Yoga is a beautiful discipline. Practiced correctly and consistently, you can expect improved mobility and flexibility. You'll also get the added inner benefits of stress reduction, a greater sense of calm and even a healthier heart.
Don’t be tempted to try advanced yoga poses if you are a beginner.
Yoga poses can be modified to suit all ages and abilities.
You can still practice yoga when you are pregnant, but find a qualified pregnancy yoga instructor.
Always speak to your doctor about your health concerns before joining a yoga class.
Always inform your yoga instructor of any underlying health conditions before your class.
But, not every pose is for everyone. Believe it or not, people do get injured practicing yoga. You need to be aware of some postures and sequences that, when incorrectly performed, can cause damage. If there are underlying health issues, pregnancy, or you are just getting on in years, there are things you need to know before you step onto the mat.
If you are a beginner, don't rush into a head, shoulder, or handstand. You could get dizzy, lose your balance and hurt yourself. Don't try to contort your body into the complicated poses you've seen on Instagram. Your physical structure won't be strong, supple, or open enough to support you. Begin slowly and gently, or you risk injury.
I don't want to put anyone off yoga. I believe that it can help alleviate the symptoms of many chronic issues. But you need to know what you are doing and where to ask for help.
When shouldn't you practice yoga?
If you are in pain: It may sound obvious, but if you are in a lot of pain anywhere in your body, don't step out on your mat.
Before we throw in the towel and give up completely, it's essential to differentiate between temporary and chronic pain. Temporary pain is a twisted ankle, for example. Chronic pain is the result of an old injury or underlying health issue.
If you are concerned about pain, you should visit your primary healthcare physician and get a diagnosis. Your doctor will tell you when it's safe to practice yoga again.
If you are in your first trimester of pregnancy: Unless you are a seasoned yogi with regular daily practice, I don't recommend intense yoga classes during early pregnancy. The body goes through significant changes during this time. While light yoga might be okay, a fast vinyasa flow or hot yoga class puts a lot of stress on your body. It's a delicate time.
Essentially, yoga is good for everyone most of the time. Let's take a deeper look at some of the poses you need to be aware of if you are a newbie, an old timer or suffering from an array of health conditions.
What do I need to know as an older person practicing yoga?
Go slowly. Do not go straight into a hot flow yoga class and try to get into eagle pose in 40°C heat. Pick a gentle Hatha style and ease into the postures. Make sure your yoga instructor knows about any age-related issues or health concerns you have. They will be able to offer you modifications.
Try mountain pose. Easing into the posture, stand tall with a straight back, hands by your sides, palms facing forward. Feel all four corners of your feet grounding down into the mat, and imagine a string at the top of your head, guiding your crown skyward.
Next, you can try downward dog. This pose can be done fully or modified using a chair. Start on your hands and knees with your hands shoulder-width apart. Make sure your wrists, elbows and shoulders are in line. Next, curl your toes under, lift your knees and push back so your body forms an upside-down 'V' shape. Breathe deeply and come down onto all fours if it feels too much.
You can modify this posture by placing your hands onto the back or seat of a chair and pushing back from there. Slowly walk your feet backwards until you feel a nice stretch along the back body.
People of all ages practice yoga. Having a few more years behind you shouldn't stop you. Your yoga teacher can assist if you have any difficulties, questions or need further modifications. Don't be afraid to ask.
What yoga poses should I avoid if I am pregnant?
If you've never been to a yoga class or are relatively new to the practice, then always speak with a qualified pregnancy yoga teacher. They will be able to give you modified poses for every stage of the pregnancy.
It's not recommended to perform intense twists such as a revolved side-angle pose. This is because they compress your stomach by twisting along the midline, significantly reducing the space for your baby.
Belly-down poses like locust, bow, sphinx, and cobra should be avoided. The compression of the lower abdomen can be uncomfortable for you and the little baby in there!
Inversions like shoulder, head and handstands can be detrimental since they often cause dizziness - especially if you don't practice them regularly. The added danger comes if you get nauseous and faint. You are prone to losing your balance, and a fall could hurt you and your baby.
What poses can I do if I am pregnant?
Always talk to your pregnancy yoga teacher about what is and isn't safe, depending on how far along you are.
In general, child's-pose will always feel wonderful as you stretch forward, your knees bent and your belly sitting between your legs. It's an excellent stretch for your back, hips and ankles, which need extra attention during pregnancy.
Wide-legged forward fold is also great for pregnancy. Sit on the floor and open your legs wide in front of you. Gently lean forward, placing your hands on the floor. Feel the stretch in your legs, hips and back. This is great for opening the hips and keeping them supple in preparation for childbirth.
Poses to be aware of when you have certain health conditions
If you have a serious health condition, always speak to your doctor before you start a yoga practice. If you have been told it's safe, inform your instructor before classes begin. They will be able to offer modifications and tell you if any of the poses aren't appropriate for you.
If you have glaucoma, a disease that damages the optic nerves in your eyes, it's best to avoid dropping your head below your heart. You will need modifications for forward folds, inversions and downward dog.
If you have chronic back pain, avoid doing intense backbends like wheel, camel or bow pose. Restorative and yin yoga are excellent for easing back pain. Using gentle twists and props like blankets, bolsters and blocks, these types of yoga help the body gradually release tension around the painful areas. Trust is rebuilt in the body by improving spinal mobility slowly over time.
If you have scoliosis - a curvature of the spine - yoga can help to redress the balance in your body. Make sure that your teacher is acutely aware of your condition, can confidently offer modifications, and can inform you if any of the class's postures are unsuitable for you. Side plank, downward dog, and warrior pose are good for developing back muscle strength and balance. Poses such as cobra and locust should be avoided as they can exacerbate scoliosis-related symptoms.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of yoga poses to be aware of when you have certain health conditions. Always speak to your doctor about what exercise is suitable for you.
Which yoga poses are safe for me?
When looking for a class, find a teacher with experience in providing modifications and support for people with your condition. If you are pregnant, make sure your teacher has a qualification in pregnancy yoga. They'll make you aware of any yoga poses you should be avoiding.
A beginner's class will be full of new movements and meditations, so tell your teacher that you've only just started. They'll keep an eye out and make you aware of any poses you need to modify. The same goes for underlying health conditions.
Yoga can be a great healer, but it's essential to be aware of the poses that could harm you as well as those that can heal.