included in many treatments. This does not mean you can neglect your regular visits to your healthcare provider. Make sure that you still get the treatments recommended by your physician
Be Aware of Your Limits: There are different forms of yoga, so it is important to inquire from your instructor or other practitioners about the physical demands of each. Stay within your limits by finding out exactly which form of yoga will work best for your individual situation.
Maintain Proper Hydration: While this is true for any exercise, some forms of yoga are meant to make you sweat more, releasing toxins from the body. It is vital that you consume the proper amount of fluids, not just for your immediate health but to get the maximum benefits of yoga.
Always Warm Up: Not warming up before a routine means you will be working out with “cold muscles”. A proper warm up session goes a long way towards preventing injuries.
Proper Attire: You will want to wear clothes that will allow free movement of your entire body. You don’t want to get hung up on overly loose clothing, or constrict blood vessels from being too tight. You will be in a wide variety of abnormal positions, so dress appropiately.
Ask: A stupid question is one that isn’t asked. Ensuring that you fully understand the exercise is one of the best ways to avoiding hurting yourself. Never be afraid to be shown a pose again before trying it on your own.
Be Aware of Signals from your Body: Other than from stretching more than normal, yoga is not a routine that should hurt in anyway. If your joints or muscles hurt, stop immediately what you are doing. The same is true if you experience chest pains or dizziness. If you continue to experience these problems after you cease the routine, get medical attention right away.
Common conceptions about yoga are that you have to move and stretch like a gymnast. This creates the false impression in many people that they are simply too old, or not in good enough shape to try yoga. This is definitely not the case as there is never a bad time to improve your dexterity.
Yoga works by following a series of poses that safely stretch your muscles. You may experience stiffness, tension, muscle pain, and fatigue but this is perfectly normal. This comes from the release of lactic with repeated muscle use. You will also be putting your joints through a greater range of motion than you normally would, which will work towards increasing lubrication, providing a sense of smoother, easier motion.
Yoga can provide you with increased flexibility in a relatively short amount of time. The routines work more than just your muscles, by stretching virtually all of the soft tissue throughout your body. Tendons, ligaments, and the fascia sheath surrounding your muscles will all benefit from a proper yoga routine. One particular study has shown that students gained up to a 35% increase in flexibility after only eight weeks of training. In this study, most improvements were found to be in the shoulders and trunk area.
For those of you who wish to improve your muscle tone and overall strength, there are more rigorous routines to follow. Ashtanga and Power Yoga are two styles which are more intense, but help to improve your strength as well.
Remember though that even the slower, more meditative styles of yoga will also work to improve your general strength. Even with less movement along with more focus on precise posture you can still make gains in both strength and endurance
There are many poses which work very well towards building upper body strength. Examples of these are the downward and upward dog, and the plank pose. Maintaining upper body strength is very important as we get older. The standing poses will also provide an increase in strength to your abdomen, quadriceps and hamstrings, most notably when the poses are held for a longer period. You can also strengthen your lower back with the upward dog and chair pose. As long as you maintain proper form and any the exercises correctly, you can build core strength in your deep abdominal muscles.
By developing your core muscles, it will be much easier for you to stand and sit straight. Almost all of the poses in a routine will work towards developing your core strengths. Yoga also tends to improve one’s awareness of their own body, so they are more likely to notice when slouching. This not only has physical benefits but can have a surprising increase in mental health as well.
With all of the deep, relaxed, controlled breathing involved in the yoga routines, it should go without saying that your lung capacity will improve. This also goes a long way towards increased stamina and endurance, that will help you to perform better in just about any sport. To get the maximum aerobic benefits from yoga, try a power yoga session in a heated room. It might not be as intense as running or cycling, but you will experience benefits all the same.
The majority of yoga routines focus on deeper, longer breaths of air. This will help you to relax, and is the polar opposite of the fight or flight response from adrenaline.
Stress Relief as an Added Benefit
Since many yoga routines focus on deep breathing and relaxation exercises, it goes without saying that you will feel less stressed after even one session. Meditation techniques will help quiet your mind of all the chatter running through it that is an underlying component of stress. With deep breathing exercises and meditation, your mind will calm.
From this there are going to be biochemical responses in your body that provide a great deal of stress relief. There are many explanations for this, a simple example is a significant decrease in catecholamines, produced by the adrenal glands when under stress. With lower levels of neurotransmitters such as dopamine, or epinephrine, you will experience a calming sensation. There is also research out there which suggest that there is a link to yoga and a boost of the hormone oxytocin, commonly known as the trust and bonding hormone. Higher levels of oxytocin is associated with being relaxed, as well as connecting to other people around you.
In the heart disease program created by Dr. Dean Ornish, yoga was featured as a key component. His program is regarded as being the first treatment program to actually reverse heart disease to a small degree. By slowing the heart rate, blood pressure is lowered, while improving conditions like heart disease and stroke. There are also studies which suggest that there may also be an antioxidant effect from yoga as well. Benefits of this can include an increased immune system function, with lower cholesterol and triglycerides levels.
Concentration and Mood
If you know anyone who practices yoga, or read testimonials online you will many people stating that they experience far greater concentration along with the ability to focus. Many will also claim to be happier and more fulfilled in general. These are items which can’t really be pinned down by science as of yet, but with so many attesting to these benefits they are impossible to ignore. Some research still in the early stages suggest that the increased blood flow to the brain helps in treating cases of depression. While results are not yet conclusive, yoga is also being used in some cases to alleviate symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder as well.
Benefits to Other Medical Ailments
Therapeutic yoga has started to be used in treating an ever growing list of medical conditions. This integrative yoga therapy ( IYT ) is used along with other therapies to treat everything from heart disease, depression, and back pain. The breathing exercises have also shown to help relieve recurring symptoms of asthma, while proper techniques have also helped those who suffer from arthritis. As of now, most of the worldwide research is being conducted outside of the United States, but there are fully funded clinical trials in regards to insomnia, and multiple sclerosis.
Greater mental well being can help improve conditions in just about all areas of day to day life. Lower stress and a calm mind can help to improve memory, or even expedite the learning process. Researchers are still trying to pin down and prove if/how yoga can increase energy levels, and even self acceptance.
When it comes to mental health it is still very hard to prove factually what these benefits are. Nonetheless there are millions of people worldwide who provide plenty of anecdotal evidence that yoga has improved their lives. All you have to do is go to a yoga class and ask the participants what yoga has done for them. You will likely hear more than just talk of fitness improvements, but increases in spirituality as well.
No matter what reasons motivate you to try yoga, it is definitely true that it will provide you with a great many health benefits if utilized properly. Try it for yourself, see what yoga can do for you. Most likely you will become one of the millions of people around the world who tout the benefits of yoga.