Yoga, alignment, cues and pain- What to do, What not to do: pain management

Step inside any yoga or pilates studio, and/or gym and you will hear conflicting advice, instructions and cuing. Last week in my clinic in Encinitas, I was talking with a yogi who asked me, “How do I know what to do”? She told me that she wanted to take care of herself, she loves going to classes, but sometimes she wonders if it makes her pain worse. Here’s the thing, it could. ​

There are some really great teachers out there who are mindful and educate themselves on the body, movement and biomechanics, and then there are some not so great teachers. It’s easy to end up in a class with poor sequencing and cuing that primes you for injury. And, whether a teacher is good or bad, the tricky part for them is cuing for a group of students. One cue that works wonderful for one student can lead to harm in another. So what’s a student to do to stay injury free?

  1. Listen to your body. The teacher is your guide, not drill sergeant. You are not going to flunk out of class, or be expelled. If something doesn’t feel right, whether it be alignment, the speed or movement etc, don’t do it. If a teacher pressures you, leave the class. I’m serious it’s your body, you only get one, and you should never be pressured by a teacher to do something that doesn’t feel in alignment. That being said, sometimes we do need a push outside of our comfort zone, or comfortable movement patterns – so read on to point 2.
  2. Distinguishing between discomfort of a challenge and pain of injury. Learn your body’s subtle signs and signals. Is what you are feeling a challenge, or is it a strain or forcing which can lead to injury?
  3. Avoid too many poses and positions on one leg, and practicing poses in between before switching to the other side. For example, doing a string of poses with right leg forward (4 or more), then doing forward fold and down dog before switching to the other side. This just sets the body up for either SI joint irritation, or injury.
  4. Old school abdominal crunches are rarely ever a good thing. Just avoid them completely. Your discs will thank you.
  5. Slowing down is helpful. When we move through yoga postures or exercises quickly the tendency is to fall back into our old patterns of movement. This is effective if those patterns are serving you well. This is not good if you know you are trying to move differently to heal from injury or prevent one.
  6. Talk with your teacher, tell them how you feel. I love having conversations with students about my class. I usually learn something I can improve upon, as well as learn more about my students so I can better cater classes to them.
  7. Seek out help. If you are unsure if a class, a position or a cue is good for you seek out someone with trained eyes (ahem, like a physical therapist). Then you can determine exactly which poses, cues and exercises are good for you and which to avoid. This is exactly what I did with the Yogi mentioned above. She left armed with tools and knowledge about her body and practice, empowering her and giving her more confidence. Often I see a student repeating a therapy exercise another student is doing given by their PT. Avoid the expectation of that one particular exercise magically solving your pain and issues, the same that it did for your friend. I can guarantee you don’t have the same exact body, with the same exact issue. Most likely that exercise doing wonders for your friend won’t help you quite the same way.
  8. Take breaks. It’s ok to tap out. Some days you may make it through a class no problem. Other days the whole class might be a struggle. There are so many factors, time of day, day of week, nutrition, stress etc. You are not a machine that is calibrated to run the same each day. Respect that. Rest when needed. You will reduce your risk for injury.
  9. Let go of the ego on the days you feel great. On the opposite side of the spectrum, be especially mindful on the days you feel great. It’s easy to over do and pay later.
  10. You are going to work mentally. Unless it’s restorative or a mediation type class your mind is going to be involved. Avoid checking out. Yes, Yoga is about helping to achieve bliss, calmness, peace etc. but this does not mean the mind is on vacation during class. Every pose, exercise, and moment you need to be mindful.

Sounds exhausting and more confusing? Then just show up. Go to class, slow down, breath, listen to your body, stop before it hurts and that’s it.

What are your thoughts? Questions? Comment below or drop me a line!
Happy Halloween!



Alison McLean

"I help the Entrepreneur reduce stress and live a more fulfilled and balanced life."