Yoga is the union of body mind and soul. In sanskrit it means “steady comfortable pose” and is meant to be a meditative healing practice. You should feel energized and renewed afterwards and after practicing for some time your muscles and bones should become stronger.
However for some, this is not the case. They start to experience some back pain in their backbends or start suffering from knee and other joint pain.
These injuries happen due to being misinformed about proper alignment in the poses and pushing your body too far when it does not have the required flexibility for a certain pose.
Having hyperextended elbows or knees for example means that in certain poses like Downward facing dog you need to micro bend your knees to avoid overworking the knee joint. The same goes for Plank or Upward dog for the elbows. When you start jumping into Chaturanga there can be a lot of pressure on the elbow joints and the wrists. Those who suffer from Carpel Tunnel Syndrome should take great care when doing such transitions and it is best avoided. When in Downward facing dog the weight should be shifted to the legs and the heels to avoid pressure on the wrists. If the fingers are spread wide, the rest of the weight will be distributed to the saddle joints (thumb joints) and cause less pressure on the outer parts of the wrist. If you have hyperextended elbows your arms should not be locked straight but slightly bent (micro bent).
Another pose which can easily cause knee injury over time is Warrior 1. Lets use the right side as an example. You are standing in Warrior 1 with your right foot forward, toes pointing forward. Your left foot is at the back of the mat at a 45 degree angle and your hips should be squared to the front of the mat. For those who have the flexibility in the hip joints, this pose should not be too difficult. However if you still lack that flexibility in the hip, often times in order to square the hips to the front, the left knee joint becomes the joint you use to twist further. This is where injury happens. The knee joint does not have the capacity to rotate in this way. The knee joint is what we call a “hinge joint” and is structurally designed for flexing the knee when we walk or run. What you should be doing instead is to widen your stance a bit more and only turn the hips as far as comfortable. There should be no tension in the knee.
Backbends are great poses to work on the flexibility of your spine and to open up your chest and shoulders. If done incorrectly however you can cause the vertebrae in the lumbar spine to compact and over time can cause greater injury and problems.
When in Urdvha Danurasana for example you should not be contracting your glutes as this will put strain on the lower back. Instead use those large quadriceps (they are big muscles for a reason) to lift yourself up and contract the hip flexors for a greater lift. Push the floor away with your heels and keep your toes pointing forward. If the chest is not open enough yet there is a tendency to feel too much stretch in the lower back. If this is the case you need to work more on the flexibility of the shoulders to open them up more and push your chest forwards in this pose.
With yoga its all about your own practice and your body’s own limitations. You may try to push yourself because you want the pose to look perfect just like those yogi’s you see on Instagram. Being really good at something takes a lot of time and effort and should not be rushed. Listen to your body, it will thank you later 🕉 Sheri