Yoga is widely recognised as a hugely beneficial practice, not only for the body but also for the mind. But can you have too much of a good thing?
The practice has gained a huge following due to its combination of physical, mental, and spiritual elements, among those seeking the kind of activity that also promises a more mindful way of living.
In our fast-paced, stressful and often desk-bound modern lives, spending time to slow down and listen to our bodies is far from a bad thing. But like all areas of the health and fitness machine it is rife with competition, lack of understanding, poor coaching and a smattering of social media-fuelled peacockery.
Risk of injury
Yoga has made a huge impact in the fitness industry. It's not rare for my Insta feed to be sprinkled with vegan bodybuilders, extreme wellness bloggers and even sausage dogs performing eye-popping asanas. But that doesn't mean it is without its risks with yoga-related injuries becoming increasingly more common, often involve the neck, back, knees, wrists and shoulders.
Those most prone to injury are people who seldom exercise and have a largely sedentary lifestyle. It's not unsurprising that suddenly forcing new ranges of movement can cause issues.
In multiple Australian-based studies, evidence has shown that yoga-related injuries have sharply risen in recent years, including injuries that are serious enough to require hospital treatment. Some of these consisted of dislocated shoulders, severe tendon injuries in the knee and herniated disks in the spine.
A stretch too far
There is no denying that yoga is an excellent way to stretch one's muscles and open up a range of movement lost in the rigors of adult life. But this can be detrimental and risky if an equal amount of work isn't put into stabilising this new-found muscle range.
By stabilisation, we aren't talking funky bosu-ball hand-stands or swiss ball pistol squats; we are talking bread-and-butter strength training: squats, deadlifts, lunges, and overhead press to name a few. Basically, all the exercises that make a well-rounded strength workout.
A muscle that has a lack of stability often means it can be overstretched, and this has negative consequences for nearby joints and connective tissue, ranging from microscopic tears to full-blown ruptures in muscles, tendons or ligaments. Spending hours each week stretching a muscle group such as the hamstring and then expecting it to adapt and react in sudden movements is a tall-order. So don't entirely skip the weights for perfecting toe pretzels just yet.
Doing this trains the brain to be able to call upon the necessary muscle fibres when needed. It'll also strengthen and build not only main muscle groups but all the little stabiliser muscles that often go unnoticed as well.
Like all things to do with your body, care must be taken. If your body feels like it is going to snap the next time you are forcing an Astavakrasana, then hold back a little, focus on your breathing and allow your muscles and connective tissue to ease into the movement. If you have any current injuries or any history of neck, back, shoulder, wrist or knee issues then re-consider jumping straight into your next yoga class.
For the majority of people, the benefits of yoga far outweigh the risks, but like most things to do with your health and fitness; listen to your body first and don't settle for a poor coach!