Stu's Top Tips to avoid Pain and Injury

*Practice with kindness and compassion.
*Don’t ignore pain! It is not an opening.
*Immediately modify your practice to allow an injury to heal.
*Don’t force.Allow your breath to guide you.
*Don’t sacrifice good alignment just to get into a pose.
*If you keep getting the same issues get a teacher to check your technique.
*Don’t just rely on listening to your body if you are the type of person that doesn’t feel things until the next day.You will have to be more sensitive about what you are doing.
*Be realistic about your competency and choose the appropriate class for your level.
*Keep your ego in check, and don’t compete with yourself or others.
*Make sure you get enough rest and recuperation, and keep yourself well hydrated especially in hotter climates.
*Find a fantastic teacher that is also kind and compassionate.

Here are 9 videos I made to discuss most common injuries and their cause when practising yoga asana.

This page is all about trying to understand the things that can help prevent or reduce the risk of getting an injury or pain and what to do if you get one.

It’s not just about being broken but also about good ways of practicing, engaging, aligning and balancing. Lots of these posts have been spread across the website so hopefully with everything in one place you can learn and research what will be useful for you.

It’s fair to say that many of the pains we can experience during an asana practice might be the highlighting of things we have done to our bodies whilst off of the mat.

Issues due to postural patterns, bad habits, working conditions, other exercise or hobbies and accidents are just a few examples. It may even be that what we are experiencing is due to stresses placed on the body by tensional patterns arising from the way we are constructed.

For example the made on Friday syndrome, when whoever put us together just grabbed whatever was closest, gifting us a shorter leg, uneven pelves, a scoliosis or an excessively kyphotic spine, valgus or varus knees (knocked knees or bow legs) or any of the other strays from ideal.

However the fact remains that as wonderful and therapeutic as yoga can be it is also easily possible to hurt ourselves doing yoga in much the same way as any other form of physical exercise.

Ambition, lack of concentration or understanding, strength imbalances, improper technique, insufficient strength to flexibility relationship or dodgy alignment are just a few of the ways we can land up harming our bodies rather than nurturing them.

Matthew Remski  is just one of the teachers that has recently been highlighting some of the things that can go wrong, and his articles are well worth a read. It’s not even fair to just blame it on the student’s ego or forcefulness.

Sometimes issues accumulate through bad technique, excessive repetition or lack of understanding, we may fall out of postures awkwardly, heavily load joints unexpectedly or mistake pain and discomfort for something else (ok that one you will have to except some blame).

We can also just be having a fragile day, we do everything the same as always but today something gives out, we may have slept awkwardly, strained doing the gardening the day before, or not had enough rest and recuperation, who knows, shit happens!

When we are injured it can be a very frustrating time and the longing to get back to a full practice can often lead to a cycle of returning too soon, re-injury and layoffs. I’ve started this page to try and collect together the information on this site that relates to injury so that you might primarily avoid injury and in the event of mishap find the right information to restore you to your beloved practice as soon as possible.

Wisdom from David Keil
David Keil

David Keil

Talking about injuries in yoga is always more complex than it seems. What everyone wants, is to know the “right” way of doing things as opposed to doing it the “wrong” way. This leads to an oversimplification of what comes together when we get injured.

We often start by saying something like I just injured my X while doing Y posture. This is relatively true. You were doing a particular asana and an injury occurred as that happened. The larger truth is more vague and elusive. Of course, you have to deal with the immediacy of what has happened. But you should also be reflecting back on what has led to it.

There are many possibilities about the literal cause. Of course, it could have been something in the moment. Perhaps it built up over time. In that case, there were probably warning signs that may or may not have been acknowledged or ignored.

My observation over the years is that students are more likely to get injured when they’re not being themselves. What I mean by that is that they are applying an alignment cue or technique to their body that really doesn’t fit what is happening in the moment.

We have all done this, and we all do this. In other words, the general rules of alignment and technique are GENERAL. Sometimes they don’t apply to your body, ability, or where you are developmentally in a particular posture. We inadvertently try to stick a square into a circle and it doesn’t fit.

With that in mind, aim towards an ideal in a posture, but know that you are going to go through a process to get there. Don’t try to hurry to the end.

David Keil

A Few Words on Pain by Matthew Sweeney
Ramana Maharshi

Ramana Maharshi

Pain is both a defense mechanism and a reaction to change, whether physical or psychological or both.

Physical pain in an Asana is also a warning and a call to pay more attention. Once your body has a sudden increase in pain, this often means you have not been in awareness of the previous stages where your body was warning you of discomfort. When your body said, “No. Stop! Back off!” Did you listen? Doing a practice repetitiously but without constantly refining both awareness AND adjusting the body as appropriate, is a recipe for disaster: incessant pain.

