By Mark William Lisky
The article, titled “All Bent Out of Shape, The Problem With Yoga,” quotes one world-renowned yoga instructor as saying, “the vast majority of people should give up yoga all together. It’s simply too likely to cause harm.”
Top yoga experts in the United States point a number of reasons why this seemingly healthful form of exercise is causing so many injuries.
Among those reasons are the fact that there are not enough qualified instructors to meet the demand for yoga instruction, the fact that class sizes are often too large, the introduction of nontraditional styles like ‘power’ yoga, the western mind-set that more is always better, and the fact that unfit, overweight individuals are attempting yoga in the hope of quickly getting into shape.
It Isn’t Just Yoga
A 2011 research report published in the National Library of Medicine’s journal,Injury Prevention, examined injury rates from all causes that were sustained by professional firefighters, paramedics, inspectors and battalion chiefs at twenty-one fire stations in metropolitan Tucson, Arizona. The average age of study participants was 41.
The report found that the firefighters and emergency service personnel that participated in the study (occupations that, combined, have one of the highest workplace injury and death rates in the U.S.), were more likely to be injured while exercising than while responding to an emergency or fighting a fire. Injuries sustained while exercising accounted for a third of total injuries reported despite the fact that exercise is intended to keep employees in good physical condition and decrease the risk of injury while on the job.
Why the high numbers in this study? For the same reasons that yoga injuries are increasing – the lack of qualified exercise instructors, a more-is-always-better mentality, overly ambitious fitness goals, choosing the wrong physical activity for the body type and the popularity of “boot camp” exercise classes. All of these can wreak havoc on the unprepared.
Fortunately, there are some steps you can take to reduce your risk of becoming a statistic while exercising.
Know Your Limitations
Whatever the activity, if something doesn’t feel right, it’s probably not right. If you think you’re doing too much, you most likely are. And remember that age counts. The type, volume and intensity of a physical activity has to be appropriate for your age and health situation. A report by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), estimated that in 2008, emergency rooms treated 282,476 exercise/sports-related injuries among baby boomers (those aged 44 to 62). This represented a 47 percent increase from the previous decade. Some experts relate this increase to the beginning of the extreme exercise and sports era.
Communicate With Your Instructor
If you’re joining an exercise class, be sure to let the instructor know beforehand about any previous injuries. Past injuries are easily susceptible to re-injury. This is extremely important with any previous cardiovascular issues. Also, do not let an overzealous instructor push you beyond your ability. There are instructors who’ll make a person feel “wimpy” if they need to stop an activity because something is hurting. Remember that instructors will most likely be out of your life in a year or so, but the effect they have on your body and mind, positive or negative, can stay with you much longer.
Pay attention to Danger Signals
If you’re doing a class that involves holding a pose and you start feeling pressure in your head, stop and slowly come out of the position. Coming out too fast can cause dizziness or fainting, usually from undiagnosed orthostatic hypertension. If you’re doing a class and you begin breathing heavily with your mouth open, this may be a sign to “bring it down a notch.”
When you’re in a crowded aerobic, dance or yoga class, pay attention to what’s going on around you. It’s common in either activity for an exerciser to lose her balance and bump or fall into someone else, causing chipped teeth and bloody noses. Paying attention applies to lifting weights as well. According to emergency room statistics, serious injuries like fractures and deep lacerations most frequently occur when a weightlifter drops a weight on himself.
Know Your Equipment
If you’re using a piece of exercise equipment, make sure you know how to use it, and again, pay attention. An example is the treadmill. According to the insurance industry, the treadmill can be one of the most dangerous pieces of exercise equipment. Although treadmills help millions stay fit, they are also responsible for thousands of injuries. The most common accidents are trips and falls that cause friction burns, some of which are serious. One reason for these accidents is that treadmills come with all kinds of electronic bells-and-whistles. Not paying attention, not knowing your equipment and overexerting yourself all can set the stage for a fall.
If you use a treadmill at home and have kids, be particularly careful. According to reports from the CPSC, between 2005 and 2007, 2,600 children under the age of 5 were hospitalized due to treadmill injuries and some of those kids required multiple skin grafts. Surprisingly, many of these incidents occurred when children approached the parent from behind as the parent was exercising. Other home exercise equipment can pose risks to children as well.
Pediatricians estimate that about 25,000 children end up in the emergency room each year as a result of injuries related to home equipment.
Watch The Ball
Another popular piece of equipment that is causing injuries is the stability ball, also called an exercise ball. When used correctly, this is a great exercise tool. However, people use the stability ball for things it was never designed to do, like as a bench for lifting dumbbells. This provides a very unstable foundation for lifting. Accidents happen because people are concentrating on trying to balance, not on moving a heavy weight load, which increases the possibility that an exerciser will lose his or her balance and crash, weights and all.
The injuries seen here are mostly sprains, muscle tears and dislocations.
Find A Qualified Instructor
Make sure your trainer is experienced. The more skilled the activity, the more skilled the instructor needs to be. Being “certified” may not be enough. Currently, a person can get certified by a plethora of exercise and fitness organizations. Be mindful that there is no national standard for the certificates these organizations supply. Each operates under it’s own teaching parameters, whether factual or not.
Some of the more exceptional organizations require that instructors attend classes in anatomy, first aid and exercise physiology. Other organization are mail order mills and will “certify” anyone who sends in money. It’s also not uncommon for an aerobics instructor, for example, to attend an eight hour weekend workshop, get certified in yoga, Pilates or kickboxing and start teaching a class that week. Activities like these take a professional instructor years to learn, master and teach.
Don’t Avoid Exercise
No one is suggesting that you retire your sneakers because of the chance you may get hurt. Exercising has far too many overall health benefits to abandon it. And yes, it is a researched fact that to make progress in any exercise activity, you need to stress the body and periodically increase the level of stress and intensity. There is, however, a fine line between pushing yourself enough to improve and pushing yourself to the point of injury. If you learn to differentiate between the two, it can keep you safe and injury-free. It may even help you in other parts of your life, outside of exercise.
Mark William Lisky is a consulting fitness expert using Western and Eastern exercise techniques for physical and spiritual development. His programs include integrated strength training, restorative exercise and healing, body-fat management and successful aging fitness. Mark can be reached at (732)933-9070 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.)