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Yogi Beware: Make Your Practice Safe

Hidden dangers can lurk within even the most familiar pose. Here's how to play it smart and safe.

By Judith Hanson Lasater

Instead, think of your pelvis as your lowest vertebra; it is the foundation of the twist and must turn in order to avoid strain on the ligaments that join the ilium and sacrum. Once you're sure you understand the mechanics of moving the pelvis properly, you can rotate further, repositioning yourself so you can press the outside of the left arm against the right thigh or complete the traditional pose by reaching the arms behind the back and catching the right wrist with the left hand.

The Marichyasana III precautions also apply to most other seated twists. Avoid these poses if you suffer from acute sacroiliac pain, and consult a qualified health professional and an experienced yoga teacher for help in creating an asana program you can practice safely. (If you experience pain around your sacrum and the pain is exacerbated during transitions from sitting to standing and vice versa, that's a good sign it's caused by sacroiliac strain.)

If you're premenstrual, menstruating, or pregnant, you might want to avoid Marichyasana III as well as other strong twists. Ligaments may be more lax during these hormonal changes, and increased laxity in the sacral ligaments increases the risk of injury.

TO KEEP YOUR SHOULDER JOINTS SAFE IN CHATURANGA DANDASANA, draw your scapulas (shoulder blades) toward your waist and bring them slightly together, especially at their lower tips. In addition, draw the top of the humerus (upper arm bone) firmly down toward your waist and rotate the arm externally, so your elbows stay close to your torso. You should feel as if the top of each humerus at the shoulder lifts toward the ceiling and then moves down toward the waist. Finally, make sure your forearms are perpendicular to the floor; this will contribute to safe overall alignment in the shoulder girdle and also protect your wrists against strain.

Chaturanga involves the whole body, not just the shoulders, and thinking about it this way can help prevent injury. Contract your abdominal muscles to support your core as you go into and hold Chaturanga Dandasana. Keep your thighs and lower legs active by pressing them away from your hands while simultaneously pressing your femurs (thighbones) toward the backs of your hamstrings and lifting the backs of the thighs.

If you have a shoulder injury or feel discomfort in the joint, skip Chaturanaga Dandasana. Also skip the pose if you're more than three months pregnant or fewer than three months postpartum.

If you can't keep your shoulder blades from moving up toward your ears and their inner bottom edges from winging away from your spine, practice modified versions of the pose (see next page). Unless you can move your shoulder blades toward your hips and move the inner edges toward each other, you'll have trouble stabilizing the joint, and you'll increase your risk of injury.

Judith Hanson Lasater, Ph.D., is a physical therapist who has taught yoga since 1971. To learn about her most recent book, 30 Essential Yoga Poses: For Beginning Students and Their Teachers, visit

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