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Published: Tuesday, February 21, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

If yoga hurts, you're not doing it right

WALNUT CREEK, Calif. -- Mark Goldman was a relative newcomer to yoga when he found himself teetering in standing lotus pose with an instructor barking over him like a drill sergeant.
"You can get into this pose," the yogi said. "Push harder."
Goldman, a "typical Silicon Valley" go-getter who works in high tech sales, took the bait. The harder the better, he thought. He deepened his squat, forcing his knee down. Then -- snap.
He'd torn his meniscus, the tissue that aids motion in the knee. Surgery would repair it. However, it would take Goldman, a longtime runner with a stiff body, years to develop a mindful yoga practice more in line with what Indians intended when they developed the lifestyle 5,000 years ago.
Yoga is a physical, mental and spiritual discipline with numerous styles. Injury -- as with any exercise regimen -- is a possibility.
However, experts say that if you develop a practice based on proper form and your own ability, you can avoid injury and reap yoga's benefits, such as stress reduction and heart health.
When you match the postural practice to the person's needs, then you're being true to the intention of yoga, says Roger Cole, a University of California-San Francisco-trained psychobiologist and certified Iyengar yoga instructor of 30 years.
Iyengar encourages the use of props such as blankets, blocks and straps to help bring the body into alignment.
Yoga tips
Practice with common sense: Move slowly, pay attention and ask for help. Poses can be modified.
Know your body: Know your trouble spots and how to avoid irritating them.
Practice at your own pace: Don't try to keep up with the person sitting next to you. There may be postures you are unfamiliar with that require more time and patience. Know your limits.
Yoga is about technique: You need to practice proper alignment to avoid a yoga injury.
It's all about the breath: If your teacher doesn't integrate breath work in class, find another instructor.
Pain is not good: Don't push into it. Don't hold your breath. Just get out of the pose.
Repetition increases injury risk: Some yoga disciplines employ a set number of the same postures at every class, such as Bikram. Others, such as Ashtanga, move rapidly from one posture to another and can compromise proper form. Both situations increase the chance of injury.
Story tags » Fitness

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