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This is what you should know about Yoga injuries

Yoga injuries, especially among us yoga teachers, are a bit of a taboo subject. But hand on heart - who among you yoga teachers reading this has ever been injured in yoga?

Exactly; and you are not alone. And often it's not our fault, because we simply haven't learned that there is such a thing as yoga injuries and where exactly the dangers lurk.

This article is intended to break down that taboo and educate.

Physical weaknesses lead to yoga injuries

Often, after all, it may not be an injury that can be directly attributed to a single yoga class. We may have developed over the years one, two, or even more weak points in the body, such as a strained neck, lower back problems, or knee pain. We may even have herniated discs or joints where osteoarthritis is developing. And suddenly there's a rattling somewhere, a strange crack or a suspicious pop, and we know that something has gone wrong.

Even the great yoga luminaries were not spared from yoga injuries. If you talk to experienced yoga teachers and bring up the subject of yoga injuries, most of them confess to their "youthful sins." Pattabhi Jois as well as B.K.S. Iyengar (both of whom strongly influenced the modern yoga scene) had both sustained gross yoga injuries in their younger years.

Joey and I, unfortunately, were not spared! We both had yoga injuries in the past. This got us thinking, because we wanted to spare our participants this experience as much as possible. We dealt with our problems in depth and educated ourselves on alignment and anatomy.

Why Joey suddenly couldn't do anything anymore

In Joey's case, it was "suddenly" the neck that no longer cooperated. It was not an accident per se, or a suspicious "crack" where it was immediately clear that something had gone wrong.

His problem, as we later discovered, built up over several years and was exacerbated by certain yoga exercises and poor posture. So Joey's weak spot was his neck, but he wasn't even aware of that for a long time!

Because when we still have a relatively young body, we can tolerate a lot and he also does a lot of "stupid things". But... after 40 or so.... it looks different, we simply hurt ourselves faster and certain youthful sins then break open.

It is interesting that many yoga teachers in this age group have to reorient themselves, change their yoga style to something more "sustainable" like our Alignment Yoga or even stop completely because the body no longer cooperates. 

In Joey's case, at the "high" of his problem, he couldn't even look down with his head to tie his shoes. Let alone to practice yoga exercises at all!

This triggered existential fears, because our body is as a yoga teacher:in our capital (especially if we want to do this full-time) and if it fails, nothing goes!

Fortunately, Joey has years of experience in yoga and can verbally guide well and demonstrated many elements on the participants, so actually only the least got that Joey was injured.

For him, however, it was a hard and rocky road back and triggered further health problems for him because he could no longer do certain yoga exercises that are important for his heart (he had 2x open heart surgeries as a child). The learning process, however, was enormous, and we fully incorporate this knowledge into our yoga teacher trainings.

Tanja's weak point was her back

In my case, I was an overzealous yoga beginner with a somewhat competitive mindset (hello, the financial world, I just say) when I met a yoga teacher who was probably not very well trained in anatomy, and I injured my back.

By the time I realized that yoga is not a sport and that I don't have to prove anything to myself or anyone else, and that not every yoga posture makes sense for my body, I had a few more minor injuries.

As already mentioned, all this was the motivation to dive deeper into the topic of yoga injuries and to acquire knowledge, to question certain procedures and methods and to learn new things.

Today it is our heart's desire to educate and share this knowledge about possible injury risks in yoga with aspiring yoga teachers. This is what we do in our alignment yoga teacher trainings here in our yoga studio in Zurich.

How you as a yoga teacher create a safe space for your participants and build trust

Our participants often tell us, "You have such a safe space, it just feels safe!" And that's important, that you can create that feeling of safety and trust as a yoga teacher:in for your participants. Because yoga has so much to give and the benefits have been scientifically proven many times over.

But if this knowledge is not present due to insufficient training in correct alignment and anatomy, we simply cannot give our participants this safe space. And so, in yoga classes, existing physical weaknesses in participants can be exacerbated and yoga injuries can occur.

This in turn leads to a bad reputation of yoga in the long run. There are already doctors and physiotherapists who do not recommend yoga to their patients. And this is ultimately negative for us yoga teachers as well, because then we can no longer fill our courses.

With a well-founded training on all levels, you as a yoga teacher can create a safe framework for your participants and still challenge and encourage them.

Because what often happens, especially with beginners in teaching, is that you limit all participants, just because you may have hurt yourself. There are also yoga styles where practically nothing is allowed, and this should not be the case. We are allowed to teach more complex postures in yoga as long as we know how to do it correctly and safely.

Profitable business versus safety in yoga

Yoga is now a big industry (in the US it is estimated at 16 billion USD per year ) so many only see the quick buck or the lucrative business. But running a profitable business while providing a safe space doesn't have to be contradictory.

Yoga teacher trainings are lucrative and especially during the pandemic online providers of yoga teacher short trainings mushroomed! It's unbelievable, but unfortunately true! You can complete a yoga teacher training online in 2 to 4 weeks and then teach! But fatally, after that you don't really know much about alignment and injury risks, let alone could have consolidated the knowledge.

So we see a clear trend here: Yoga is becoming more and more popular and there are visibly more yoga beginners and new yoga teachers and so, percentage-wise, more yoga injuries.

There was a large study on this in 2014. A survey of more than 1300 yoga teachers worldwide by the International Journal of Yoga Therapy found that the most common yoga injuries occur in the following postures:

  • Neck
  • lower back
  • knee
  • Shoulder
  • wrist

and the most common causes were

  • poor technique
  • poor instruction
  • previous injuries and weaknesses
  • excessive effort
  • too fast change between yoga exercises (like in Flow Yoga)

As already mentioned above, many yoga teachers have not received a really profound and longer training. But also in longer lasting trainings it is not always given that anatomy and correct alignment take a central place in the training. Often the yoga instructors lack the experience of many years to impart the knowledge authentically and competently.

Yoga teacher training with main focus on alignment and anatomy

In our Alignment Yoga Teacher Trainings in Zurich we do it differently. There, the topic of alignment and anatomy takes a prominent place from the beginning and is the main focus of the trainings! In addition, Joey and I have been teaching yoga full-time for many years and can draw fully on our many years of experience. Yes, we also live from yoga - but there is no compromise in terms of safety for our participants!

With the right knowledge about correct alignment and anatomy, you can support yourself and your participants in a safe way.

If you too want to create a safe framework for your participants and really know your way around yoga injuries and correct alignment, then take a look here: Alignment Yoga Teacher Trainings at The Yoga Place Zurich