Guest Post: Safe and Sound Yoga

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The following is from a newsletter by Maureen Mason, MS PT, WCS, CCI, PYT-C. This is part one of a two part series, detailing her own experiences and observations while prescribing Medical Therapeutic Yoga to her clients. Learn how Maureen uses safe and sound yoga in her practice.

Click here for part two.

Professional Yoga Therapy: Safe and Sound Yoga

April 2015
by Maureen Mason, MS PT, WCS, CCI, PYT-C

The term “Medical Yoga” is popping up in the news and in yoga offerings, and this is part of a trend to look at the ancient practice of yoga and recognize its medical and health benefits. The scientific, medically applicable benefits of yoga are being studied and show promise for helping reduce low back pain, depression, improve cholesterol levels, reduce stress, and help with weight loss. Additionally, yoga may help promote cardiovascular fitness. (1,2)
What should you look for in to find a “medical yoga” teacher? Any individual delivering a “medical yoga” class should have a health care training that qualifies them to assess all prior client history, screen current status, and examine the client for posture, strength, stability, tone, flexibility, and stamina. Anatomy and biomechanics knowledge are essential. Medical yoga is therefore a customized, one size fits only you, approach!
I will share some medical yoga pearls while revealing a few of my own pitfalls, or roadblocks, I have encountered along my own path with yoga. I am on a Professional Yoga Therapy (PYT) 900 – hour certification track that follows a commons sense, yet profound application of science to yoga. (3) I prescribe PYT “medical yoga” to many of my clients as needed, to help them meet their goals in Physical Therapy. And I am practicing self -care with a home yoga practice.

A key yoga guideline you can practice: non -violence to yourself, and others.

(4) Interpreted into a yoga pose (Asana) this means any negative feeling such as pinching or burning or shaking and wobbling in a pose is not safe. Non- violence may be applied to any exercise that you practice. During yoga, muscle fatigue and a mild sense of feeling the muscle “heat up, or burn” is acceptable. My mistake: I partially tore both Achilles while performing down dog on one leg in a hot yoga class, and it took over a year to heal. I actually repeated the exertion two days in a row, despite sore Achilles. (My Achilles were weak and stiff and I had no business balancing on one leg in downward dog for 90 seconds per leg, leg while trying to force my heel down.) I am not very flexible, and therefore I do not look like the model on any yoga magazine you will see. Also I am naturally competitive and in a class with individuals 20 or more years younger than me, I try to “keep up”, which causes me to be violent in pushing my body.

unnamed (1)What is your natural alignment of your kneecaps (patella), do they face inwards or outwards? Honoring your comfortable range of motion of all joints is important, and the hip can be strained in “violence” forcing it to turn in or out too much if that is a limit that is pre-determined by your bones and ligaments. In this picture the individual on the right is “turned in “ at the knees, and the other is “turned out”, which will determine limitations in ranges of motion for the legs and back.

PYT Precepts or foundation rules: Breath mastery and stability with transverse abdominus activation must be mastered before moving into poses.

Poses must demonstrate optimal biomechanical alignment, and stability. The practitioner must be able to “stabilize” with co contractions of opposing muscles around a joint, and/or use external props or supports. Therefore extreme shakiness or wobbling is demonstrating a lack of ability to hold, or stabilize, and the pivot points may be compressed, and angry following the yoga class. My own realization during PYT training is that I may “throw myself into a pose” and actually be in poor biomechanical alignment and feel a sense of strain and imbalance in the pose. Now I breathe and practice a pre-set of transverse abdominus and other key muscles before I move into a pose of a sustainable range of motion that I can control. I must admit that I am not stable in Warrior 3 pose, leaning forward on one leg and attempting to place my body parallel to the floor. I must use props and supports as I work into this pose, due to tight hamstrings, and a lack of adequate co-contraction and stability from the foot up to my knee, hip, and spine. I used to force myself into this pose and fall out of it with a big wobble and then my back and hip would hurt.

Pranayama is the yoga discipline of breath control.

Breath control is useful for both calming, relaxing, winding-down scenarios as needed, but also for exertion and energizing. The easy diaphragm breath is the starting practice point. From there, one may learn to lengthen the inhale and the exhale phases for deeper relaxation. Then move on to engaging the deep abdominals for support and power, with transverse abdominus training. And the ujaii breath technique involves slight vocalization during exhale and or inhale, which has a warming effect on the body. While some yoga classes do not involve attention to the breath, medical yoga must focus on individual needs and custom training in pranayama.

Please honor yourself with non -violence, self-care and safety, if you are stepping onto a yoga mat at home or in a class. Consider your breath control and stability as you move through postures, and you should be pain free after your yoga program, optimally feeling lighter and focused. You may schedule with me for PT needs that can involve medical use of yoga poses and practices, to help with spinal and pelvic pain, mind-body calming for muscle relaxation and stress management, and perinatal fitness. Yoga may also help with cancer related fatigue and restoring strength and endurance. Check in with the CTS blog and Facebook to see further posts on PYT pearls for your yoga practice, for your health and wellness.
Om, Namaste.


  1. http://cpr.sagepub.com/content/early/2014/12/02/2047487314562741.full. Chu, Gotnik, Yeh et al, The effectiveness of yoga in modifying risk factors for cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, 2014
  2. https://nccih.nih.gov/health/yoga/introduction.html Review of trials on medical benefits of yoga by the NIH
  3. https://garnerpelvichealth.com, Web for Ginger Garner PT, PYT profile and resources. Also check out GingerGarner.com for free links on meditation and creating a “yoga couch” for comfort.
  4. .http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yoga_Sutras_of_Patanjali#The_eight_limbs_of_Yoga