Yoga is an excellent method of exercise, stretching and relaxation contributing to core strength, lean muscles and overall mind-body awareness. It’s also a good way for overachievers to hurt themselves.
Yes, I speak from experience.
While I’ve long incorporated yoga poses into my post-run stretching, I haven’t been to a proper yoga class in close to five years. And it was in a fantastic class at Downtown Yoga that I made a classic rookie mistake: I completely overdid it. By the time the gong sounded at the end of savasana, I already knew that I’d be hurting the next day. Let me emphasize that this is not the fault of the instructor; I gave every indication that I was keeping up with the class, and I was the one who quietly crossed the fine line of overachievement.
When you’re just starting out — or starting over after a long break — it’s critical to remember that you will be using muscles that your body has long forgotten that it has, and you will be twisting and contorting them into configurations that your body isn’t expecting. If, mid-pose, you think, “Oh, there’s a muscle I don’t recall. I wonder if I’m overdoing it,” I can guarantee that you are. And no, I didn’t do any serious damage beyond a couple of days of soreness, but it is possible to push yourself just a little too far.
Here are some important lessons to remember.
If it feels like you need to be built like Gumby to make it happen, don’t do it. Ask the instructor for a way to modify the pose to make it less strenuous.
If it hurts, you’re overdoing it. Ask the instructor for a way to modify the pose to make it less strenuous.
If you’re struggling with a pose while looking around the room and thinking, “I’m younger/thinner/fitter than that person, I should be able to do this,” you need to stop. Ask the instructor for a way to modify the pose to make it less strenuous. (Have you noticed a theme?)
Stop looking around the room. This is between you and your body. Ignore the 70-something woman who can do headstands. If you can’t do it, don’t push it. Let’s say it all together now: ask the instructor for a way to modify the pose to make it less strenuous!
Done properly, yoga is a fantastic experience. So please, do it properly!