People who choose to practice yoga at home do so for a variety of reasons. Perhaps there aren't any studios in their area that they feel comfortable with, or maybe they can't afford the classes. Others may choose to pursue a home practice so they can deepen their experience of yoga in a solitary environment, making it a truly personal experience.
But the problem with home-based yoga is the lack of teacher guidance when it comes to proper alignment. Many individuals end up injured as a result of pushing themselves too far or simply failing to properly align the body while holding poses.
By understanding what the most common types of yoga-related injuries are, you can begin to take steps to avoid putting yourself in a position where these injuries are more likely to occur. Shoulder, elbow, and wrist injuries are quite common, as are pulled hamstrings, lower back pain, and knee issues.
To avoid injuries in poses like downward dog and plank, spread your fingers wide and align your wrist crease with the top of the mat. Press into the knuckles that meet your hand so you have a secure grip on the ground, with the fingertips pressing down for more support. Focus on pressing the forefinger and thumb area down into the floor. When in Plank, keep your arm in one line, with the wrist underneath the elbow and the elbow underneath the shoulder. This alignment will also prevent elbow and shoulder injuries and make the exercise more effective.
These are common because a lot of people are very tight in that part of the body and they try to force the shoulders to open. Going into shoulderstands and headstands, in particular, before you're ready is a big mistake, so focus on stretching and strengthening the shoulders first.
To avoid them, keep your knees slightly bent while doing folds and Downward Dog rather than forcing the legs to be straight or the heels to touch the ground, respectively. This will also prevent lower back strain, especially when maintaining a straight spine at the same time. Never force yourself to go deeper into a pose until you're ready. Instead, inhale and exhale deeply as your body gently moves into the pose.
To avoid injuring your delicate knees, make sure your hips are flexible before going into positions like lotus, and make sure your knee is above the ankle in positions like Warrior.
A lot of beginners are ashamed to use props and want to prove themselves by pushing into an asana without any external help. This could spell disaster if you aren't ready for the full expression of a pose and you don't want to end up overextending and overexerting yourself. If you ever catch yourself thinking this way, try to embrace them for what they truly are: tools that help to get into a pose and derive every benefit from it while avoiding injuries that would ultimately take you off the mat and set you back.
Purchase a few blocks, some blankets, a bolster or two, and straps that you can use as you gently bring your body into a pose over time. These props are also key in maintaining proper alignment so that you reduce the risk of injuries.
For example, a blanket folded in half provides a great base for sitting and enjoying a longer extension through your spine when you're in a basic seated position. You can use bolster the same way, which can be very helpful during meditation and pranayama.
A block can be used to help you get into poses like Pigeon, especially if you haven't yet developed enough flexibility to bring your bent leg all the way to the floor. You can also use a block to literally lift the floor towards you when you're bending into a pose like Extended Side Angle or Triangle pose. And when you get more advanced, the block can be placed in front of your feet so that you can reach even deeper into your seated forward bend.
Straps can literally extend the length of your arms if you're tight in poses that require a bind or in poses like Standing Hand-to-big-toe, as the strap will help to lengthen those limbs and promote flexibility.
Home-based yoga practice can be effective, invigorating, and calming. Just listen to your body, be careful when it signals that something is wrong and honor what you're capable of doing each day.