So this is where we practice “yoga”, not to accomplish postures and increase control, and increase pain and increase attachments to the physical self. But rather to promote awareness and health through doing the most simple postures and movements with balance, integrity and peace.

By being aware of the increase of physical discomfort you can start to adjust each and every posture and vinyasa to suit you body’s needs in the moment. In this way, most major physical pain can be avoided, and so joy, aliveness and awareness can increase.

I am not a believer in the “no pain, no gain” theory. This theory is merely a way to cause harm and project your pain onto others. Reduce your pain by being aware, and simply stop trying to do all postures at the end range of motions. Rather work at around 70-80% capacity to maximize awareness, effort and effortlessness.

Psychologically speaking:

We only allow ourselves to change when the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of changing. – Henry Cloud

In this way ALL habits eventually lead to pain and suffering. To paraphrase Ramana Maharshi – suffering prompts us to be aware, so in this way pain and suffering are pointing us (or even dragging us) towards liberation. Without it, we are likely to continue to plod along in ignorance. Not projecting your pain and suffering on others however, is also very important. Learning how to reduce pain and transcend your suffering may be a lifelong journey indeed, but it starts here and now, and for every moment from here on, liberation is possible.

Matthew Sweeney,
February 24, 2016

Matteo Pistono

Matteo Pistono

Do no harm: A Buddhist take on Ahimsā and injury in our yoga practice by Matteo Pistono

Ahimsā (Sanskrit) — hiṃsā is to injure, harm or hurt; a-hiṃsā means the opposite, do no harm.

Ahimsā supports the yogi’s spiritual development. Ahimsā forms the container within which our meditation, concentration and samādhi arise. Without a steady practice of ahimsā, the great yogis of the Buddhist, Jain, and Hatha Yoga traditions assert our spiritual path is without direction.

What does ahimsā look like for a Buddhist?

Ahimsā most obviously means not to kill or physically harm any being. In todays ever more interdependent world, it also means that yogis committed to ahimsā must examine how their own actions and words directly or indirectly support wars, racial conflict, or for example, the breeding of animals for human consumption. This way of looking at ahimsā is an outward approach that assesses how our words and deeds affect others and the world around us?

Yet, ahimsā, for a Buddhist, first and foremost means doing no harm towards one’s own body and mind. This is an inward perspective on ahimsā. This body and mind is where the practice of non-harming and compassion begins. We are advised to consider what we put into our body and how it affects us. If any food or drink harms our body, is that loving or compassionate care for ourselves? We can ask ourselves simply, “Is this food or drink nourishing and replenishing, or am I eating or drinking this out of habit, cravings, or addictions?” Additionally, we are compelled to think about, and indeed reduce as much as possible, the suffering of other beings who are affected by our diet.

Not only does the yogi consider their sustenance, but it is of utmost importance to evaluate what we expose our minds to. What films, books, social media, and television do we spend our time watching and reading and how does it pattern our thoughts and thinking? Does viewing endless loops of Instagram images or Facebook postings calm our heart and mind, or does it create fluctuations of jealousy, competitiveness, or body-image obsessions?

What happens in our mind immediately and in the long-term when we repeatedly watch scenes of violence on the television or cinema screen? If we intend to embody qualities of love, empathy, compassion and wisdom, it is worth considering what seeds we are planting in our own minds through our choices.

Finally, when considering yoga postures, and injury, what is the Buddhist perspective?

Yoga postures are one kind of skillful means employed so the body can sit in a comfortable posture for an extended period of time. A still body becomes the container within which our mind calms down and single-pointed concentration can be cultivated, eventually leading towards insights into the true nature of our experience. Nourishing the body, and quieting the mind through yoga āsana is practicing ahimsā from a Buddhist, Jain and Hatha Yoga perspective.

Still, we find yoga practitioners often injuring themselves doing āsana. The reasons injuries happen are always multi-faceted, and sometimes not entirely clear. Often, however, the primary energy that propels injury stems from the yogi not supporting their āsana practice with ahimsā. Why do we ignore that swelling in the joint and still torque the knee into beautiful looking but injury-exacerbating, bound position? While there is a cathartic thrill in many dynamic postures and vinyāsa transitions, is injury-inducing strain really practicing ahimsā? Why do we choose not to use a supportive prop like a block or blanket when our body is calling for it? We move into the realm, here, where the ego highjacks our yoga āsana practice and our body feels the pain. This is precisely the time to dial it back a few degrees, recall our commitment to non-violence outwardly and to ourselves, and then, reengage our practice with a sense of long-term commitment towards ahimsā.

