Yoga is a huge workout phenomenon in all major cities that are health conscious and looking to rise to a higher source. Here in Los Angeles, you see everyone wearing yoga pants, even if they aren't going to yoga class. So why then is yoga so popular?
From my expert standpoint, yoga serves a lot of purpose within the hour it is practiced. In my book, Breaking the Chains of Obesity, 107 tools, I wrote that yoga promotes the following benefits:
1) Yoga connects your mind and body because it is generally slow in movement and emphasizes the use of the breath during the flow
2) Yoga works on strength, endurance as well as flexibility all in one workout
3) Yoga improves circulation throughout the body
4) Yoga reduces tension in the body which thereby can lessen pain
5) Yoga helps you to create a state of active meditation while calming down the mind from mental stress
Yoga serves many valuable attributes to one's life, however, it must be performed correctly. While yoga classes can pack a room with each yoga mat occupying every square inch of a yoga studio, the key is that each student is mindful of every body part at all times while practicing. According to Dr Mike Shapow, PhD, DPT of Joint Effort Wellness in Beverly Hills, "Yoga is great because it increases t-cell count which boosts the immune system. When you practice, focus on slow and deliberate joint movement so that you can prevent injury while attaining strength and structural balance."
There are many postures in yoga that are performed in class. However, these 5 yoga moves below are the most common postures done incorrectly which puts people at risk for getting injured. Ways of avoiding injury in yoga is to understand the body and its mechanics and to embody movements that will not hurt you, rather, heal you. As Dr Shapow stated, if you move slowly through your postures, you will decrease your risk of pulling or tweaking something. Besides, yoga is all about mind-body connection. There is no rush. Slow down and focus on connecting your breath to every movement. Feel your body connecting from head to toe.
Check out these moves below. If you suffer from any injuries, consult your doctor before enrolling in yoga class or yoga practice.
Downward Facing Dog (downdog):
Avoid feeling stressed in this position. Believe it or not, down dog is a resting pose. Many people struggle in this pose because the muscles of the neck and shoulders take all the brunt because your weight might be too far forward into the shoulder girdle.
When you watch the video, notice how I start the pose off with both knees bent so that I can shift my hips up and back, thereby drawing resistance out of the shoulder girdle and evenly distributed through the entire body from hands to heels. Once you find your position, make sure all 10 fingers are pushed into the ground. Drop your head in between your arms and allow your neck muscles to relax. You should be looking back at your feet and not see your heels, as they should be aligned directly behind your toes. Take deep breaths in down-dog to reset the mind and reconnect to the breath. See the video demonstration HERE.
Avoid shoulder tension and an arched lower back. In addition, be careful to not stress the back knee by having it "float". You must squeeze your back leg as much as you use your front leg.
Be sure to have your feet wide enough (length wise) so that your front knee tracks directly in alignment with your ankle. All 10 toes face forward. Tuck your pelvis under you so that you neutralize the pelvis relative to the ground. Keep your shoulders down as you drive your hands straight to the sky. Your chest is slightly lifted energetically so that you can maintain a neutral spine and firm lower body. See the video demonstration HERE.
This pose is not your typical pushup. A typical pushup is where you flare your arms out so that your elbows track over the wrists. Not in chataranga. And, the slower you lower in this pose, the more effective it is. Do not lower fast. Be sure to bend the elbows as you lower because many times people jam their weight into the shoulders and drop the hips down before the chest. Also, elbows shouldn't flare out. They should be pulled in.
A proper chataranga has the arms tight to the side of your body. Your hips and chest drop together as one unit. The way to achieve this is to keep your core muscles engaged and inhale as you come down. As you lower, you are only lowering half way. Pause and then flip your toes to your up dog. If you need to lower all the way down to your belly, use the same form, and simply count to 5 as you lower in a controlled fashion to the ground. Instead of an updog, perhaps you do baby cobra into a high plank. Over time, you will build up the strength to do a full chataranga without dropping to the ground. See the video demonstration HERE.
Your knees are very important to watch in this pose. The front knee should not fall outside the line of your foot foot otherwise it can put undue stress on the knee joint. In addition, make sure the stance is wide enough. The back leg should be straight and all the muscles isometrically engaged with slight internal rotation of the hip. Keep your shoulders down and away from your ears.
Picture an imaginary line from your front heel to the arch of the back foot. Align the feet accordingly. Next, be sure to externally rotate through the front hip so that the front knee faces forward directly in alignment with your ankle and toes. Keep your pelvis slightly tucked and your abdomen tight as you firm the muscles of the back leg. Lift your chest up as you drop your shoulders down. Firm the muscles in your arms and reach your finger tips in the opposite direction so that your shoulder muscles are engaged too. You can keep your gaze forward, or rotate your neck to bring your gaze between the fingers of the front hand. See the video demonstration HERE.
Warrior 2 to Chataranga:
Watch the back leg. Every time I see people go from warrior 2 or even coming from reverse warrior to chataranga, the back foot stays planted and the knee joint gets pulled. Repetitively, this can lead to a knee and/or hip injury.
As soon as you windmill the hands towards the floor, pivot the back foot. Be sure to go slowly. If you are in a yoga class that is fast paced, then you need to move at a slower pace and be mindful of each and every movement. Your breath must connect this transition. As you windmill the hands down towards the floor, you are exhaling the breath through the entire chataranga. See the video demonstration HERE.
Photo and Video credits: Mr Smith