There is little doubt that yoga is good for body and spirit. Health care providers are encouraging people to take up yoga as a good way of strengthening and stretching muscles and joints (particularly as we age), while reducing stress at the same time.
Many people view yoga as a calm, placid form of exercise. While this is true to some extent, people need to keep in mind that yoga does involve a lot of hard work as well, and if not performed correctly, can cause injury. Yoga is a good form of exercise, particularly for those who may experience pain in areas such as the back or knees, making many other types of exercise nearly impossible to practice. The elderly can benefit greatly from yoga, as it helps to keep muscles strengthened and stretched, which can significantly reduce the risk of falls, the most common type of injury sustained by those over age 65. In fact, yoga is good for just about anyone, but just ensure that you find a teacher and class that is appropriate for your level of fitness.
A Popular Form of Exercise
Yoga has been gaining in popularity every year due to its proven benefits to both the mind and body. However, along with that increase in popularity comes an inevitable increase in the number of injuries that are reported. In 2007, for example, there were 5,500 yoga injuries reported by a doctor or hospital. Although this may seem like a large number, considering that there were an estimated 15.8 million people engaged in yoga practice that year, the rate of injury is only 3.5 out of every 10,000 people; similar injuries caused by weight training involve approximately 15 people out of 10,000, and golf injuries account for 39 out of that same number. Still, certain rules should be kept in mind while you practice yoga to help make sure that you avoid contributing to the injury statistics.
William J. Broad, in his book, The Science of Yoga, discusses the difficulties often involved in finding an appropriate yoga teacher. He says, "the United States has no regulatory body for yoga therapy. The field is, on the whole, completely unlicensed and unregulated. There is no such thing as a Registered Yoga Therapist. Applicants for registration usually face no requirements to establish their education credentials, to pass national exams, or to show other evidence of expert proficiency. Registration, in short, bears no comparison to the rigorous world of health-care certification."
Some poses (which are called asanas) need a more advanced level of skill if they are to be practiced safely. A sign of a good yoga teacher is that her or she will stress the importance of never doing more than you are comfortable with, and will either offer alternate forms of the same pose or will advise you not to do a pose that they feel may cause an injury. As you hone your practice, you may slowly be able to work up to the pose if the appropriate muscles have been adequately strengthened.
Yoga Safety Tips
One suggestion, if you are a yoga novice, is to enroll in a beginner’s course that uses a simple form of yoga such as Iyengar or Hatha, which concentrates on perfecting the alignment of each pose. If you jump directly into a more challenging course such as Bikram or Vinyasa yoga, which emphasizes the achievement of a smooth flow from one pose to another, in what may involve a complex sequence of movements, it may not allow your body enough time to learn postures correctly without increasing your risk of injury.
The key to safe yoga practice is to always be tuned to what your body is telling you. Although your muscles ought to work and stretch, if you are excessively straining or if a pose causes pain, you should immediately come out of the pose and rest in child pose (which involves lying face-down on the floor pulling your knees to your chin and stretching your arms in front of you or placing your hands next to your ankles).
Be sure to inform your yoga teacher if you have an injury before class begins to enable him or her to demonstrate a variation of the poses to use that can take your limitations into account. Yoga is one of the best ways to reduce stress while simultaneously strengthening your whole body, increasing your level of flexibility and improving well-being. And if you can practice it safely, you can help to ensure that you will keep in good shape into old age.