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Improving Your Yoga Practice Through Assessment

by John Wallman, DC, and Pamela Wallman

“Have you tried…?” 

How many times have you heard this dialog? “I’ve got a backache.” Someone else replies, “Have you tried leg lifts?” or “Do sit ups” or “Try this yoga pose” or any number of other options. And many people will try them all, one after the other, until the problem is fixed, goes away, or gets worse. Although these recommendations are well meaning, they can be totally inappropriate.

With the popularity of yoga on the rise as a physical-conditioning program in the West, the following exchange is common in the yoga community: Person A, “I’ve got X.” Person B, “Try Y; it worked for me.” Unfortunately (or fortunately), everybody is different, and the causes for one person’s health condition can be very different for the next person. Condition X could have multiple causes. For instance, if a person has knee issues, we must search for the answer as to why they have knee issues. Is the gracilis muscle too weak or too strong? Maybe it’s their adductors that are impacting their knees? Or could it be a muscle or muscles in their foot impacting their knees?

The symptom of knees not working properly could have many causes. Before any therapy is prescribed, it is necessary to find the root cause. Every therapy becomes a trial and error when we skip the critical step of asking why until we get to the root cause of a condition. Without doing this, therapies lose focus and can possibly cause more damage.

So, given the benefits of yoga as a therapy to stay healthy and relieve aches and pains, how does a person understand if those “modifications for knee issues” will actually help or hurt issue X? All a person needs to do is an online search for “knee pain and yoga” and hundreds of solutions are offered. But still, how do you know the solutions offered will help, hurt or be of any success for your individual condition? The answer is you don’t know unless you assess your body for the cause.

Ask yoga practitioners and instructors if they have ever experienced pain or injuries from yoga, and there is a good chance that not one person will reply: “No. Not me. Never.” As a matter of fact, according to Yoga Journal, yoga injuries are on the rise. This awareness has sparked a movement among the yoga community to evaluate Western yoga practices to better safeguard health and allow people to continue to practice yoga safely for the potential benefits we know yoga possesses.

Let’s call the yoga community to action by moving from the ideas that yoga as a practice is “one size fits all” and that all a person needs to do to be safe is to “listen” to his or her body. Let’s aim to get rid of the words “yoga modifications” and replace them with “yoga variations” because not all poses are created equal and executed the same.

Where do you begin?

Each person that is thinking of joining a yoga class or anyone that has been practicing yoga should consider being assessed for things like individual muscle strengths and weaknesses, range of motion, and functional movement patterns. The results can be used to develop a truly individualized plan of corrective exercises and yoga variations designed to improve health and performance. Assessments can be repeated approximately once a month to monitor progress and update your plan. By incorporating this data into your yoga practice, a person truly develops a greater awareness and love for his or her own body. Assess and plan, NOT trial and error.

John Wallman is president of The Diagnosis Foundation and a doctor of chiropractic. With his yoga-loving wife, Pamela Wallman, they have created YogAnalysis to ensure all people continue to practice yoga safely. It serves the tri-state area and is located at 2805 Veterans Memorial Hwy., in Ronkonkoma. For more information, call 631-440-7007, email LoveServeGive@YogAnalysis.org or visit YogAnalysis.org.

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