Avoiding chronic overuse yoga injuries is a multi-faceted issue, but using variability within the pose is an important way to prevent overuse injuries.
What does it mean for an injury to be a chronic overuse injury? It means you perform a movement in a habitual (chronic) way. In yoga, this could mean always performing specific postures with exactly the same alignment and never straying from an “ideal” position, or attending class with the same teacher who always gives the same cues, so you approach the asana in an unchanging way.
Occasionally changing how you approach postures varies the load you are experiencing throughout the musculoskeletal system. This means not only will you reduce the likelihood of chronic overuse injuries, you will also gain strength in a varied way. It also has an additional benefit for learning. When you practice the same skill in a variety of ways, you become better at the skill. While the goal might not be to be “good” at downdog or Warrior II, getting stronger and more efficient is a nice benefit to varied practice.
Adding variety can be as simple as changing the order in which you do the postures. If you do downdog/updog/chataragua, that will feel different than the standard vinyasa of chataragua/updog/downdog. Transitioning between two asanas you don’t normally place together results in different loading in both the transition and in the posture because you arrive at the final posture in a new way.
Another way to add variety is to vary how you do the asana. There are a number of easy ways to approach asanas in new ways, including:
• Practice the asana focusing on different parts of the body. Trikonasana (Triangle), for instance, can be done focusing on the feet, the hips, the spine, or the action of the arms. Whenever you change your focus in a posture, you invite the opportunity to do the posture differently.
Change your set-up. In downdog (Adho Mukha Svanasana,) you can set up with your hands and feet even, but what happens if you set up with one hand slightly forward of the other? Or one foot slightly forward of the other? Or the toes angled in? Or the toes angled out? How do these subtle changes alter your experience?
CHANGE IT UP
• Enter the posture in a different way. Do you always do your right side first in Warrior II? What happens if you do your left side first instead? Do you always set up the feet a specific way? What happens if you set up the arms first and then set up the feet in Warrior II? How does that change things?
• Don’t settle into the static hold of the posture right away. Give yourself time to move around a little bit in the posture by letting the weight shift or allowing the limbs to move before coming into the static hold. For instance, when you come into downdog, if you shift your weight a few times from your left to your right hand or you reach one heel down and then the other, pedaling the feet before you come into the final position, your nervous system has a chance to adjust to the position and you load the tissues dynamically, ultimately strengthening the final position.
Staying injury free in your yoga practice involves building strength and moving in a variety of ways— not just on your yoga mat, but in life. However, practicing the principles outlined above will keep you one step ahead of falling into a rut with how you approach yoga postures. Variety, as the saying goes, is the spice of life, and in the world of movement, variety keeps you healthy and injury free.
Jenn Pilotti is a movement professional, studio owner, and author. She holds a number of certifications as well as a M.S. in Human Movement. More information about her can be found at www.jennpilotti.com.
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