The dangers of a One-Size Fits All Approach to Yoga and how to minimise risks. 

By Rob Solly

The BBC caused a stir in the yoga community this month when they published a news article about the risks of injury caused by yoga. The article is based on an interview with physiotherapist Benoy Matthews, who says that he is receiving increasing numbers of patients with yoga related injuries, particularly to their hips and knees.

According to Mr Matthews, the main cause of injury is yoga practitioners attempting to put their bodies into “prescribed” yoga positions, when their body-shapes simply won’t allow it. The solution is for teachers to learn to modify postures so that they are appropriate for each individual yoga practitioner.

What are the dangers of a one size fits all approach to yoga?

The article highlighted many things I feel about yoga and its implementation. In yoga we’re often told that all bodies are different; we come in all shapes and sizes but then we’re given the same set movements and go about them as if we’re all the same.

The article correctly points out that some people’s physiology simply does not allow them to contort their bodies into some conventional yoga poses, and in doing so they risk causing injury. For example, if your hip flexor tendon is tighter than normal (it can lock off in teenage years) then the pain and time you’d have to go through to lengthen it is probably not worth the return of investment and may cause injury pushed too hard. 

How can we minimise injury in yoga using a more tailored approach?

My experience of yoga (14 years, 18 countries, 62 cities) is that the ‘teacher’ is very much a guide and the practice of yoga in a normal yoga class is a closed forum. For example, it’s extremely rare for a student to stop and ask a question midway through their yoga practice. I believe accountability and ownership of the yoga postures and practice lies with the student BUT they should be encouraged to ask, enquire about the poses they’re doing, and the teacher should have the knowledge and experience to respond appropriately.

With the yoga postures should come knowledge, an understanding passed from the teacher to the student. Rather than be told that “this yoga posture is good for digestion” or describe the move in terms that we don’t understand, I believe that the basic anatomy of the yoga pose, the muscles involved, the stresses on the body and the benefits should be passed on, as well as cues to optimise the position.

How can we tailor our approach yet keep a regular yoga class structure?

The typical approach with the yoga teacher at the front of the class and rows of students facing them needs to adapt to the needs of the yoga students. Does the class have to be stuck to a matt? I’ve always drawn from the line drills of martial arts and gymnastics to allow movement, repetition and for the student to see others around them performing yoga moves (taking tips and cues) as not everybody is performing the pose at the same time.

Should we worry about yoga injuries?

Serious injury caused by practicing yoga is rare, so long as practitioners are following the guidance of a qualified teacher. The benefits of practicing yoga far outweigh any potential risk of injury.

Serious injury caused by yoga can be avoided by taking a personalised approach to asana practice, working within the confines of your own body and avoiding the temptation to ‘push’ yourself into a posture that just isn’t right for your body. if you’re going to spend a lot of time on the wrist, weight bearing, then warm them up, strengthen them, prepare them for the task ahead.

Practice what feels right for you and remember that every body is unique. Yoga is ultimately a personal journey.

Rob is an elite fitness coach and educator, he was the first person in the UK to be certified by DBC in Biomechanics and Human Movement and is an EXOS Performance specialist. Rob has helped transform a range of people from high profile individuals, weekend warriors, mums and athletes. He is a firm believer in empowering his clientele through coaching and education.

Rob will be running a series of Yogaline LevelUp Workshops in the new year. Based on the latest training methods used for elite athletes Rob will coach you through the experience and thrill of doing your first head/handstands. Teach you the methods to hold poses for longer, increase your strength, flexibility and mobility to prevent injury. Suitable for Yogi's of all skill levels. Sign up to the newsletter to find out when these are happening. 

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