How to Optimize Your Yoga Practice for Injury Prevention

body insights yoga practice

Have you ever left a yoga class feeling more frustrated than fulfilled? You're not alone. I recently had an experience in a yoga class that made me rethink the entire approach. It wasn’t that the class itself was bad, but it highlighted a fundamental problem with how yoga is often taught.

Common Issues in Yoga Practice for Injury Prevention

Let me tell you about a particular class I attended this week. We were doing a seated forward fold. Midway through the pose, the teacher singled me out. She said, "Brentan, stay like that!" Then she pointed at someone else and said, "Hannah, stay like that!" Then she told everyone else to look at us.

"It's okay if you only go as far as Brentan goes," she said about me, as I was sitting almost upright in the pose. Then she said, "And it's okay if you go as far down as Hannah goes," pointing to Hannah, who was folded over her legs so deeply her forehead touched her shins.

Everyone looked between the two of us, and I watched the ripple effect of this demonstration across the room. Every single person in the room inched more deeply into the pose, cramming their forehead towards their knees. Pelvises lifted off the floor, twists, side bends, and joint destabilization were used to achieve the desired depth in the pose.

The Impact of Misguided Yoga Practices on Injury Prevention

The teacher aimed to show that it's okay to do a less deep version of the pose, but ended up reinforcing the idea that depth is the ultimate goal. This led everyone to push themselves beyond their limits, straining and contorting just to achieve a deeper pose, even if it meant sacrificing their breath and stability.

We all want to excel and avoid being seen as the one who falls short. Watching the class, I saw a room full of people striving to "get it right," but in ways that didn't truly benefit them. They spent 90 minutes emphasizing flexibility in areas that were already flexible, while neglecting the tissues that actually needed attention. This focus on the wrong aspects of practice can lead to moving in ways that aren't nourishing or sustainable.

It's disheartening because everyone comes to class with the intention of taking good care of themselves. However, the structure and format often lead us to prioritize the wrong things, glorifying aesthetics and extreme flexibility over functional movement and holistic well-being.

My Personal Journey with Yoga-Related Injuries and Prevention

I know this firsthand because of injuries. Some of these injuries are a direct result of my misguided yoga practice, where I emphasized poses and depth above all else. Other injuries are unrelated to yoga but tend to pop up on the mat.

Just so you know I'm not bluffing, here is a short list of my most problematic injuries:

  • Upper right hamstring injury: Due to too much stretching and not enough strengthening my hamstrings.
  • Right shoulder blade injury: Due to over-loading my shoulders in bad positions in yoga poses.
  • Left elbow injury: An old injury from a fall that gets triggered in yoga when I try to step my foot forward from downdog.
  • Left foot and knee injury: Something that didn't happen in yoga, but that is triggered on my yoga mat when I'm not using my glutes enough.

In some way, my injuries have been my biggest blessing. They've forced me to rethink my approach to yoga. When things aren't working as they should, the poses themselves become less important.

Instead, I've become more interested in understanding what my body truly needs. I've learned to explore the potential of my joints – what they can do both on their own and together. I pay attention to how much effort each part of my body is putting into a movement. I've also learned to distinguish between movement at my hips versus my lower back.

Key Principles for a Yoga Practice Focused on Injury Prevention

This deeper awareness has transformed my practice into something that builds up my body rather than wears it down. Here’s what I focus on now:

Move Slowly to Prevent Injuries

If you can't slow down a movement, you don't truly control it. Yoga classes often move quickly, especially during transitions. When you move quickly, you're relying on old habits between your brain and body. To change that, you need to slow down. Slowing down helps you pay closer attention to what's happening in each moment. It takes what feels like one movement and breaks it into many smaller, more nuanced movements.

Focus on Joint Positions, Not Just Yoga Poses

Yoga poses are really just a collection of joint positions. Learning what each joint can do is valuable. For example, if your knee bothers you in a certain pose, it might hurt because it's doing too much work while other joints like the hips and ankles aren't doing enough. By understanding the capacity of your joints and redistributing the effort among them, you can find a balance where everything feels right and nothing is overburdened.

Prioritize Experience Over Appearance

This one can be tough. Many of us want our yoga poses to look perfect. While yoga has ancient roots, the way we practice today was influenced by 20th century gymnastics, which focuses on beauty and form. Unfortunately, the way we teach and practice often has elements of aesthetics and appearance baked into it, making us believe that a good-looking yoga pose is the pinnacle of the practice.

But the true point of yoga is self-discovery. To obtain these benefits, you need to focus more on how it feels rather than how it looks. Start by paying attention to your breathing. Not the fancy yoga breaths, but simple, natural diaphragmatic breathing. This type of breathing, where you breathe deeply into your lower ribs using the right muscles, is more important than making a pose look perfect. If you sacrifice proper breathing to go deeper into a pose, you're prioritizing external appearance over internal experience. Instead, we want to build habits of self-trust, embodiment, and confidence through our practice.

Adopting a New Approach to Yoga Practice for Injury Prevention

As I was being singled out for my lackluster forward fold, I felt a strange sense of self-consciousness and shame. Even though the teacher was telling me it was okay to practice at the depth I was practicing, there was an underlying feeling that I should be going deeper, doing more. Clearly, everyone else thought this too, since they all started cramming their way into a deeper version of the pose.

As I sat feeling embarrassed about my practice, I coached myself through the moment. First, I acknowledged that I was feeling self-conscious and ashamed. Then I validated those feelings by telling myself, "Of course I feel this way! I just got singled out as the example of what to do, just kidding, what not to do in the pose". Then I gave myself full permission to feel the way I felt and assured myself, "I can cope with this."

After all, practicing a less-deep version of the pose was a conscious decision I made. I specifically don't emphasize depth in my forward folds in my practice because of my right hamstring injury. I purposefully do less range of motion so that I can focus on engaging my muscles and distributing effort evenly through my joints.

I left class and went home and did my own practice, moving in my own ways. I moved my hips actively, slowly, in all directions, the way they were craving to be moved in class but never got the chance to. I took a few quiet moments to anchor my attention to my breath and felt an immediate sense of calm and peace that was missing from my experience at the yoga class. I loaded my shoulders and core in a way we didn't do in class, but that opened my posture and made me feel more present and upright in my own skin.



If you're someone who has felt out of place or discouraged in traditional yoga classes, it's not you. You aren't the problem. The class is the problem. There is a way to practice that honors your body and builds it up rather than tears it down.


I've been sharing this link to a free 30-minute class "Daily Warmup" in my last few blog posts. I've heard from so many of you that you feel like you got a head-to-toe tune-up from this practice, and I'm not surprised. This is the type of stuff that our body craves that is often not delivered in a group yoga class. The depth of your pose truly does not matter. What matters is: Can you breathe? Can you move slowly, with control? Can you move your joints in all directions?

I'm here to support you on this journey. Let's find a way to move that feels good for you. If you have any questions or need personalized advice, please don't hesitate to reach out.


I'll "see" you on the mat!

From my living room to yours <3