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.


A Meditation Practice

Dear Sitting Still: Last week I answered your questions about why to meditate. Today I will offer you a 'how' to meditate. This is just one possibility of many ways to meditate and bring awareness into your body.

Lie down on the floor and rest. See how deeply you can rest, offering your body to gravity over and over again. Anywhere you notice tension, breathe, wiggle, and stretch into the tension and then release to let the tension go. Imagine yourself becoming a puddle, completely supported by the earth beneath you.

Begin to notice your breath. Feel your ribs stretch with each inhalation and relax with each exhale. Stay with this awareness of your ribcage for a few minutes. Stay curious as you sense and observe the breath.

Slowly turn your attention to your upper chest. Notice how your clavicles and shoulder blades respond to your breath. How does the breath press into the arms? Notice the stretch of the inhalation, the release of exhalation. Let your curiosity and attention stay in the upper chest for a few minutes.

Turn your attention now to your lower belly and pelvis. Breathe deep in your torso. How do your hips respond to the inhalation and exhalation? What happens to the floor of the pelvis? Rest your attention in your hips and pelvis for the next few minutes. Stay curious, keep observing.

Now take your attention out to the palms of your hands. Sense where they are in space. Feel the arch of the palm. Breath all the way out into the arch of your palm. Can you feel the skin expand on the inhale and relax on the exhale? It doesn't matter whether or not the sensation is real or imagined. Connect the breath with the palms for a few minutes.

Take your attention to the souls of your feet. Sense where they are in space. Feel the arch of the foot. Breathe all the way out into the arch of your foot. Can you feel the skin expand on the inhale and relax on the exhale. Remain curious and attentive to the souls of your feet for a few minutes.

Now take your attention to the top of your head. Imagine a flower blooming there. The flower opens a little further on each inhalation and relaxes on each exhalation. Rest with this image of the breath opening the crown of the head for the next few minutes.

Rest in silence now for as long as you like. Stay curious and keep your attention in your body, open and aware.

Slowly return to the present moment, to the room, to the sounds and space around you. Deepen your breathing and stretch out into your limbs. Wiggle your fingers and toes. Gently invite yourself back.