Yoga – I’m unfit and stretchy – should I do it?

a lady doing a triangle pose in yoga

There is something important to be aware of regarding yoga practice. I appreciate that experts might not agree with what I’m about to say, but I write it from the perspective of a practitioner who occasionally has to treat someone who has ‘put their back’ out doing yoga.

Introduction

Before I explain how this can happen, let me say that yoga is an excellent and structured program aimed at improving muscle tone and endurance, balance, health and flexibility.

But what is it about this ancient discipline, compared to other approaches like pilates and gym, that might cause a problem for some people?

It’s this: some of the poses (asanas) take the spine to an ‘end of range’ involving compound spinal movements.

Yoga Triangle Pose

Take, for example, the famous triangle pose in the picture above.

You can see the practitioner has a considerable amount of bending and twisting going on through her spine.

In this position, the spine – especially the low-back portion – is at its maximum unbalanced position.

Osteopathy – our interpretation

Ligaments are at full stretch in some areas and off-stretch in others. Muscles, both large and small, are working overtime to maintain the posture by generating a sustained contraction.

This is where the benefits come from, of course, but also where the risks arise – just like any activity or exercise.

An uncontrolled extra movement in this position might cause the system to stop coping – to fail. The movement could be an attempt to increase the pose (e.g. to copy the instructor or someone next to you) or could be when coming out of the pose.

Regarding this latter point, it is the first small movement that is the most critical to get right.

Implications for your spine

Now this applies to all of us. But what if you already have loose ligaments and low muscle mass and poor tone and strength? See my article on loose ligaments for more information on this.

In this situation, an overly-stretchy and weak (muscle-wise) person might take up yoga with the best of intentions.

But even a gentle class, especially if it takes the participants to sustained ‘end-of-range’ poses, might well be too much for them.

That’s why I generally advise this type of patient to start with some other form of exercise, for example, basic gym or pilates, and then transition to yoga later on.

Here’s an excellent resource if you are thinking of starting yoga.