I’m injured!  Now what?

YogiAnatomyAdmin | February 23, 2017 |

If you stick around a yoga studio long enough, you begin to hear stories of injuries.  Maybe it’s the time when a leg or arm was casted, maybe it’s the time when there was a bad sprain, maybe it’s the time when something was torn.  We often say that regardless of the injury, there is always a way to practice yoga.   Remember that yoga is not only asana (postures).  Pranayama (breathing) and meditation practices can be very powerful tools for those days when you can’t move through your asana routine.   Both pranayama and meditation can help you remain grounded in the face of an injury and perhaps even promote healing.  But neither pranayama nor meditation will help you maintain muscular strength during a period of immobility.  Brian Clark, a professor of physiology and neuroscience at Ohio University, suggests that mental practice, truly imagining yourself contracting your muscles and moving through a physical activity, can help preserve muscle strength and attenuate the loss of strength typically seen after a period of immobility.

Dr. Clark and his colleagues conducted a small study investigating the role of mental imagery as a way of combatting muscle loss.  Twenty-nine healthy subjects underwent strength testing and then had their non-dominant forearm casted for 4 weeks.  Of the subjects casted, 14 were taught mental imagery of a muscle contraction and asked to practice 5x/wk for approximately 10 minutes.  After 4 weeks of immobilization or 4 weeks of immobilization and mental imagery, all casts were removed and the subjects were again tested for strength.  The data show that immobilization significantly decreased muscle strength by 45% in the group that was simply casted.  The subjects that were casted and practiced mental imagery showed a decrease of only 24% of their baseline strength.

And so, if you’re sidelined from an asana practice and concerned about losing muscle strength, engage your brain. Mental imagery, imagining yourself moving through your asana practice can help you return to practice with less loss of strength.  And, don’t forget about breathing and meditation!


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