fit, avoiding injury
learn new ways to practice yoga safely
January 7, 2008
Iowa City Press-Citizen
its graceful, flowing motion, the yoga style that Elyse
Miller was using caused severe pain to her hips.
is very beautiful, but it's kind of jarring," the 50-year-old
Iowa City woman said of a method called Ashtanga, in which
the student moves quickly from one posture, or asana, to
the next. "It felt really good at the time, but then
you pay the price. For my body, the flowing motion was a
little too rough on my hip joints."
never quit; she just changed her routine. About four years
ago, she switched to the Iyengar method, which allows the
body to ease into asanas and focuses on body, mind and spirit
people such as Miller suffer injuries from yoga, but instead
of quitting, they alter their practice. There are a variety
of ways to explain the pain, such as matching the wrong
technique to your body's needs, as in Miller's case. Others
suggest the problem is rooted in inexperienced and overzealous
teachers and participants jumping on the yoga bandwagon.
the Consumer Product Safety Commission reported that 14
million people practice yoga or tai chi in the U.S., which
is up 136 percent since 2000. With that surge, there have
been a number of injuries. The commission reported that
13,000 Americans were treated in a doctor's office or emergency
room for yoga-related injuries over the past three years.
Shields, the director and professor of the University of
Iowa Graduate Program in Physical Therapy & Rehabilitation
Science, said yoga is no different than any other exercise
in terms of sustaining injuries. He said it comes down to
knowing the limits of one's body.
is an optimal biological range for all tissues. It doesn't
have to be one particular type of exercise over another.
Once you get outside of that optimal range, you can suffer
an injury with any activity," Shields said.
Footner began studying yoga master B.K.S. Iyengar's modernized
version of classic yoga in 1985. In 1993, she established
a yoga studio in Iowa City called Friendship Yoga, at 1231
Gilbert Court, where she teaches this method -- a style
that limits injury, she said.
yoga is not simply a workout but an opportunity to study
oneself, physically, mentally and emotionally. Over time,
as one becomes more immersed in the subject of yoga, the
spiritual benefits become more apparent," she said.
her studio, students learn by watching a teacher demonstrate
a pose and are given clear instructions for what to do,
Footner said. The teacher monitors students for any special
needs due to age, injury or congenital problems, for example,
and also to ensure they are not taking unnecessary risks,
she said. Attentiveness to students should be the first
priority, she said.
recent "yoga craze," as Footner describes it,
has cast a spotlight on this ancient practice and exposed
yoga as a way to care for people's bodies, which is a good
thing, she said. But it also has opened the door for injuries
due to ambitious but insufficiently trained instructors
are a lot of untrained people teaching yoga," Footner
said. "When they don't know what they are doing, people
can get hurt."
Bolton, 52, of Iowa City, is one of those people who blame
an aggressive instructor for an emergency doctor visit.
surgery in 2000 led to balance problems, which prompted
Bolton to take up yoga. She says that yoga is "one
of the most effective means for (her) not to have pain."
at her studio increased, leading Bolton to turn to her local
gym for classes. In a session in February 2007, the instructor
pushed the students too far, Bolton said. Bolton ended up
making an emergency visit to her chiropractor.
was pain standing. It was pain bending over. It was pain
lying down. It hurt like hell. I felt kind of crippled,"
the influx of people jumping onto the yoga trend, it is
turning into more of an aerobic exercise and performance,
which it is not intended to be, she said.
of yoga is trusting the teacher," she said. "For
people to teach yoga classes without acknowledging that
people in the yoga class have unique emotional and mostly
physical components, there is some irresponsibility in my
mind. Yoga can hurt you."