Common Pains in Yoga – Feel and Fix Them

It would be a lie to say that yoga is all pros and cons-free, as certainly there is risk in everything that we do. Fret not, like every other activity, it is entirely common to be exposed to injuries in yoga practice. The matter here is, to recognise the pains, and find ways to avoid and get relief from them. Right below are a few of the common pains in yoga, and let’s look into preventing them from a worriless yoga journey.

Neck

Shoulderstand and headstand posture may look cool, but be wary of neck injuries if not handled correctly. Unintentional placement of weight to the neck during these upside-down poses will lead to pressure and compression, and what comes after is an issue with the cervical vertebrae.

The piece of advice here is not to rush into performing inversion pose. Instead, attempt with modifications to build up core and shoulder strength, for these areas to be sufficiently strong to support the lifting. When you are ready to engage in the complete pose, bring awareness to your shoulder blades to have them drawn down and back on the mat to safely support the body. Do not attempt to jerk the head when your body is lifted up, as this can destabilise the body and causing a fall in return.

Shoulder

Another bother goes to the shoulder, which is frequently tensed when one unintentionally indulge in shrugging during the upward-facing dog pose. Overextending or overstretching are also the culprits for injuries on the shoulder girdle.

In the upward-facing dog pose, bear in mind to relax and let the shoulders roll down and away from your ears, sticking the chest out front. While holding your body up and forward, broaden by lifting the collarbones up and back, as palms are pressed on the mat, engaging the supporting muscles from arms, shoulders and neck. In stretching and binding poses, execute with care and do not exert too much force to achieve the pulling sensation of the shoulders.

Wrist

Wrist pain comes hand in hand with leverage, that being the unequal distribution of body weight mostly to the wrist joint. Very often, in yoga poses such as crow, plank, side plank and chaturanga, the wrist is prone to injuries when our body weight is concentrated on the supporting palm.

To avoid this, spread your fingers wide and press firmly on the knuckles of the palm and thumb, to get a good grip on the mat. Look out to stack your shoulder and elbow directly over the wrist, for the passing on of weight perpendicularly through to the ground. Not forgetting, it does help to give yourself wrist exercises beforehand to prep them for the heavy load ahead.

Lower Back

There is more to a backbend posture than simply bending the spine to go into a backbend pose like the wheel pose. Back pain develops when pressure is fed to the lumbar spine, which is when the spinal discs between each vertebra compress and letting out a bone-meet-bone friction to the spine.

To go into wheel pose without compromising the backbone, the core and leg muscles play a vital role to shift the pressure away from our spine. Engage the leg muscles and roll both thighs inward towards each other, as if squeezing a yoga block in between. This gives the strength to draw the tailbone away from the heart and towards the legs, easing the lifting up gesture. Always ensure the spine is in a lengthening position rather than compression, and expand the chest out to open up your heart when you are in the complete wheel pose.

Knee

Next comes the knee joint, where pains tend to occur with the bending of knees, such as in chair pose, warrior 1 and warrior 2. Similar to the relief for the wrist joint, always be mindful to transfer your weight to the ground, and to achieve this, ensure that your knee is bent vertically to the heel. As for the leg that is kept straight, give a micro-bend to the knee, as you do not want the knee to bend too far backwards, thus resulting in a hyperextended knee.

While in a low lunges position, pressure may accumulate on the knee that is kneeling on the mat, causing discomfort to the knee joint. Placing a knee pad cushion or even a blanket under the knee works well as the pain reliever here.

Conclusion

Pain is a norm and if you do not already know, there is good pain and bad pain in yoga. Good pain is usually prominent when you are in a discomfort posture, but it is short-lived and will disappear once you are relieved from the pose. The worry here is the bad pain where one is exposed to sharp pain or the feeling of numbness, and the pain does not fade off even after you have released from the posture. Friendly reminder, do not let the fear of pain fend you off from practising, but instead, breathe in awareness to feel each and every part of your body; be it pain, tightness or discomfort. Understanding and accepting your body is the pathway to a meaningful yoga journey, and while you are ready to embark, keep in mind to start slow, but start right.

Exploring My Journey With Yoga

“Yoga? Nahhh it doesn’t sound cool and I don’t think I will be able to sit still and meditate like you do.” said the 15-year-old me as I declined my mum’s invitation to a yoga class.

Boring, suitable for the elderly, slow and dull – that was my first perception of yoga. When I was in my teens, my only hobby was playing online games. Long hours of sitting in front of the computer, not for work but for gaming and it could last up to 16 hours – 24 hours without resting. My mum would often nag and worry about me because I did not eat, sleep, rest well and I behaved like a troubled teen. The same routine went on for years until I went to university.

