There are days, and then there are Days — Father’s Day, Valentine’s Day and, on Tuesday, International Yoga Day. Come June 21 and yoga enthusiasts, flashing their colourful mats, will flock to public parks and promenades across India to celebrate by putting their flexibility to test with complex asanas (poses) involving twists, turns and stretches.
Ahead of the celebrations, doctors and yoga instructors are emphasising a key and often overlooked element of yoga mania — unsupervised it can cause serious injuries and strain. In a time of YouTube videos, yoga CDs and DIY apps, it is still essential to exercise caution, or practice under expert guidance, they say.
“Even to perform basic asanas, proper training is a must,” says PC Kapoor, director of south Delhi’s Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centre. “Advanced asanas should never be performed in the absence of a qualified yoga instructor. Going only by what you see on TV or on a CD is risky. Always start learning yoga with an instructor, preferably with one-on-one sessions.”
Mumbai chef Anupa Das, 37, not only agrees but has also learnt her lesson the hard way.
“After a one-month break, I started off with Surya Namaskar. But while performing the equestrian pose I ended up stretching my left leg a little too much,” says Das, who has been practising for two years. “My leg and back muscles were strained so badly that I could not walk, sit or bend without pain, for a week.”
She now knows at least one golden rule: Never start without a warm-up.
Yoga is very effective but one must never ignore a seemingly minor injury or a pull either, adds Delhi’s Dr Pushpinder Bajaj, a sports medicine expert.
“Especially if you are over 35, your body can’t take it. You must see a doctor or physiotherapist for any pain or injury, before the situation worsens.”
The key is to listen to your body and take precautions. While most injuries are limited to mild strains and sprains, pain in the joints is a definite sign of trouble, experts say.
“The biggest problem arises when students try to mirror their yoga teacher’s flexibility without understanding the limitations of their own bodies,” says Ameet Pispati, an orthopaedic surgeon at Mumbai’s Jaslok Hospital. “A cardinal rule of yoga is that your session must be tailored to suit your flexibility. If you feel discomfort, stop.”
While neck, lower back and shoulder injuries are commonly seen among people trying to push themselves too hard, osteoarthritis — when the protective cartilage and fluid in the joints begin to dry up — is a common injury caused by incorrectly performed yoga exercises, doctors say.
“Yoga helps keep the spine erect but overstretching can lead to soreness in the connective tissues,” says Sachin Bhat, an orthopaedic consultant at Mumbai’s SRV Hospital. “Swelling and injuries in these muscles can prevent smooth movement.”
To avoid this, practice on a soft mattress positioned at least 2 feet above the ground,” says Mahesh Maheshwari, a senior orthopaedic surgeon at MGM Hospital, Navi Mumbai. “Also, don’t exert too much pressure on your elbows, back, knees and ankles.”
Even those who love yoga advise against ignoring persistent pains and pulls after a session.
“Mild aches are inevitable as we experiment with postures. We call it collateral damage,” says Swati Kain, who runs a yoga and pilates studio called YogEssence in Gurgaon. “Muscle ache, if not too intense, is fine. But knee or backache means there is trouble brewing. Go slowly, take your time. There is no need to rush.”