By Dr. Paul Jerard, E-RYT 500, YACEP
What are the main Yoga pose safety tips? What should teachers and students know about safety tips? There is so much that is good about establishing a routine Hatha Yoga practice. Yoga posture safety must be considered at all times. Any form of Yoga can be practiced at home alone, at the beach, in a park, with a friend, or in a studio, with a hundred other people of like-mind. Yoga can be, and is, enjoyed by children and seniors alike. It is health-giving, centering, relaxing, nurturing, and just plain fun.
Yoga Posture Safety Tips
However, even though Hatha Yoga is a gentle practice, and anyone can do it, it should be practiced safely, for the sake of avoiding injury. The fact is – we can injure ourselves at the dinner table if we take risks and refuse to pay attention to what we are doing. The following are some basic Yoga pose safety tips, to always keep in mind, in order to have the very best possible experience for many decades to come.
First, ask your students to be completely aware of the body’s limits. Learning to actually listen to their bodies is a primary lesson for our students. An attentive Yoga instructor notices when a student is tight in his or her body, or when a student is pushing to excess. For teachers, it is wise to give a reminder that being kind to the body, and approaching the practice with a gentle mind, is the path of Yoga. Basic awareness applied to postures is knowing we ate too much to take part in asana practice. Moderate awareness is knowing your edge while holding your pose without force. Advanced awareness is applied “off the mat” to real life situations that could potentially save or improve one’s health. As you know, all levels of awareness enhance our intuition. Finding a peaceful way to avoid a potentially hazardous situation, before it happens, is advanced awareness applied to daily life.
Along these same lines, Yoga students sometimes need to be reminded that Yoga is not a competition. We live in a very competitive world. A student trying to match, or exceed, the veteran Yoga practitioner, standing next to him or her, is a likely occurrence. Accepting the mindset of being exactly where one is at this moment, and not to compete, may be difficult for the new Yoga student. Still, full awareness of the present is a central piece of Yogic philosophy, which will serve students throughout their lives, as well as in many applications toward daily life and Yoga pose safety tips.
Practicing in Comfort
Clothing needs to be comfortable, both physically and psychologically. If clothing is binding, it is not healthy for the part of the body it binds and may contribute to injuries when trying to get into Yoga postures. On the other hand, clothes that are too loose, and feel exposing in some poses, can take one’s mind off the practice. Not being mindful can lead to unsafe movement.
A building with an unstable foundation is a complicated and unsafe problem for everyone involved. During standing, or balancing asanas, our feet are the foundation of the Yoga pose. Luckily, we don’t have to hire engineers or consider implosion as a solution for an unstable Yoga pose.
Bare Yoga feet are safe feet. The only exception to this is – socks that are specifically made for Yoga practice. Feet can slip – even on a Yoga mat – when wearing regular socks. The Yoga practitioner will also feel more agile and flexible with bare feet. Your bare toes are able to completely stretch out, flex, and grip the mat, as necessary. There is also a grounding and healing energy flow, when bare hands and feet are in contact with the floor.
However, it must be noted that some practitioners wear Yoga socks, which grip the floor. There are a number of reasons for this. Some students may have skin diseases, diabetes skin lesions, or another justified reason for wearing nonslip Yoga socks. For students, who need to wear specialized socks, it might be wise to avoid Hot Yoga classes because the mats tend to get wet with perspiration. Yoga teachers, who have classes at moderate temperatures, should have no problem with students who wear specialized socks designed for Yoga.
Mindfulness During Asana Practice
Mindfulness, in employing a few basic safety procedures, during asana practice, allows for the full richness of the practice to students and instructors alike. Yoga pose safety tips don’t have to be complicated, but they require students and teachers to think with clarity. The best studios have policies to avoid clutter and overcrowded rooms. Whether we teach classes or practice at home alone, we need a safe and clear space for an optimum practice. This may require preparation time before practice, but something like spilled water on a hardwood floor is a potential accident.
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Yoga Pose Safety Tips for Vinyasa Practice
By Kathryn Boland
Do you notice your students repeatedly practicing common Vinyasa poses in unsafe ways? What’s your approach to helping them learn to practice in safer ways? Vinyasa is arguably the most popular form of asana in the West – not surprising in a society in love with quick fixes, as well as sedentary bodies that crave movement.
There’s much misconception out there about Yoga pose safety tips, that are sustainable in a Vinyasa practice. Why? Some students want to just move, gain strength, burn calories, and get more flexible. They’re not as interested in subtlety. Some instructors give into the easy answer of teaching to this tendency, or lack the knowledge of how to teach Vinyasa refinements in compelling, accessible ways.
Let’s look at how we can do this within four common Vinyasa misalignments (both before and after the fact – with before ideal, but with the practical understanding that misalignments will occur, and it’s best to have tools to respond when they do). It’s all part of how you can use the gift of Yoga pose safety tips to help lead your students to greater wellness.
Runner’s Lunge – front knee past ankle
-Proactive cue: Before cueing students to enter the pose, guide students to make their stances long enough so that their back heels can rise out of the same ball of foot; say something to the effect of “we’re looking to stack joints in the back foot and front leg as we come into this next pose”
-Reactive cue: Make a general note about ensuring there’s a 90 angle from ankle to knee to hip in the front leg, for safety of the associated joints; quietly make this note to any student with the front knee far past the front ankle.
