Overstretching Injuries

Dear Yogini: What does it mean to overstretch? Can I injure myself in yoga or do too much? ~~ Yoga Enthusiast!

Dear Yoga Enthusiast: What a great question to ponder as I recover from a knee injury. Yes, you can injure yourself in yoga and you can overstretch. Like any exercise, there are risks. To avoid injury, you must learn to listen to your body. A teacher can observe your form and alignment, but cannot feel the internal strain. Your most important teacher is inside you: listen to your intuition. Pain comes in many forms: the ‘aaahhhh’ of a good stretch, the “yay!’ of challenging hard work, and the STOP! before an injury. Only you can interpret these sensations. In general, pain that is sharp or within a joint is to be avoided.

A healthy yoga practice begins by warming up with gentle stretches, followed by weight postures and flow while saving the most intense poses for last. Your range of motion will increase as your muscles warm with work. Keeping your range of motion inside your maximum flexibility and strongly engaging your supporting muscles will prevent most injuries. Good sequencing of postures helps to prepare the body for intense work and restore itself afterward. Cool down with restoratives, constructive rest or savasana.

Overstretching can result in tears and strains to muscles, tendons and ligaments. Minor injuries may recover quickly, but some can take weeks, or even months, to heal. Torn hamstrings, caused by overenthusiastic forward bending, are a fairly common yoga injury and notoriously slow to heal. Maintaining integrity and strength in the abdominals and quadriceps as you forward bend will help support the stretch. Never allow anyone to use force to stretch you into the STOP! zone.

Flexible people can be more prone to yoga injuries than those of us who are less flexible. If the tendons and ligaments across the joints are overly mobile and/or you sag into your stretches you can wear down and weaken joints over time. Back and knees are particularly sensitive to this kind abuse. Also avoid jerking across joints. Flexible bodies can achieve stronger postures by backing off of their maximum flexibility while working on strength to support mobile joints.

If you do strain a muscle or joint slow down and give it a chance to rest and recover. Do gentle and restorative yoga while your body repairs itself. For severe strains use the RICE method: rest, ice, compression and elevation and see a health professional. Working with a qualified yoga teacher can help you avoid injuries.