Fast forward to the time where I have gotten a job in Singapore and I was excited to start a new life in a new country. As a person who has just started her working life as a newbie, I was so passionate and indulged in my work that I even spend all my free time during the weekend just to get work stuffs done. One month past, following by two months, six months, and twelve months… I realized that I have been repeating the same old steps every day without fail. I started to realise how long more should I continue to spend my life like this? Kept thinking and wondering, isn’t there anything else that could spark my interest again besides work? I wanted a change as I feel like there is nothing else for me to cling onto except work.

As if my “want” was being heard by the universe, I was soon being invited to a yoga class organized and conducted by one of my acquaintances. I attended the class with the intention of supporting her, however to my surprise at the end of the class I felt that hey, overall it wasn’t that bad thou! A week later, it was so coincident that another friend of mine invited me to go for a trial class at a yoga studio. I was so excited about it! It was a hot yoga class in a hot room, I was attracted by the voice of the teacher, it is so soothing and calming that I wanted to go for more classes. Once the class ended, I vividly remembered that moment where I felt awesome! My body felt recharged and I was enjoying it so much. I decided to sign up for annual membership. Along the journey, I met great teachers, including a teacher who always inspires me in all ways until today. I changed from a person who doesn’t really have any awareness towards myself, and slowly I am able to have my mind and body connected. I felt so much improvement in my flexibility which was really encouraging and kept me going.

Well, as usual, life is always filled with ups and downs. After a few years of practices, I feel that my practice has reached a stagnant stage. I started to feel demotivating because there are certain poses that I have been practising for years, and yet still not able to achieve it. I didn’t stop my practice, but somehow I was like forcing myself to practice, it felt like I have lost my passion. Hence each time when I go for a class, even thou I was there physically, but my mind and soul weren’t there anymore, it was like a robot that takes instructions from the master and performs accordingly with muscle memory without any awareness nor emotion. 

At a point, I wish to have a change in my life again and yes, the universe heard me once again. I was being transferred to Japan and it was truly a blessing that I chance upon a yoga studio and started my Ashtanga/Mysore journey with my sensei. The biggest difference of the practice is that it is a self-practice class that I need to memorize and lead myself into the sequences. The practice requires all my attention and awareness in the class, and I learned so many new things and it totally opened my eyes to new perspectives. I learned that yoga is not only being flexible, but strength is equally important! Thanks to the sensei who was being strict during the class, I further improved so much in just a year. 

2 and half years later, I was being relocated to Singapore again and it feels nice to be back here. Encouraged by my family and friends, I have decided to take my yoga journey to the next level and here am I, going through my YTT with Tirisula Yoga. I am so thankful to have met Master Sree, and my fellow course mates – Claudia, Sandra and Sundram. I have again learnt things in different aspects which I have missed out in my past yoga journey – philosophy, spiritual, new insights and sharing every day. Happy and proud to say that we are currently in the last week of YTT, kudos that we have made it here!

This records my yoga journey started back in 2015, and I believe that there will be more to come!

P/S: All the best to the students who are going to have their exams soon! Jiayous! 🙂

Self Acceptance

“Stop comparing yourself with others”; “You are good enough”; “You are who you are”

 

I truly understand what they mean, but I had been struggling to put them into action. With the over-flooded information all over the social media/internet in the modern era, it is difficult for us not to compare ourselves with others, regardless of anything. As a yoga practitioner, have you ever had the thought of comparing yourself with someone else you see? For me, the feeling of envious rises when I see others who are able to perform a posture effortlessly and elegantly; desirous to attempt advanced poses; insatiable and often seek attention, compliments or improvement. In the next moment, I would be filled with disappointment, self-hatred, discouragement.

I started off yoga with a curious and humble mind, without any expectation and judgemental towards the practice, just like a newborn baby. As I practice over the years, perfecting an asana posture or attempting any advanced posture became my priority or even the goal of my practice. These thoughts have been slowly forming up in my mind unconsciously, until recently that I read about the eight limbs of yoga.

Ahimsa, the first guidelines that come under Yama, it is referring to non-violence, to have kindness and compassion for self as well as others. It also teaches us to be mindful of how we treat ourselves, others, and the environment. It doesn’t refer solely to action, but also to the words and thoughts that we use on ourselves or others. This is totally a new angle to me as I have never thought that what I had been doing to myself was an act of violence. Looking back at my practice, I would constantly push myself over my limit even though I am physically tired or having body ache, I judged myself for not being able to perform poses that are beyond my capability. Even when my body says no but my mind would say yes, don’t be a loser, try harder, work harder!

