Are you a yoga teacher, or a teacher in training and searching for common yoga injuries and how to avoid them? Both for yourself and your students? Well, you’ve come to the right place! We’ve been instructing yoga teachers for a few years now on how to teach so that you help to reduce the potential for injuries in your practice.
Common Yoga Injuries
First, let’s talk about the most common injuries we see at the clinic from yogis and long-time yoga teachers. Here’s a quick list:
- Lower back pain
- Ongoing wrist soreness
- Tight hips flexors
- Shoulder strains/rotator cuff injuries
- Hamstring issues
Top 5 Reasons Yoga Teachers Develop Injuries
Second, let’s tackle why we see these injuries in the clinic. Most are not acute injuries by the way. They develop over time from repeating the same postures or poses.
1. Lack of Anatomy Knowledge
Anatomy is one of the most important pillars of any movement professional’s journey into teaching. Now, it’s not necessary to memorize all 650 muscles, 360 joints, and 206 bones. However, it is important to have a good grasp of the relationships the muscles form when interacting with each other. And specifically in this context, from one pose to another, to avoid common yoga injuries.
This interaction needs to happen in a way that allows for healthy movement not overrun with compensation. Meaning, the big guys win and the stabilizers, or the smaller muscle groups, are overpowered.
Achieving balance within the musculoskeletal system will require an understanding of the common signs of tightness, weakness, and even pain, and how they limit normal fluid movement.
2. Focusing on aesthetics instead of function
What yoga teachers need to always ask themselves is, “What is the purpose of this pose, and how will my class achieve it?” Far too often, we see yoga teachers disregard function. Instead, they replace it with beautiful, but challenging poses. Do they want to show off their uber-flexible selves by bouncing from one difficult pose to the next? Perhaps ending the sequence with a graceful inversion or arm balance?
If so, this creates a risk for both the instructor and the student. You are asking the body to perform difficult transitions and this can lead to the common yoga injuries mentioned above.
Understanding that the body faces its largest amount of stress in these transitions means that you as the teacher must strive for proper alignment and control. Especially through the changeover from an eccentric to concentric motion. More on this principle down below.
Ignoring the challenging portions of a flow to simply make things look cooler will ultimately lead to injury. Instead, yoga teachers should pay special attention to developing their ability to provide “bite-sized” cues that allow for safety and success while flowing from one pose to another.
3. Not Enough Self-Care in Between Teaching Yoga
As a yoga teacher or a teacher-in-training, we bet you have a huge heart and want to give back to people to help them live longer, healthier lives. However, you also face the pressure of balancing that giving of yourself with the need to make a living.
As an example, early on in your career, you may be placed in one type of class. This forces you to flow through the same sequence over and over again. Every single day, sometimes twice a day!
Not having the experience or control to vary up your sequences can lead to a beat-up body through repetitive overuse of certain areas. In particular, we see common yoga injuries in the wrists, shoulders, lower back, and neck. Although you may want to grind it out, and push yourself to achieve a higher level of performance, these rigorous practice sessions can have long-term negative effects on your body.
In addition, you may be coming from an athletic background in dance, gymnastics, or acrobatics. Therefore, you may already be prone to rarely slow down enough to allow for the body to repair. Pushing yourself year-round, practicing until near perfection is achieved, often does more harm than good. Self-care baby!
Thus, take the time to unload your body between practices to avoid common yoga injuries. Yes, we realize you may think yoga is low-impact. Especially if you also participate in more intense sports like running, cycling, or rock climbing. However, lack of recovery, coupled with the fact that not all teachers have been shown self-repair techniques, increases the risk of overuse injuries even more.
While stretching and self-massage might not be your main concern, find proper corrective exercise to strengthen weaker areas. Concentrate bodywork or self-massage on the spots being overused.
4. Flow Speed is Too Quick
The timing established for a flow must match the intention you have for the workout planned. The goal should always be to provide just enough cues to allow people to draw attention to their breath, balanced with a speed slow enough to allow for safety and controlled motion.
Controlled motion is achieved when muscle recruitment is at its peak, and the reliance on passive connective tissue, like ligaments, is low. This keeps the joints and bones from feeling the stresses that ultimately lead to breaking down. In addition, it allows for coordinated movement.
When it comes to coordination, the different types of muscle actions must achieve synergy. Muscles are known to face their largest amount of forces as they go from an eccentric (lengthening) position to a concentric (shortening) position.
So, gaining control of the momentum imposed by gravity during these transitions will never be easy. Especially for your students in your yoga class. Or a teacher struggling to race the clock to finish class on time.
If the speed of the flow increases based on your feelings that you need to perform for your higher-skilled students, then timing becomes the catalyst for some of these yoga injuries.
5. Unbalanced Sequencing
Do you often struggle when thinking about what poses to demonstrate in a sequence? Well, think about introducing variation into your “teaching moments”. By creating variation, you will achieve balance among your muscle groups.
As an example, you may get used to showing a few key poses in each class. However, you’re forgetting to include variation in your own sequence throughout the day. This leads to an imbalance in pressures across your body. Then, over the course of weeks and months, you’ll see deterioration at the joint level.
In addition, consider that mental and physical stamina levels are generally lower towards the end of a long day of teaching. So you know it becomes especially difficult to maintain quality and choose a pose that’s healthy for your body over the pose that is simply easy to show.
To combat this, it’s important to plan out YOUR teaching week for YOUR body’s needs, as well as your students. While the scope of this article is not to teach you how to design a flow that balances out the different muscle groups, it is important to understand where your injury-prone areas are located.
Having a good understanding of your postural needs, movement impairments, general flexibility, and strength will help you to select the smartest, most effective poses to demonstrate throughout your teaching week.
More Tips to Avoid Common Yoga Injuries
The key to creating a great yoga practice lies in planning ahead. Use this time to remind yourself what poses you need to demonstrate more and insert them into your practice. Then, work on walking the room. Cueing and adjusting the poses you don’t need as much to avoid dangerous repetitive overuse.
Need more help? Well, then book a Wellness appointment where a physical therapist can identify your postural needs to assess flexibility/strength. With this information, we can help you build a foundational practice tailored to you.
Best Practices for Yoga Teachers
The best yoga teachers that go the distance in the profession have all taken time to develop a strong foundation of anatomy, and the proper verbal cueing required for fluid movement. In addition, the secret to remaining injury-free as a yoga teacher requires a strong understanding of the above 5 principles.
Furthermore, they understand when to increase the speed of their flows based on the coordination and challenges presented during class. Finally, they have a good understanding of their own body’s limitations. So, take the time to put into practice the necessary repair work and corrective exercise required for longevity as a yoga teacher.
It’s our mission to encourage all people, healthy and injured, to develop a clearer picture of their body, and the needs they should address when striving for better physical health. If you’re interested in learning more about your body, or find yourself battling any of the topics listed above, we strongly encourage you to meet with a physical therapist soon!