Jump-back – straight elbows
-Proactive cue: Offer a cue something like this, before cueing a jump back; “Please bend your elbows if you jump back – not doing so is like jumping from a high place to a lower one without bending your knees. No good for your joints!”; ask your students to look up at your mat, and demo a jump-back, pointing out your clearly bent elbows (90° from wrist to elbow to shoulder).
-Reactive cue: When it comes to safety, you can feel okay with holding your students accountable, as long it’s done with a kind and caring tone. Say something like “I saw jump-backs with straight elbows – please be kind to your joints and jump back with bent elbows, to Chaturanga!”; If it’s one student, make a note to them privately, with the same tone of holding accountable but caring.
Chaturanga (Staff Pose) – splayed elbows
-Proactive cue: Have students push themselves up from cobra pose, ensuring elbows are tucked into sides throughout, pointing out to them that continued placement throughout, and that they want to have that whenever they practice Chaturanga; Have students come into Chaturanga from Downward-Facing Dog, cueing them to draw elbows straight back as they lower.
-Reactive cue: Make a general note to hug elbows into the sides, feeling a drawing in and slightly back; Quietly note this to any one or two students with the misalignment, adjusting to the student’s(s’) strength, proportions, and other individual characteristics.
Warrior II: front knee caving in
-Proactive cue: Along with cueing Warrior II, guide your students to let the back hip swivel slightly forward and keep the front thigh engaged; Remind students of Mountain Pose qualities in the feet and legs (big toes and outer edges of feet grounded and insteps lifting, inner thighs squeezing into each other and outer thighs spiraling away from each other).
-Reactive cue: All of the above can be implemented at any point during the pose, to the group in general or quietly to one or two students; Offer one or two hands-on assists to guide them to the above qualities (if in the class context wherein hands-on assists are appropriate, and with permission from the student or students).
Student Self-Adjustments – Three to Try
Do you sometimes have students physically cue themselves? Do you recognize how that puts them in control of how they practice a certain posture, in a way that works best for them? Yoga is a very personal practice, because our bodies, minds, and spirits – from innumerable factors – are all different.
Yet the public yoga class model dictates that teachers guide groups of sometimes very different people in mainly the same practice. Yoga is also a learning experience. All too often, however, modern yoga instructors lead fitness classes without truly guiding students deeper into practice.
Showing students how they can adjust their own postures and use Yoga pose safety tips, is a way to address both considerations. These tools are also helpful in situations of large classes, when it can be impossible for teachers to assist everyone (visually or physically), as well as in contexts wherein instructor touch is contraindicated (such as in specifically trauma-sensitive yoga).
Students can use these tools to guide themselves into postures, as is best for them today, as well as learn in a very experiential and deeply kinesthetic way. Try teaching your yoga students these three self adjustments and Yoga pose safety tips, blended into your sequences as smoothly as possible. Om Shanti!
1) Hand(s)-on-Hip(s)- Warriors and Lunges
I like to use this in sequences with Lunges and Warriors. Have students place hands on hips to get a sense of their placement of hips in relation to each other – hip squareness or lack thereof. There are two dimensions involved in that, forward/back (Sagittal Plane) and up/down (—- Plane). That’s one reason (among others) why achieving hip squareness can be difficult for many students, sometimes taking many years of dedicated practice to accomplish more consistently.
This is one self-adjustment that can help students along in that learning, however. If you have the class time (such as in workshops or longer classes) and the kind of students with the necessary focus and interest, you could break down and explore hip movement in more depth. In other cases, when you might not have those resources, it can still help to have students place hands on hips with your concise guidance that it can help them feel whether or not their hips are square.
You can also sequence with one hand on hip, for those same purposes, with the other arm going into side bend or backbend (yet along for the ride, in truth, as the spine is where the movement is ideally happening). Have students spin the pinky edge of that hand forward, triceps forward and biceps in and back.
This positioning, with Yoga pose safety tips in mind, offers many fun, interesting sequencing possibilities – in and through Warriors and Lunges – while contributing to students getting a better sense of, and control over, proper hip placement.
2) Thumb-in-hip – Half-Split and Pyramid Poses
Square hip placement is indeed most stable and strongest, yet it is not something to force or work towards with aggression. Sacroiliac joint complications in the yoga world are a growing problem, partly because many yogis try to achieve a level of hip squareness that isn’t possible for their bodies (not without injury or strain that causes problems down the line). Remember ahimsa (non-violence).
That being said, here’s a self-adjustment that you can guide students to use, urging them to do so with gentleness and objective observation of how their bodies respond – and therefore backing off if necessary. Have students place a thumb in the hip cease of the leg that’s forward in Half-Split (Ardha Hanumanasana) or Pyramid Pose (—–). Tell them how the thumb there can help them first get a sense of how their hips are placed, and then help them draw that hip gently backwards. All of that can help add stability and greater effectiveness in the pose.
3) Hand-down-thigh – Figure-Four and Pigeon Poses
This adjustment is more restorative, and about lengthening rather than refinement of alignment. In Supine (lying-down) Figure-Four, have students traction away the closer thigh muscles with one hand, perhaps also applying small massaging motions.
This can also be done in Pigeon Pose (with appropriate prop support so as to not strain involved joints, it’s important to note and remember) on the thigh of the front leg, the one with the knee bent. Either way, this small self-touch adjustment can help students find more of the ease and release that these poses can offer. Moreover, they can know that they did that for themselves, with their bodies also perhaps a bit more aware of how. A win on all counts! Yoga pose safety tips can easily be incorporated into our classes and our at home practices of our students.
© Copyright – Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division