Is Yoga Good Or Bad For You?
Yoga has been around for about 5,000 years. It was created in India. It came to the United States in 1893. Yoga is thought by some to be a religion. It is not. It is a technique that uses poses to observe the breath, to quiet the mind and to learn focus. It is a mental, verbal and physical practice.
The postures are referred to as Asnan, the breathing techniques are called Pratyahara and the concentration techniques are called Dharana. Hatha Yoga is the type of Yoga typically taught at fitness facilities. Hatha Yoga is a slow-paced gentle Yoga that is a good intro to the basic Yoga poses. It is good for strength training, flexibility training, posture training and to develop mind-body awareness.
Vinyasa Yoga is also popular. It is a more fluid, vigorous practice. Ashtanga Yoga is often called “Power Yoga”. It too is practiced by many people in America. It is a very vigorous, athletic type of Yoga best for the advanced student. Bikram Yoga referred to as “Hot Yoga” has 26 poses students do in a room that is 90 to 100 degrees. The thought is that the muscles will be loosened by the warm room so further stretching can occur.
Keeping your body toned and flexible is very important. The poses offered in Yoga can do that if done correctly. Most Yoga practices do not work your cardiovascular system. Power Yoga may be able to challenge your cardiovascular system if the instructor formats her routine in a manner which encourages the aerobic effect.
There are some safety precautions that will help you avoid being injured in your Yoga practice. Some of the poses can place too much strain on the spine. Your neck has smaller vertebrae than your lower back so caution should be used with neck motions. The lower back although stronger also can be injured if the poses are done incorrectly or you already have a bad back.
Forward flexion of the neck (bringing your chin toward your chest) should occur by simply letting go in the back of the neck. No straining or pulling should occur from the muscles in the front of your neck. Your head is pretty heavy and favors going forward so just allowing it to do so is the best way to do forward flexion.
Extension of the neck (bringing your head backwards) needs to be done by lengthening the neck not tilting the head back. Your eyes should be looking forward or slightly rolled upward. In the past some yoga positions like the Cobra had your neck tilted way back which is very hard on your cervical spine.
Neck rolls should always be avoided they place a lot of strain on your neck. Small tipping or turning of your head with each motion returning to an upright position before going to the next position is safer for your neck.
Inverted poses like the Plough are very tough on your neck. They put a lot of pressure on your cervical spine. Misalignment can occur as well as injury. If you already have neck issues they will be aggravated. Even poses that are indirectly inverted (where your head is lower than your heart, but you are not completely upside down) like the Down dog, Standing forward fold or Child pose is unwise for those with glaucoma, ear problems or heart and circulatory issues. Women should not practice inverted poses during menstruation or pregnancy. The most problematic poses are the Plough, Shoulder stand, and the head stand.
Poses that use unsupported forward flexion (bending your torso toward your thighs) puts a lot of stress on the lower back. Most people do not have the strength in their lower backs to do this without injury. The idea is to stretch the back of your legs and to strengthen your back but many people never get to the back strengthening benefit because their backs are injured while doing the pose.To add to the problem many poses like the Sun Salutation require you to have your legs completely straight.
To help ease the strain on your back during the Sun Salutation pose keep your legs shoulder width apart. For the Standing Forward Fold keep a slight bend in your legs and support your back by placing your hands on your thighs. When doing forward folds in a seated position focus on feeling the stretch behind your legs and not on trying to lay your chest on your thighs. Lengthen and extend your spine.
Make sure that you do not feel pain when doing your poses. It is wise to watch a few classes before you take one to make sure the instructor does not push students to go past their comfort zone. An instructor should not touch you and try to push your body past its abilities.
So Yoga is a good thing if done with caution and a very bad thing if you push yourself past your capabilities.
By Lynn Hahn