Our bodies are made to move. And not only that... but in an astonishing variety of ways! Most sports injuries are repetitive motion injuries. And although it is not a sport, yoga is no exception. If you practice yoga regularly, you are likely doing the same movements over and over again. It is easy for imbalances to develop. These imbalances can eventually lead to injury. Yoga is the only form of exercise that I have done for the last seven years but it is not a complete form of exercise. Here are just a few of the things I incorporate into my practice to round it out.
1. WORK THE LEGS. We stretch the hamstrings and the hips all the time in yoga. But I have found this much more effective when balanced with strength work. I consciously incorporate isolated strength work and a hearty regimen of standing balances into my practice to actively work my legs and hips. As somebody with extremely tight hamstrings, and as counterintuitive as it may seem, I have found that the deepest release is made possible by working these muscles first. The same is true with the outer hips. There are a gazillion creative ways to do this - from supine, prone, side-lying, kneeling, standing, you name it. Maintaining the strength of the hamstrings to support the increased range of motion can help to stave off hamstring tendon tears which are one of the most common overuse injuries in yoga. Similarly, learning how to tap into the deeper layers of the gluts, brings integrity to the hip joints as well as a sense of spaciousness and ease to the lower back. Balancing the emphasis on mobility with stability will go a long way in terms of keeping us healthy in our practice for years to come!
2. STRETCH THE CHEST AND STRENGTHEN THE UPPER BACK AND POSTERIOR SHOULDER. These two things must happen together in order to create lasting change. We do so much pushing in yoga (think plank, downdog, handstand) and very little pulling. Not to mention we have eyes on the front of our heads and are always leaning forward driving, texting in our little phones, etc, etc. The muscles and fascia of our chest can become tight and adhered and the upper back if often overstretched and weak. Chaturanga, improperly practiced, or extensive arm balancing without effective counterpose, can actually aggravate this situation. If we are mindful, however, we can use our practice to reverse these tendencies. This not only prevents injury but improves our posture, encourages fuller and deeper breath, and generally enhances our sense of well-being.
*Poses like the prone backbends (especially salabhasana and you can exaggerate the effect by externally rotating the arms) and reverse tabletop/purvottanasana are invaluable for all of the above.
3. AWAKEN THE BACK OF THE ROTATOR CUFF AND LEARN HOW TO EFFECTIVELY STABILIZE THE SHOULDERS. In my own personal practice and in working with others, I find that the infraspinatus and teres minor are often weak or inhibited especially relative to their powerful antagonists the subscapularis, pec major, delts, and lats. There are all kinds of ways to strengthen the external rotators. Don't be afraid to think outside the box! One of my favorite techniques is from baseball. Learning how to engage these small but crucial muscles has helped me enormously in poses like downward-facing dog, side plank, pincha mayurasana. This engagement is often only possible when the more powerful internal rotators have first been released through MFR, yin, etc. Again it is the balance between mobility and strength that supports the long-term practitioner.
4. MOVE THE WRISTS INTO FLEXION. With the exception of padahastasana and a few others shapes intentionally placed into a flow, the wrists are almost always in extension. So this just feels really good! If you love vinyasa yoga, incorporate hand, wrist and forearm therapy into your weekly practice to keep these small joints healthy and happy. See if you can find some of those juicy trigger points up near the outer elbow!
5. BOUNCE! Think of how many sports include an element of bouncing. And yet it is something we do very little of in yoga. Break up your flow with a little dance party if you have to or incorporate handstand hops into your warm-up and standing series and get your heart pumping!
7. MOVE IN DIFFERENT ANGLES AND AT DIFFERENT PACES AND LEVELS OF INTENSITY. Switch it up! This is as helpful mentally as it is physically!
If you are curious about any of these and wish to know specific exercises or would like suggestions for sequencing, please don't hesitate to reach out. Thanks to all of the wonderful teachers out there for sharing their incredible knowledge and to my past injuries for raising my awareness.