For the longest time, when clients would ask me, "should I go to yoga to help heal my back pain?"- a lot of times I would actually say no… unless I knew for sure that my client had a good handle on their boundaries and limitations with their injuries.
Why? This may sound a little alarming, but we were taught in PT school that going to yoga could actually worsen a lot of patient’s symptoms. And, while there is some merit and truth in that (e.g. I would be worried about a client doing too many sun salutations if they had a lumbar disc herniation), in hindsight, I think it may have been a little over the top advice.
Well, I still believe physically ‘overdoing it’ could be dangerous in certain people’s situations, but I think some common sense of class selection and modifications can mitigate that worry.
The thing is that I (like many Americans) used to only consider the physical implications of yoga, and not the philosophies or sutras that this 3000+ year practice is based on.
I also wasn’t considering the parasympathetic nervous system benefits or breathing practices that are enhanced with yoga. Yogi’s have had a lot figured out for a long time… and while I have only been studying more about yoga over the last year, I am starting to understand and grasp that the physical postures or asanas that the ‘every day Joe’ may see in a yoga class are really only a fraction of what yoga practice is all about.
Here are a couple keystone ah-ha’s I have recently had about yoga practice. Yoga does not have to correspond or correlate to any one religion. Rather, yoga is like a GPS system to finding your true self.
1) Yogic postures/ asana’s are only a small fraction of the yogic practice. The mental clarity and understanding that you may gain from studying yoga far outweighs the risk of ‘overdoing it’ in any given yoga class - given appropriate modifications and parameters.
2) Yoga is about the path to balanced and healthy living. It focuses on living in the present and finding Samadhi. The word Samadhi doesn’t translate well into English, but it is a place of awakening, blissful living, luminous life or enlightenment. It is a place where we live free from our own self imposed obstacles or limitations. Patanjali, wrote 4 books about his philosophies towards achieving Samadhi that are 3000+ years old. If it worked then, and it's still around, it's probably something of value.
3) I can’t help but to tie this whole post together without considering my bio-psycho-social explanation of pain: What you do day in, and day out, matters - at any level - physically, spiritually, emotionally, or otherwise. Chronic stressors that you deliberately ignore WILL bite you in the ass in the long run.
If you're interested in learning more about yoga, I'd love to share with you 3 of my favorite books for the beginner yoga student.
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