Students often come to me with health and injury concerns and ask about yoga modifications they can make in their practice. Just the other day a woman in my class let me know while she was in Child’s Pose that her arthritic hip hurt in hip opening poses but she would power through and stretch it anyway. I tried to give her simple modifications, which she eventually heeded when the pain got too bad, at the same time that I gently reminded her yoga is not supposed to be painful. Uncomfortable, maybe, but never painful.
Yoga is meant to help and heal rather then injure and make worse the ailments that already plague our bodies.
As we normalize poor posture and bad movement habits into our daily life (sitting at a computer with shoulders hunched over as we type away with our little fingers), our bodies actually adapt at a cellular level thinking that our bad posture we spend the majority of our time in is the way our body ought to be always.
Ever heard of (or even have) a bone spur? This is our body’s way of building up more bone to support our poor posture, inflammation, and hurting body! Once the spur is there, it’s not going away no matter how many postural adjustments and exercises I give you. You’ve calcified your posture and bad movement habits in your bones!
Best to acknowledge your pain now as a warning signal from your body that something is out of alignment and take the necessary steps and stretches to realign and come back into harmony through targeted exercises and modifications in your normal yoga class.
Here is a list of yoga modifications that I offer most frequently to my students and clients when they come to me with physical injuries and concerns.
For that arthritic hip that is so painful in hip opening postures
Choose gentle hip opening poses on your back instead of ones like Half Pigeon or Child’s Pose that orient you such that gravity and the weight of your body bears down on your hip. Use your hip openers to gauge how far you can go in a pose before the pain starts and stop right before the pain trigger turns on. Also, work on strengthening the muscles around your hip, including your hamstring, quadriceps, glutes and low back. Sidebends and balancing postures can help with strengthening these muscles.
For your replaced or achey knee
If deep flexion (think pulling your foot into your butt or how much your knee has to work in a low squat), poses problems, take a rolled up towel underneath your knee to prevent the knee from flexing too far. This can work well in Child’s Pose and quad stretches. You can also place a towel, blanket, or rolled up mat underneath your knee if the hard floor and your bony patella just don’t get along. If lunges and squats put too much pressure on your knee – back off. While teachers often cue 90 degrees at the knee, that comes with the caveat of healthy knees only please!