A recent University of Sydney study examined 354 mostly middle aged yogis (from beginners to advanced). Although the study was based around yoga, it is relevant to pilates teachers and students, particularly when it comes to poses that work on the upper body. After the study, ten percent of participants reported having new musculoskeletal pain and twenty one percent said pre-existing injuries were made worse. Why? “The upper extremities are not designed to bear a lot of weight for long periods of time” says Associate Professor Evangelos Pappas. But never fear – these injuries are preventable! The study concluded that although yoga can cause musculoskeletal pain, “participants may benefit…by informing teachers of injuries they may have prior to participation. Yoga teachers should also discuss the risks for injury with their students.” The study illustrates the importance of finding a well-qualified teacher who avoids a dogmatic or militant approach and instead works gently and mindfully with each student’s individual body.
The most common injuries and their prevention
According to yoga teacher and physiotherapist Felicity Dan, injuries in our practice are mostly due to poor alignment and body awareness, and a lack of the teacher’s presence. She says, “In my experience, most injuries within yoga are a result of poor alignment, lack of strength and guidance in carrying out a pose, and poor body awareness. They may arise from attempting a pose that is too advanced for our abilities or through being poorly monitored in a class that has too many students.”
According to Dan, the three most common injuries occur to the wrists, lower back and knees.
Wrists need time to develop the strength to bear weight. Just like we expect to train for a marathon, we need to build up strength in the wrists before attempting that full chaturanga. The solution? Start on your knees, please.
Dan recommends that when teachers are planning a class, they should think about the number of poses where students are loading through their wrists. “Start small and focus on standing postures until their bodies build up enough strength and their awareness of alignment is good enough”, she says.
It’s similar for knees, but there’s an even simpler solution. “The load bearing portion of our knee is between the femur (thigh bone) and tibia (shin bone). However, as soon as we deviate the kneecap inwards of the big toe or bend the knee so far that the kneecap goes forward over our toes, we begin loading into the kneecap joint. Given it’s not designed to take this load, people will often experience pain.” The solution? Keep the knee stacked directly above the ankle even if it means shortening your stance in some of the longer poses like Warrior II.
When it comes to the lower back, activation of uddiyana and mula bandha is essential. Dan explains that when these two bandhas contract together, they provide the necessary support for the spine and pelvis joints to bend both forwards and backwards. Without the activation of these bandhas, students might experience pain not only in the lower back, but in the neck and hips.
How Omm Collective helps
As yoga and pilates teachers ourselves, we know how important it is to keep track of your students’ health. By being aware of injuries and sensitivities, we can factor these considerations into our class planning and delivery, leading to less injuries and a more mindful style of teaching.
You know that feeling you get when the teacher encourages you by name in a class? Imagine if they were equipped with essential knowledge of your body as well! And as teachers, we all feel more empowered by this knowledge.
The Omm Collective app has a space to record all of your students’ details – including information about medical records and injuries. You are able to record notes about specific students (and any injuries that may happen in your class) along with class content, peak poses and more. You can enter these notes in the “Private Cutomer Notes” section of the app.
You can download the app for FREE and start managing your career today.