Yoga and Repetitive Stress Injuries
“Does anyone have any injuries?” I cannot think of one class I’ve been in where no one raises a hand, or as the teacher walks around there isn’t a whispered admission of pain. However, the most unfortunate part is that the pains we feel are often a result of our own yoga practice, and we don’t even know it.
Repetitive Stress Injuries (RSI) – as they are called – are common to all types of athletes. However, in 10 years of practicing yoga not one person ever mentioned to me that RSI could result from yoga.
To me, yoga has always been this soothing, introspective, stress reducing, happiness inducing, joyful bouquet of fluffy animal shaped chocolates I get delivered daily that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy both inside and out.
Yes, that is about every cute thing I can think of bundled into one metaphor when describing the feeling I get from practicing yoga.
Even as the years have passed and my various pains progressed, Yoga could only make me feel these wonderful, positive things right?!
Before I come to that though, you need to learn a little bit about me: I’ve been a dancer for 20 years, started Yoga and Pilates religiously at 18 years old, and have always been strong, flexible, and fit. I regularly attended Power Yoga class, Hot Vinyasa Flow class or Open Level “whatever I’m in the mood for,” that was fun and sweaty. With great music and a fast pace, these classes have helped me forget that I was three floors above the loud, booming streets of the effervescent city that is New York.
So, you can see why never in million years did I think I’d hear my doctor – a well-respected physiatrist and rehabilitation/sports injury specialist – tell me that I had Carpel Tunnel Syndrome in both wrists and would never be able to do Yoga again. All this just on the heels of my right shoulder blade injury flaring up, causing my neck to cease up, and push me into my second round of physical therapy treatments over a 3-year period.
Here is where it gets tricky. Even though my mental and emotional health, as well as fitness level, has always seemed positively affected by yoga – pain in my problem areas over past few years had accelerated. I was so frustrated and couldn’t understand why this was happening to me.
It took a whole year away from yoga and all other workouts, an increase in my intestinal problems, and my naturopath making me try Restorative Yoga, to finally push me down my own path to Yoga Teacher Training and finally realizing why I was in so much pain. Pain that I have overcome through my training in proper alignment and anatomy, two subjects I am now thoroughly passionate about as a teacher. I have made the teaching of yoga safety to prevent injury a priority in my practice.
All of this led me to the solution to my pain: I was in the wrong classes and practicing yoga the wrong way. I say wrong, not bad, but wrong. These were not bad classes, or even bad teachers. However, bad teachers do exist and you often don’t even realize these teachers are misinformed or poorly trained, because “they are giving you the workout you want and they shut the heck up and just let you enjoy just being upside down for an hour.” If I had a dime for the number of times I’ve heard that from the average yoga student I could pay my rent with that money alone.
What it means is that I was in the wrong level, at the wrong studio, working with the wrong teacher, or a mix of all of the above, because I did not realize that Level 1 and beginner classes are for everyone, at every level, and are a necessary step for all yoga practitioners.
Working with the right instructor privately, and/or being in a beginner level class led by a teacher who understands alignment and anatomy can change your life and your practice. Because of my certification training, I am now able to practice yoga daily, very much disproving what my doctor had told me. I can stay in Downward Facing Dog for 3-5 minutes, and can even do a handstand – a pose which I allowed to get the best of me for years out of fear of pain and suffering.
I owe all this to the right teachers, the people who taught me to look at myself and my students “from the ground up.” To look at every limb, every extremity and see not only that the hand needs to press down into the ground, but that somewhere else, lifting and space are needed in order to prevent the repetition of bearing weight in the same old places on areas that are misaligned, and that will cause pain down the road.
Yoga asks you to create space; physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually (even when you don’t realize it’s happening). For many of us, the only way to achieve the yogic ideal of “preventing future suffering” in regards to RSI is to overcome our egos.
We need to accept that we can handle advanced, open, and workout yoga classes, but only after we understand that there is a beginning to everything for a reason. Spending a few weeks or months with a teacher at a lower level – or working privately with a teacher to learn how to practice from a place of safety – is the same as a teacher starting each class with an “OM.” Everything has to start somewhere, so why not start at the very beginning.
Yvonne Cone teaching individual and group private classes this summer, and if you mention YinOva, you will receive a 40% discount on private lessons! Yvonne is also certified in Yoga for kids so she can do lessons for the whole family as well! You can reach her by email, here.
Yvonne is a New York City based yogi, actor, producer and Shakespeare teacher. Originally from Los Angeles, CA, she has maintained her practice the past 10 years studying yoga as a dancer, and then as a teacher. She has practiced yoga all across the country, but a shoulder injury, carpel tunnel syndrome in both wrists, and a couple of digestive disease prevented her from living her life and keeping her practice consistent for 2 years. During this time of hardships, lacking yoga and balance, Yvonne decided to take matters into her own hands and finally become certified. Her focus is on Vinyasa Flow, Ayurvedic Medicine, Anatomy, and Yoga as a stepping stone to a holistic way of life and healing. Her long-term plan is to become a health coach for artists in New York City, helping them integrate their artistic lives with exercise and diet. She is passionate about Ayurvedic Medicine, Pranayama, and Nutrition (particularly the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, the Low FODMAP diet and the Paleo lifestyle). Yvonne is certifying in Yoga for Kids and Yoga as Addiction Therapy/The 12-Step Program in Summer 2015, and is thrilled to integrate new techniques into her practice. She would like to thank the phenomenal training she has received with YogaWorks teachers Sarah Bell and Hollis Lewis, as well as Physical Therapist Reshma Adwar. Yvonne is currently teaching private yoga instruction and will be holding new donation based classes in the fall.