Injuries can happen to us at any time. On or off the mat, and sometimes with far-reaching, even life-changing consequences.
More people are turning to yoga as part of their injury recovery, from total yoga-beginners, to professional athletes.
So, could yoga benefit your recovery? You may already be feeling the benefits of yoga in your day-to-day life, but what about when you’re injured?
Your practice doesn’t necessarily need to stop… but it should go without saying that when you’re dealing with an injury, you should seek medical advice, and follow that advice when putting together your recovery plan. So if you’re recovering from an injury – or actively seeking to prevent one – it’s worth considering if and how yoga can help…
Starting yoga with an injury
You may be here because you’ve been recommended to try yoga after an injury, surgery, or another health condition that has symptoms you’d like to manage.
Lots of practitioners first discovered yoga when they were seeking to improve their wellbeing and recovery after an injury – and then they kept it up! So if you are a new starter, you may find that this part of your recovery plan benefits more than just the injured bits…
The idea of starting yoga can be daunting at the best of times, but when you’re injured and feeling uncertain in your body it can be overwhelming. Start slowly, and look for a beginner-friendly class such as a Slow Flow or Yin class which is floor-based and excellent for restoring range of motion and flexibility.
Restorative yoga will use props and bolsters to support your body in passive poses and can be a great way of managing the emotional side of your recovery. Be sure to tell your teacher what has happened and if you have received any specific medical advice pertaining to your injury. Although a yoga teacher is not a healthcare professional, they may have suggestions of particular classes to try, or asanas to avoid.
A break in your practice…
If you are an established practitioner, you might be more concerned with how your injury is going to affect your regular practice.
Will you be able to attend your favourite class? The answer may be sadly ‘no, not for a while.’ If your practice is very dynamic, a severe injury may call for a period of rest. This will vary from person to person, so make sure you get the appropriate level of medical attention, and advice as to whether you need to rest, or keep using the injured part of your body – albeit in a perhaps gentler capacity.
When you are ready to return to the mat, you might be advised to look at more restorative, and yin-based practices. Whilst you may have tried these yoga styles before, working with injury can bring about a whole new level of awareness for your body. This can impact your practice, and sometimes even enrich it as you dive deeper into understanding your body and how it works, as well as taking time to slow down.
That’s not to say that dynamic yoga doesn’t have its place – ask your physio or healthcare provider what level of intensity is right for your yoga practice during this period of recovery. Yin practices offer slow, floor-based, passive stretching, and Slow Flow or Hatha classes can be slow paced and gentle. Vinyasa and Ashtanga offer dynamic stretching, strengthening and some cardiovascular benefits, which can be very important in rebuilding strength – but are considered to be at the more intense end of the spectrum, so be sure to seek professional advice as to what recovery might look like for you.
Make sure you tell the instructor at the start of your practice, so they can advise any modifications you might need, and ensure that they don’t assist or adjust anything that might feel uncomfortable. Don’t forget that yoga can have a profound effect on your mental and emotional well-being which can be of huge benefit to the sometimes frustrating process that is recovery.
Yoga for post-exercise recovery
Post-exercise recovery is different to injury recovery, as the aim here is to ease the impact that intense exercise can have on the body. Many professional athletes turn to yoga as part of their rest-and-recovery program.
When you’ve been working out, weightlifting or doing an activity such as running or cycling, these repeated, repetitive movements for the body can cause tightness, stiffness and soreness. Yoga can ease discomfort, bring a blissful feeling of release and help bring you back to a healthy range of mobility. So whether it’s walking, climbing, cross-fit, football, boxing or horse-riding… even your strongest workouts can be complemented beautifully with a gentle practice such as Yin, or Slow Flow. These deep, long-held passive stretches as part of the asana work may speed up your recovery time – or at least make it more comfortable!
Prevention > cure
If yoga can complement an existing exercise regimen and aid recovery, it may also help to prevent injury in the first place.
Of course accidents can happen, but yoga can help with flexibility, mobility and overall movement. Working on your balance on the mat can help with proprioception (the body’s sense of movement and its position in space) off the mat, which can help to reduce injury risk also.
Breath work practice (pranayama) can be great for improving breath control during exercise, times of stress or endurance training. Breath work can reduce the levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which is of course a benefit in many areas of life – recovery being just one!
Whatever your aims for your yoga practice, Yoga on the Edge has a range of classes to suit your needs. Check out our timetable here, or contact us with any queries, as we’re always happy to chat about all things yoga!