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One Small Change

When Yoga Hurts

I’m embarrassed to admit this, but I’ve hurt myself—doing yoga, no less. There’s a twinge in my left shoulder, my right wrist is sore, my neck aches and there’s something weird going on in my low back. If this continues, I may have to swap my morning stretch for Rap with the Rabbi (forward Deck 7, starboard side).

Not to brag, but I’ve done some strenuous training over the years—triathlons, centuries, marathons, trying out for my high-school basketball team at age 40—and I never injured myself. But suddenly, after just one week of daily yoga, I’m feeling more brittle than Katie Couric’s smile. Now granted, I’ve been doing 90 minutes per day (half in class and half on my own), but this is yoga for god’s sake, not power-lifting.

Sue Falsone is the director of physical therapy at Athletes’ Performance, and she agreed to be one half of my lifeboat throughout this experiment. The other half is Ann Frederick, a former professional dancer who’s been loosening up athletes for 15 years as part of her Stretch to Win Center in Tempe, Arizona. Neither is surprised by my ligaments’ sudden turn for the worse when I tell them what happened.

“Stretching is no different from any other form of training,” points out Falsone, who is also the physical therapist for the Los Angeles Dodgers. “You’re introducing trauma to the body so that it can eventually get stronger and more flexible. But there’s a fine line between this micro-trauma and injuring yourself. You have to be careful.”

Frederick concurs: “You’re actually changing the structure of your body from the inside out. If you go about this too aggressively, you can even get a rebound effect, where the injured area lays down scar tissue and you end up tighter than before.”

What I didn’t realize is that flexibility equals fragility when you’re embarking on a stretching program, especially if you’re older. You’re disturbing support structures and movement patterns that have been laid down over decades. During this transition period, which can last for months or years depending on your age and level of tightness, your body is extremely vulnerable. Unless you’re gentle, respectful and patient with it, it’ll develop hairline cracks like I’m experiencing now.

There’s another facet to this whole process, too. I’m reminded of it at dinner each night in the cruise ship’s formal dining room as I sit and watch the older guests shuffle in and out. They remind me of question marks. They’re not only physically bent over, but many of them also have this searching look about them, as if they need an immediate answer to something important they forgot. It seems the older we get, the stiffer our bodies and brains become. I wonder if stretching my muscles will help me nourish, preserve and open my mind as well.

When I ask Alice, my yoga teacher, about this the next morning, she smiles. “Yoga gives you the body of a child,” she says, “and, if you’re lucky, the mind of one, too. You’re on the right track—ask questions, learn.”

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About The Author

Joe Kita – Joe Kita is a noted writer, editor, motivational speaker and teacher. He authors the blog "One Small Change" for CorePerformance.com.

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Tags: Tightness, Stretching, Flexibility, Soreness, Reduce Pain