I recently used the phrase “reckless yoga” to describe my previous yoga practice. Yes, even in my love of yoga, I realize that I am by far from perfect and have often toed a dangerous line. Just like any sport or physical activity, there are risks involved — yoga is no exception.
As I go through yoga training, I have become more and more aware of how how the body works and how the things I’ve been practicing for the past two years have probably been hurting me more than helping (especially with deep folds and deep back bends).
Less than a year into my yoga practice, I started experimenting with different inversions and more “advanced” poses — poses that my body probably wasn’t quite ready for or that my muscles weren’t strong enough to protect myself during (one handed headstands and chinstands are two more extreme examples). I’ve dealt with some fairly minor chronic pain issues for years, so I wasn’t quite always aware of the different between muscle burning (okay) and compression (not okay). Looking back now, I realized I was most likely pushing myself too far, especially in deep folds and backbends.
What benefit is there in pushing myself to an extreme? I believe there are benefits in pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone. But there is another zone outside your comfort zone — the zone that’s safe for your body to stay in.
No one wins when I push myself too far into poses. I’m not getting any extra benefit to the pose (expect to maybe my ego), and I’m gaining the potential for injury. Going deeper into a pose doesn’t necessarily mean you are getting more benefit. Sometimes the “beginner poses” (which more “advanced” practitioners will continue to practice) can be just as challenging.
Now that I have more knowledge, I’ve definitely changed the way I practice in many respects. I don’t going as deep into backbends (unless I’m super warmed up) to avoid compression in my lower back. I keep a deep bend in my knees in forward folds to avoid strain (cause I have tight hamstrings). I lead with my heart not my head in seated forward folds. I don’t regret my “reckless yoga” phase — I wouldn’t have learned what I did. And it wasn’t all bad! I learned the body can do incredible things. But learn from my mistakes and be safe! Yoga is meant to help and heal your body — not hurt it.