Fire Life

Injury Free Yoga

By Claire Diab and Dennis Boyle

Part of staying healthy is keeping physically fit. Yoga is a great way to keep your body in shape. Yoga is not a competition!  In practicing a harmonious union between your body, mind, and spirit, it is wise to do some research before diving into your practice. Sometimes yoga gets a bad rap because of people being injured in class. People often will think yoga is difficult because yoga instructors are teaching classes without giving variations or being aware of the specific needs of each individual. People tend to hear the word yoga and visualize putting their body into pretzel-like positions. If yoga were about how flexible you are, then the Cirque du Soleil people would be the best yogis in the world!

When I was trained 25 years ago, I was trained to teach a specific flow that was very difficult. There were no variations, and that was all I knew. After teaching for six months and seeing people struggle in my classes, I decided to create my own style, giving the students variations that would help serve their individual needs. I always look around my classes to make sure that each student is comfortable and feeling good. I know after training more than 1,800 students, half of them scattered around the world, that it is more important to serve the students and be more aware of how to help the students learn to help themselves. I do see a turnaround in the education of yoga teachers being more aware now. It is important for your safety to choose the right instructor and, above all, always listen to your body!

Remember, you can practice yoga anywhere.  It’s not all about in-studio classes. Here are some other safe ways to practice yoga.


Chair Yoga

Let’s face it: We all spend most of our time at work. And if that means hunched over a computer, so be it, but it doesn’t have to mean our practice needs to be neglected. To ensure that you are safe and ready to get into your chair yoga practice, be sure to find a stable sitting position in the chair: Make sure that for the core of your moves, your knees are bent at a 90-degree angle (add a block under your feet if necessary) and you are on your way to a safe practice.


Yoga at Home

I, as well as many other yogis, have made it easy to practice yoga anywhere, even if it’s one of these below freezing days and there is no chance of leaving the house. Pop open your DVD player and roll out your mat right on the living room floor! But be sure that you have a mat so that you will not lose your footing. Listen to the DVD and listen to the variations to assess and implement what will work best for you. If you find yourself using blocks or blankets frequently during studio classes, be sure to have those on hand for yourself at home as well.


Studio Classes

This type is of course the most common, and that does help in making it the most easily navigable for safety. Not only can you contact a studio in advance to find out more information on the types of classes offered and the different styles of the teachers, but most studios will point out what level each class is suitable for on the schedule. If you investigate the Web site first, you can find a brief description of the type of yoga as well. Hatha, vinyasa, bikram, and kundalini may all sound foreign to you now, but taking a moment to read class descriptions will give you a better idea!

In an open-level class, teachers give variations on each pose to accommodate all members in the class, so again, listen to your body and do not compete with your neighbor. Sometimes, that may be hard, but not if you remember that your yoga practice has no ego. It is most important to listen to your body. Arrive to a studio class on time, as you always want to begin by gently stretching the entire body. Loosening up muscles to ready them for your practice is one of the most important steps. Don’t push yourself. If your body is telling you that something is uncomfortable by giving you pain, it is for a good reason. Don’t ignore it!

The misconception of yoga being difficult is definitely changing! If we as teachers can educate the students to be aware of their own bodies and that yoga is not a competition but a practice of “union,” we will see fewer injuries and more people doing yoga! Enjoy!


Claire Diab is an internationally recognized Yoga therapist. She is the director of the Yoga Program for the Chopra Center founded by Dr. Deepak Chopra and Dr. David Simon. She is an adjunct professor of Asian Studies at Seton Hall University. She is the author of several books and DVDs on Yoga including “Yoga For Firefighters.”

Dennis Boyle is a retired fire director and acting chief with the West Orange (NJ) Fire Department. He was the recipient of the 1999 New Jersey Deputy Fire Chiefs “Fire Officer of the Year” award.