[6 min read]
Logistics: Self-management and Help-seeking
Because yoga helps us understand our bodies and learn to make adjustments for comfort and realignment many folks with chronic pain, injuries, or other issues related to mobility find yoga therapeutic. The tough part with this one – as with the trauma and stress pieces as well – is that every person’s needs will be quite different. While going to a physical class may be useful in that the teacher may have insight to help you heal, others may prefer an at-home practice to work through at their own pace. Neither is better or worse, these are just factors to consider.
First things first, if you can, inquire with your doctor or physical therapist about what types of movements are best for your body. They may recommend a specific type of yoga, but whether they do or don’t information about what to incorporate or omit is incredibly useful. I’ll add an example when we get to talking about styles of yoga below.
More logistics: I checked in with a friend who lives with chronic pain and she offered some tips I’d like to emphasize. First, she said to listen to your body and don’t try to keep up. I concur – the slower you go now, the more potential you have for continuing and growing your practice in the future.
If you attend a class in person she also suggested telling the teacher about your injuries and asking for modifications when necessary. Though trained to pay attention, teachers may fail to notice one student struggling or a look of discomfort in a class of fifteen or more. Furthermore, even a highly skilled teacher benefits from learning about their students unique needs in order to ensure they are more inclusive of everyone in the room through changing flows, modifying single poses, or suggesting supportive props. This means that in some sense it is your responsibility to voice or self-manage your needs in a classroom setting as it is the teachers responsibility to respond to them.
Maybe more so a note for teachers: my friend mentioned that she appreciates when the teacher reminds students to take their time and breathe. I’ve heard this feedback from students time and time again. I’ll also add for non-teachers that if you have a moment where you become aware of your breath (or the lack of it) use it as an opportunity to stay connected, deepen your breath, and acknowledge it as a new start. That’s a beautiful aspect of this practice; the concept of non-attachment and non-striving gives space for compassion and recommitment, rather than shame, guilt, or frustration with self.
This final note is my own: while discomfort may not be a bad sign (new things can be uncomfortable!) pain is. If you experience pain STOP – adjust or move on (or even stop your practice for the day, depending on the severity of the pain). Here’s a great flow chart:
Styles of Yoga
If you’re struggling with pain, and especially if you haven’t been active in a while or at all, less vigorous practices are a good place to start. However, while some classes will include dynamic stretches throughout class others will focus on longer holds. I’ve had just as many students tell me their body prefers constant movement as I have had people tell me they need to stay put for a period of time.
The two schools of yoga most practiced in the United States are Vinyasa and Hatha. Now, the specifics of language opens the door to a larger discuss of the history of yoga, but for all intents and purposes just hang with me here.
Vinyasa yoga is generally a more athletic practice. It is characterized by linking the breath with the movement, in many cases moving on every inhale and exhale. Hatha yoga includes longer holds and generally – not always – these classes offer more alignment cues. There may be some flow incorporated into Hatha classes, but not to the same extent as a Vinyasa class. In these types of classes, especially vinyasa, you probably want to be able to get up and down from the floor with ease. If you’re not sure, contact the teacher or studio.
Under the umbrella of Hatha and Vinyasa are other styles, generally more audience or content/focus specific. There are even some classes that cater to injury or pain; back pain, for instance, is one I’ve seen multiple times. I’ll share some more styles that I think would be relevant to this blog focus (if you want to know more in general, check out the Yoga Poster.
Beginning yoga classes are great because the teacher should be more prepared to offer supportive descriptions and have more time to provide adjustments to individual students. Gentle yoga classes are also a great place to start if you want to make sure you have time and space to hear the teacher and integrate their instruction into your alignment. Chair yoga is also a great option for anyone, though generally marketed to an older audience. Restorative yoga works toward general relaxation with the use of props.
Yin yoga is (somewhat) similar to restorative yoga, though props generally aren’t used and poses are held for a while (one to five minutes, for instance) in order to stress (stress is semantic choice over stretch, but don’t get too caught up for now) connective tissues. There are some differing perspectives of yin yoga (not necessarily researched or validated), though mine is that it’s a beautifully safe practice when accompanied with mindful awareness (just like any other style of practice). You can check out some articles for varying perspectives and general information about yin yoga here and here and here. I think these are great educational resources for those who do decide to try yin yoga.
Lastly, just like I have emphasized in previous posts, research, explore, and don’t give up on finding the practice that suits you.
Craving more information? My most-used resources include:
Mala Yoga NYC – follow Steph and Angela on Instagram for educational tips!
I’m a big fan girl of Jason Crandall – his wife has a great podcast that he frequently shows up on