Matteo Pistono teaches meditation, prānāyāma, and Buddhist philosophy. Matteo began studying Buddhism and Haṭha Yoga in Nepal in the early 1990s, and later lived and worked in Tibet and the Himalayas for a decade, which he has written about in two books: Fearless in Tibet: The Life of the Mystic Tertön Sogyal (Hay House, 2014) and In the Shadow of the Buddha: Secret Journeys, Sacred Histories, and Spiritual Discovery in Tibet (Dutton-Penguin, 2011). Matteo earned a Masters in Indian Philosophy from the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London in 1998. He has studied Buddhism under Tibetan meditation masters and engaged in extensive retreats regularly over the last twenty years. Matteo maintains a daily Ashtanga yoga practice and studies with David Garrigues.

Matteo Pistono

A Few Words by Paul Dallaghan

paul-d-chaturangaAdapt “plank” into all poses. This means a very supportive and engaged core, primarily below the navel. This proximal base and stability is matched by a more peripheral (distal) mobility. Plank is inborn in Samasthiti. This is the essence of all poses.

Even the classic sitting meditative asanas only becomes possible to maintain, with internal attention in place, with this “plank” support, from pelvic floor to navel. When it collapses in sitting one’s mind is already aimlessly wandering. If this core is compromised in “doing” asanas then the likelihood of injury and feeling completely unnatural in the asana is greater.

An excerpt from Your Body Your Yoga by Bernie Clark
bernie clark

Bernie Clark

Just as no one else has your dental pattern, no one else has your bone structure, your spine or your hips. Why think, then, that what someone else can do, you should be able to do, too? Or why think that because someone else can’t do something, you also will fail?

There are things you can do right now, there are things that you will be able to do in time, and there are things that you will never be able to do. This is not a critique of your abilities or a reflection of your personality or some flaw that needs to be fixed – this is simply the reality of your existence.

A five-foot-tall ballerina will never play right tackle for the Seattle Seahawks, and the right tackle for the Seahawks will never win an Olympic gold medal for figure skating. This does not mean that the ballerina is flawed or the right tackle is lazy. A snowflake, in all its beautiful uniqueness, will never be a galaxy of stars. Why would it ever try to be something it cannot be? Better to be a great snowflake. We need to understand our uniqueness and our natural limitations.

Bernie Clark

Danny Paradise

Danny Paradise

Some insights from Danny Paradise
I’ve now been doing Ashtanga Yoga for 40 years. I started May 2nd 1976 with the amazing David Williams and Nancy Gilgoff in a beautiful park in Maui, Hawaii. Over the years I’ve gone through many physiological and emotional changes doing the practices.

Fortunately through modifying my practice when necessary and paying conscious attention to using the forms to heal I’m still able to maintain a relatively consistent practice. Every day is different. I don’t think about what I was able to do yesterday but rather what is comfortable and possible today to maintain my equilibrium, deep breath and a pain free practice.

Fortunately I have learned endless lessons about healing and maintaining vitality through these principles with more lessons to come. Besides for healing, Yoga is an amazing tool for creating evolutionary consciousness, tranquility, energy throughout our lives as well as for learning how to communicate with the Soul of Nature or even the Heart of the Universe.

Call it what you want. Define it however you choose. The secret in the practices is the deep, slow breath to create life force, internal locking for protection and never pushing into pain. These and the other teachings of Yoga are ancient Shamanic principles linked with all Shamanic explorations and practices on Earth. Ultimately Yoga is an exploration of personal authority and personal responsibility ultimately leading to universal responsibility.

‘Sharp like a razor’s edge is the path,
The sages say, difficult to traverse.’
So understanding how not to slip off the edge and cut yourself is the endless challenge…

Danny Paradise, April 25/2016

Chris Kummer

Chris Kummer

Engage, engage, engage! Chris Kummer
In the world of Biotensegrity – the world our bodies operate in, evenly distributed tension facilitates both smooth and free movement.

Now is the time to learn and evolve from practicing with disconnected body parts. Move with a unified body by engaging relevant muscles to spread the load of asanas along the fascial body suit.

Lack of adequate tension allows forces to go to areas of least resistance, which strains or develops weak spots. Transforming your practice is often surprisingly easy. A few applications of current anatomical knowledge can help.

