What can yoga teachers do about preventing joint injuries in class? As yoga made the move from a spiritual practice to a fitness craze, the incidents of injury naturally began to climb. Factors such as students with pre-existing injuries, “no pain, no gain” classes, overcrowded studios, overzealous students, and aggressive instructors have all contributed to an increase in injuries. Over the last few decades, yoga participation worldwide has grown exponentially. A 2012 survey published by Yoga Journal showed that practitioners of yoga in the United States had reached over 20 million compared to the 2008 numbers, which were 15.8 million.
Skeletal Injury Prevention
It is no wonder that the potential of injury in yoga has been showing up in news headlines. Teachers should have student safety policies in place for preventing joint injuries. However, there are a variety of ways to injure one’s self during asana practice. Joint injuries are among the most common. The body is comprised of different types of joints, which include hinge joints, gliding joints and ball and socket joints.
• Hinge Joints: Particularly vulnerable in yoga are the hinge joints, which are the knees and elbows. In a yoga class, the greatest risk of injury to hinge joints is hyperextension. However, it is visually easy to assess when a student is hyperextending a joint, and explain to him or her to counteract by bending the joint out slightly. Slowing movements down and avoiding hyperextension is a big help in preventing joint injuries within the knees and elbows.
• Gliding Joints: Certain asanas put a great deal of pressure on the gliding joints, which are the wrists and ankles. Offer props to students with wrist problems to relieve some pressure in weight-bearing poses like downward dog. Also, explain that not all the weight should rest on the heels of the hand. Advise students to press down with their knuckles and spread their fingers. The lotus pose is the clear winner for ankle discomfort. Suggest to students with weak ankles to practice a modified lotus pose. In addition, students may need to use a wall or chair as a prop for balance poses until the stabilizing ankle muscles have strengthened.
• Ball and Socket: Many poses can strain the ball and socket joints, which are the hips and shoulders. It is very common for people to tense up and shrug their shoulders in certain postures. Instruct students to keep their shoulders back and down. Most yoga related hip injuries are due to pushing too far into a pose. Stress the non-competitive nature of yoga and encourage students to listen to their bodies.
Advice for Teachers
Do not allow late entries to classes. Students who are late to class present the highest risk to themselves. They often show up after the opening announcements and warm ups. Additionally, they are often new to asana practice and you know nothing about their health condition. New students bring fresh energy to our classes, but they often lack knowledge about health conditions and potential risks due to movement.
How would you like to shake hands with a student after a challenging Vinyasa class, while she mentions that she is almost five months pregnant? It happens! If anything goes wrong, who are they going to blame? Know the current physical condition of each student before you teach a class. How else would you know if a student had osteoarthritis of the hip?
During the warm-up is a good time to visually assess your students, and look for potential joint issues. From there you can make suggestions for modifications that will aid in injury prevention. While preventing joint injuries is extremely important, we must do our best to help students understand that pushing and impatience causes many injuries in life, sports, and Yoga practice. In fact, if a student pushes hard enough in pranayama practice, there is potential for harm. Our mission is to keep students out of harm’s way.
© Copyright – Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division
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