Besides the awesome emotional and physical benefits of yoga, there’s this beautiful thing called body awareness. I have so many yogis come up to me after class complaining of shoulder pain. Now, I am no physical therapist or doctor, but I do know how to listen to my body and its cues to back off.
This is what I try to teach in my classes. The lesson is to listen to your body and modify poses without feeling like a wuss, but more like a champion of awareness.
I remember my ankle throbbing with pain in a balancing pose and telling my instructor about it. She advised me to just breathe through the pain. So for the next year or so, I breathed through the pain—and ended up not being able to walk after yoga.
My foot and ankle were so stiff, but instead of listening to my body telling me to back off, I thought the instructor knew my body better than me. It’s funny looking back how much I’ve placed my own pain in someone else’s hands, when I should’ve paid attention myself.
Here are four body cues you should always listen to!
1. Burning Pain
This is not good. Sure, balancing poses will strengthen and lengthen you, but when it burns, bring the foot back down to the ground. Or, try the pose on the ground in Tabletop or in supine position (on your back).
While a few instructors might tell you to breathe through the pain, I say don’t. But that’s just my immobilized stiff ankle speaking.
2. Neck Stiffness or Pain
My dear friend is an ICU nurse and recently had four yogis come to the hospital not able to move their necks. She said all had stiff and swollen necks, and the common culprit was Headstands or being in an upside down pose for too long.
One of the doctors who worked on these yogis is going to write an article for us about it, so stay tuned. In the meantime, if your head feels like it’s throbbing, or you have neck pain you can’t get rid of, stay off your head. And I’d also suggest seeing a doctor.
Yes, some yoga poses will cause you to be lightheaded or dizzy, but you’ve really got to listen to your body cues on this one.
I had such bad vertigo that I confused with dizziness, and pushed through hot yoga for a long ass time. Dizziness, lightheadedness, and/or vertigo get worse with dehydration, so if you are going to hot yoga, you’ve got to drink more water and replace electrolytes fast!
I like to eat a banana, drink some coconut water, and guzzle a gallon of water if I’m going to a hot yoga class.
4. Shoulder Tear
I can’t even tell you how long I went from High Plank to Low Plank without coming forward to the tips of my toes. I basically Chaturanga’d myself into torn shoulders.
I hear this story a lot. If you have shoulders that feel like they are ripping or tearing, drop your knees and lower. There is absolutely no shame in dropping the knees; you are taking care of your precious body.
While I may know a lot about bodies and how they work, I don’t know your body better than you. I can’t feel every muscle fiber or stretch that goes too deep. I can see if you are doing a pose that is unsafe, but I can’t feel your pain.
So I beg of you—listen to your body’s messages. I want you to protect your body and reduce the risk of injury so we can all practice yoga together in a safe environment that’s physically, mentally, and spiritually fulfilling.