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10 Tips for Safer Yoga
Listen to your body Your teacher cannot feel your bodily sensations, so that responsibility lies entirely with you. Tune into your body and see how it feels in the pose. If it feels painful, stop.
Speak up Your teacher should ask at the start of the class if anyone has any injuries or conditions that would affect their practice. Ana Forrest asks her students to write a short history of their conditions or injuries on a nametag. Don’t be shy about sharing your injuries (old or new), sensitivities (super tight hamstrings) or conditions (pregnant). The more your teacher knows about your body the more he or she can offer modifications, or adjust her way of touching you.
Ask for modifications If the full expression of the pose looks too scary or requires strength and flexibility you just don’t have, ask the teacher for a variation. That way you can learn the structure of the pose without risking injury.
Know the difference between sensation and pain Avoiding injury is not the same as avoiding sensation. As you ask tight muscles to engage, you may feel some discomfort. Move slowly into the posture, pause when you feel a moderate stretch, and wait until there’s a release. If you can’t release the muscle, you’re too close to your edge and you need to back off.
Don’t be afraid to disobey the teacher Any time a teacher gives instruction that feels harmful or tries to push you further into a posture, exercise your right not to do it, says yoga teacher Roger Cole. If you’re doing a pose you aren’t ready for because you feel a need to please or imitate the teacher, recognize that and back off, he suggests.
Accelerate your practice slowly Start with a beginner’s class even if you’ve tried yoga a few times. Jumping into a more advanced class is a recipe for injury. Ashely Miller believes she never got injured because she progressed carefully and started with a firm foundation of technique and alignment.
Learn from your injuries Getting hurt is by no means inevitable in yoga but if it happens to you, pay attention to how it happened. Were you tired? Angry? Ambitious? Did you follow instructions? Were you pushed too hard either by yourself or an instructor? Are you practicing the right type of yoga?
Breathe deeply Using the breath to guide your practice is one of the fundamental tools in yoga. It oxygenates your muscles but also keeps you centered and helps you stay focused on the postures.
Be mindful For many people, if you aren’t being mindful when practicing yoga, you aren’t doing yoga. You’re just stretching or exercising. If you’re not paying attention you aren’t getting the full power of yoga.
Do your own practice As Jason Crandell reminded his students, don’t compare yourself to others or even to yourself. Every day is different. A certain pose might be easy one day and hard the next. According to Cole, the person who is doing the best practice is the one who’s tuned in to what he or she can do at that moment -- and honoring it. “If you still want to make it a competition, think of it this way,” he says jokingly. “‘How can I be more me than you are you?’”