“. . . according to the Yoga Sutra (3.1), the term [Bandha] refers to the ‘binding’ of consciousness to a particular object or locus (desha), which is the very essence of concentration.”
Georg Feuerstein

Preventative Strategies for Lower Back Strains in Yoga: Part One

In this post we take a look at one of the leading causes for emergency room visits from yoga—lower back strains—and examine preventative strategies that may help in reducing the risk of this injury while enhancing the benefits of Hatha yoga practice. This series begins with info on joint rhythms and how understanding them can help in preventing injury.

Also, I would like to recommend reading Dana Santas interview in Men’s Health magazine entitled “Will Yoga Really Wreck Your Body?”1 Dana is an experienced yoga practitioner and teacher who works with elite athletes from a number of professional sports. She is a great resource for information on integrating yoga into sports training regimens. You might also check out Jason Amis’ counterpoint to a recent article published in the New York Times, which includes a clear and in-depth analysis of much of the data that was referenced. 

Jason provided me with the NEISS data relating to emergency rooms visits for yoga injuries in 2010 and I’ve done some preliminary analysis, which I will share with you. Data like this is extremely valuable, because it allows us to find ways to identify risks and then reflect on how to prevent them – a variation for the yoga community on the Sanskrit term “Atma Vichara,” or self inquiry. Here are my impressions: first, I was impressed by the relative safety of the practice compared to other activities. Second, it was clear to me that many of the injuries resulting in ER visits were potentially preventable. Think of it this way: there are injuries that are unpredictable, like stubbing your toe (also reported as an ER visit related to yoga), and there are those that are potentially preventable through application of common sense and knowledge of the body. Analysis of data like this provides an opportunity to identify preventable injuries and eliminate unsound practices that may have caused them in the first instance.

The Benefits of Engaging the Quads in Forward Bends (and the risks of misguided cautions)

In our last post we mentioned that true caution is based on accurate knowledge and wisdom; practicing it in yoga enhances benefits and minimizes risks. In this post, we talk about misguided caution and provide a couple of examples. This type of caution is usually based on fear: If you do “this”, a bad thing will happen. In fact, misguided cautions can enhance the risks and diminish the benefits of yoga because following them, among other things, diverts your focus from what is important. In a sense, this is a type of passive aggressive way to decrease benefits and increase risks.

Two widely circulated examples of misguided caution relate to engaging the quadriceps in various yoga poses. One is that people with strong quads and misaligned kneecaps experience rapid progression of arthritis, and the second is that we should avoid contracting the rectus femoris in forward bends because it can cause “congestion”. Neither of these misconceptions has any basis in science, yet they are prevalent and have been incorporated into the curriculum of yoga, creating a conflict among teachers and practitioners. This has resulted in many teachers discouraging students from engaging these important muscles for fear of potential injury. I’ll address each of these “cautions” in turn later in the post, but in order to help resolve this conflict, let’s go over some of the basic science for the muscles and joints and then look at the benefits of engaging the quadriceps in a forward bend like Marichyasana I.

Co-activating the Gluts and Abs in Chaturanga Dandasana

In a previous blog post, we discussed the yogic concept of satya, or truthfulness. On this, the sutras say, “When established in truthfulness, one can be sure of the results of action” (Nicolai Bachman’s translation of Sutra II.36).

I mention this because, during a recent workshop series, the question was posed, “What is the difference between caution and fear?” Participants responded without hesitation that caution stems from knowledge, wisdom, and truth. Conversely, fear and fear-based actions come from a lack of knowledge, wisdom, or truth. In other words, fear is an illusion. Caution enables; fear cripples. Satya succeeds because the generational forces of the universe, in some manner or another, line up behind it. Asatya (untruthfulness) fails because those same forces align against it.

Then, some individuals encourage and manipulate the fear of others (fear mongers). Sociopathic corporations and individuals often resort to this form of asatya when they realize that they lack the ability to compete fairly or are afraid that someone else will gain power; they fear losing control or influence over others, mainly for monetary gain. Consequently, the fear monger acts out of fear and heads down the slippery slope of asatya. For example, they might exaggerate or fabricate scientific data to cast a false light onto something or someone they fear. Ironically, in the process, they often succeed in exposing and encouraging their own fears. An entity exposed for abusing its position of trust by deliberately misleading others will lose that position. That is how the spiritually bankrupt become, simply, bankrupt.