Aparigraha, the last Yama on the list, is known as the concept of non-greed, non-attachment and non-possessiveness, to be satisfied with what oneself have. After reading this I noticed how greed and possessiveness have slowly taken over my joy in practising yoga. As I focused on my performance and results in more than anything else during my practice, I wasn’t being able to enjoy the present. I would be disconnected easily and lost the intention that I have set prior to the practice, I could easily get distracted by the action of the person on the mat next to me by comparing myself to the person.

The lessons have brought me to relook into my yoga journey, about what I have done to myself and what I want to do to myself in the future. I have decided to start practising the following in my daily routine:

  • learn to communicate with my body by feeling it whether it is okay to give myself a little bit of push more, or when to take a step back.
  • letting go of any expectation that comes into the mind, be it fly or fall.
  • paying attention not only towards myself but also the surrounding around me, learn to respect and not giving pressure.
  • learn to love myself and love the people around me equally.

I am glad that I do have the courage to face the emotions and inner thoughts within myself. It may be a long journey, but at least, I appreciate that I have started it off.

The Psoas a.k.a the Hip Flexor

Hmm? Nani? Whut’s Psoas?

That was my first reaction when I heard about this unfamiliar muscle during the class. In my previous classes, I usually heard about instruction to engage the core or quads when we practised poses related to the lower body, not really the psoas.

What is the Psoas?

The name ‘psoas’ is of Greek origin, which means the ‘muscle of the loin’. The psoas is the strongest and deepest muscles in a group of muscles called the hip flexors. It is a combination of two muscles, the psoas major and the iliacus. Together these two muscles are known as the iliopsoas muscle. The psoas allows us to perform several movements such as running/walking by flexing the thighs, lateral rotation of the thigh (bending the knee outwards in figure four/eka pada utkatasana), and lateral flexion of the trunk (side bend).

Where is the Psoas?

The psoas is located in the lumbar region, which forms a strip of muscle along each side of the spine, extends through the pelvis and connects to the femur. This muscle works by flexing the hip joint (hip flexion) and lifting the upper leg towards the torso (leg flexion).

Why is the Psoas important?

Apparently, the psoas muscle is extremely important and popular as it often gets itself involved in many issues and problems that the general population deals with. A weak or inactive core might also cause the iliopsoas muscle to be tight and can be a significant contributor to the lower back and pelvic pain. If the psoas isn’t activated, or when the psoas is weak and is not supporting the back, or that when the psoas is too tight, other muscles may come into play to compensate and end up often resulting in lordosis which is causing the back pain as it is overarching in the lumbar spine. Long hours of sitting or doing activities such as cycling, weight-training exercises, sit-ups without stretching may cause the hip flexors to become short and tight.

Awakening the Psoas on the mat:

Practising asanas that require activation of psoas enables it to stay strong, healthy and flexible. By doing so, it does help to create a balanced posture.

> Urdha Mukha Svanasana

Engage the psoas major to lift up the pelvis further and avoid dumping most of the weights onto the wrist or shoulder.

Step-by-step:

  1. Come into a table-top position by aligning the wrist underneath the shoulder and knees underneath the hips.
  2. Lift the hips up, at the same time straighten both elbows and ground the heels on the floor.
  3. Reach the pelvis up towards the ceiling, and try to draw the sit bones towards the wall behind, your body is currently in the shape of an “A”.
  4. Press the floor away as you lift through the pelvis.
  5. Flex the hips by contracting the psoas muscle and its synergists, which are the pectineus, adductors brevis and adductors longus. Attempt to drag the feet towards one another for engaging these muscles.
  6. Hold in this pose for 5 to 10 breaths.
  7. Exhale as you bend your knees and lower them down onto the mat to release them from this pose.

> Navasana

The strongest hip flexors – psoas major and the iliacus works primarily when we lift our legs up in this pose. The quadriceps and abdominal muscles function to support rather than initiate this lifting action.

Step-by-step:

  1. Sit on the mat with both knees bent, feet on the floor. Place the hands behind the knees, lift the chest up, engage the back muscles as you inhale.
  2. Engage the inner thighs and draw the lower belly in and up.
  3. Tilt-back on the back of sitting bones and lift the feet up to about knee height with toes pointing.
  4. Extend the arms at shoulder level and parallel to the floor.
  5. To challenge further, you may straighten both legs.
  6. Stay in this pose for 5 breaths, and slowly work up to 10 breaths.
  7. To exit from the pose, lower both feet down on an exhalation, relax in Dandasana.

All the while I have been thinking that the core is the central player in most of the asanas and just found out that you do require activation on the psoas too. In the future, if this thought ever cross your mind: “Ehh I have been activating my core but how come it still doesn’t work!?”, probably you might want to start engaging your psoas muscle in the posture too!