Chris Kummer

Stu's top Back tips
  • Rounding the spine in forward folding postures can often lead to strain being placed on the lower back, particularly if you are pulling yourself forward.
  • So many people I see for bodywork have tight quadratus lumborum (QL) muscles (they sit in the low back area between the bottom rib and iliac crest). Sidebending can often create space and soothing to tightness and discomfort in this area.
  • Be careful to check you are not hinging in backbending at the bottom of the ribs (T12-L1) or right at the bottom where the spine meets the sacrum (L5-S1). Invariably even if this feels ok now it will lead to instability and pain.
  • Opening the front of the hip to allow more extension will help to take strain off of the lumbar area when backbending.
Stu's top Shoulder tips
  • Don’t rush into doing too much jumping/floating make sure you have gained sufficient strength and stability. Even if you are an established practitioner don’t go jumping on your first vinyasa let the shoulder joint and muscles warm up first.
  • Binding can place a lot of stress on the shoulder if you in the right position to take the bind.
  • Don’t put the shoulder in a compromising position just to link your hands, focus instead on positioning your body in a way that is right for you and stays true to the essence of the posture.
  • Shoulders are inherently unstable so work diligently on creating strength and stability, especially so if you are already hypermobile.
  • There is of course a direct interaction between wrist/hand placement and shoulder alignment so you need to be aware of foundational quality and symmetry.
  • All those small repetitive movements involved in mouse control and smart phone use play havoc with the shoulder so if you want a happy and healthy shoulder and neck complex quit your job, get rid gadgets and join us for sunset on the beach 🙂
Stu's top Hip tips
  • Look for unsymmetrical range of motion between sides and aim to restore evenness.
  • The ability to take our leg across the front of the body (adduction) will make twisting around that leg easier.
  • If you are hyper-mobile use bolsters when doing yin style passive postures to protect the ligaments.
  • Working on the ability to externally rotate the hips will often enhance your ability to forward fold in both legs together and abducted positions.
  • Even though the hips can be stubborn, work sensitively and slowly to open them.
Stu's top Wrist tips
  • Make sure you practice on a firm surface so that you can create a solid foundation. Soft surfaces like carpet and sand can lead to stress being placed in the wrist as weight is more likely to be distributed unevenly.
  • Warm up the wrists thoroughly before doing a lot of arm balances and handstands. This is something that is often forgotten in the yoga room.
  • Don’t lift the heel of the hand in jump backs, jump to standing, lifts or jump thoughs. This may be done intentionally or subconsciously to try and create more space to get through, but it is a disaster for the wrist as it tries to stabilize your weight from an insecure position.
  • If you are new to yoga slowly build up the number of vinyasas that you perform. We walk around on our legs so the wrists need time to adapt to weight bearing.
  • Consider hanging for wrist and shoulder health. Take a look at Christopher Seiland’s article for more information.
  • When you hands are weight bearing make sure you bring your attention to the base of the thumb and index finger so that you avoid taking more weight into the outside of the wrist.
Stu's top Hamstring tips
  • Be very sensitive to pain emerging near the sitbone and immediately ease back your practice of FF.
  • Stubbornly resistant hamstrings can sometimes lead to us giving them a hammering in an attempt to encourage them to co-operate. Sometimes less and gentle is more effective.
  • Watch out for hyperextending knees in forward folding postures.
  • Be especially aware in wide legged forward folds as this can place more strain on the medial hamstrings as well as adductor magnus.
  • Use a block or bolster to sit on if you feel that you cannot sit up and lengthen the spine in seated forward folds.
Stu's top Neck tips
  • Keep you arms straight in jump throughs and when going up into handstand to avoid building tension in the upper trapezius.
  • In twisting postures don’t lead the twist with the head just softly position it, keeping strain out of the neck.
  • Get a teacher to show you how to do chakrasana properly, and if in doubt leave it out.
  • Make sure you are lifting the weight out of your head in headstand.
  • In shoulderstand think of using blankets in an Iyengar fashion to allow for a more gentle angle of the neck.
  • Avoid straining in postures as this often lands up as neck tension.
Stu's top Knee tips
  • If you are collapsing in your arches work hard to keep them lifted, this will help to reduce the inclination for the knees to roll in which will place strain on the medial aspect of the knee.
  • Try drawing back the toes to stretch the plantar fascia and lift the arch. In standing postures it is better for the knee to keep it facing in the same direction as the foot.
  • Open the hips in external rotation to take stress off of the knee in postures that involve full or half lotus.
  • Change the first foot into lotus regularly to avoid stressing the left knee. Of course first make sure you are open enough in the hips to do full or half padmasana. NO LEVERING!!
  • Don’t think it is safe to ignore knee pain you will just bollocks it up!
  • Be aware that in certain positions a dorsiflexed foot can torque the knee (ie. a narrow frog or when the leg is drawn back from parallel to the front of the mat in pigeon.