When people come to see me for help with acute and chronic pain they often tell me they practice yoga. Telling me they "do" yoga doesn't actually tell me a whole lot.
WHAT type of practice do you do? Is it a self practice? Is it a private class? Is it a group class? What style of yoga is it? Is it a fast and furious class? Hot and sweaty? Slow and restorative? Focused on extreme end ranges of movement? A combination of different styles?
HOW do you practice? Is it with mindful attention or is it the way you do everything else in your life with Type A perfectionistic tendencies? Pushing your body to end ranges of movement? Are you more focused on the end result i.e. the peak yoga posture or can you enjoy the process? Do you have an awareness of your body blind spots and how to work with them?
Physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health doesn't depend on whether you do a yoga practice or not but depends very much on the what, the how and the why of your practice!
If you have a physical injury say a shoulder injury and you are doing endless vinyasas (plank, chaturanga, up dog, down dog) throughout a class, even with the best form in the world it's not going to be beneficial in creating the most optimal environment for the injury to heal.
If you have hypermobility and lax ligaments moving in a warm environment with a focus on extreme end ranges of motion may not be what your body needs and a focus on strengthening and stability may be what it needs instead.
If you're a woman and especially a woman with hip, SI joint and low back pain maybe doing all those "hip openers" isn't such a great idea. Perhaps some strengthening work at your end ranges of movement can help to stabilise and support.
If you have anxiety and you are rushing through a fast flowing vinyasa class without a chance for a slow, focused breath it's generally not going to provide the down regulating effect that's needed to calm the nervous system, it's possibly creating or enhancing the same patterns that's contributed to the anxiety in the first place.
If you have a tendency towards sluggishness or depression maybe just doing meditation and restorative yoga isn't optimal. Maybe inviting in some movement can help to shift your mood and energy levels.
If you have spent decades not loading any weight at a gym or in any other activity that you do in your day to day life onto your wrists or your head perhaps it's not okay to load your whole body weight straight away onto those areas.
The same questions could possibly be replaced for the gym or any other physical activity.
WHAT are you doing at the gym? Is it suitable for your age, fitness level, any acute or chronic injuries you may have, perhaps going from being inactive for decades to doing cookie cutter high intensity workouts may not be such a good idea.
HOW are you doing it? Have you got someone watching your form as you begin to lift heavier and heavier weights or adding in more complex movement skills? Is the focus on the total number of reps as opposed to good form? Can you break down the movement skills needed for your new skill so that you can gradually expose yourself to the new load that you are presenting to your body? Are you balancing all of the different areas of your body as opposed to doing the things you're good at? And lastly WHY are you doing it?
There's no good or bad movement but I think it's important to not reinforce our habits, patterns and tendencies when we get on our mat or exercise. Asking what, how and why allows us to examine our movement practices so that we can illuminate any imbalances that may be there. Sometimes the simplest of shifts leads to the most profound changes.
I think it's also important to seek out specialists, people that can personally train you whether it's yoga, fitness or movement, that can highlight your body blind spots, that can regress and progress movement skills that you are working towards, that can personalise your practice as opposed to giving a group one size fits all practice. Seek out someone that knows about the human body, about human movement and understands diversity.
Advanced clinical massage therapist and yoga teacher.