Yoga: Can it be Harmful?

A recent New York Times article on how yoga can wreck your body has stirred a fiery debate on the risks of yoga and has led avid yoga practitioners, like myself, to look deeper into the issue. The article portrayed serious injuries ranging from torn Achilles tendons to strokes, even in young and healthy yoga practitioners. A renowned yoga instructor, Glenn Black, even recommended that most people should give up yoga altogether. The truth is these types of injuries are not all that common. A study done by researchers at the Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons found that yoga teachers, therapists and other clinicians reported the most common injuries were to the neck, lower back, shoulders/wrists and finally the knees. This leads to the question of why the big uproar on the risks of yoga, especially when other activities, like football, routinely cause concussions and other serious injuries, yet are a staple pastime for our country?

The sudden scrutiny on injuries caused by yoga can be due to a number of reasons. The increasing popularity of yoga over the last couple of decades has highlighted the many positive rewards of yoga and has overshadowed any potential harm, leading many to be shocked by research projecting an increase in injuries. This potential increase in injuries is partly due to the increase in yoga practitioners and the shift in demographics of who studies yoga. For example, Indian practitioners were used to squatting and sitting cross-legged in daily life and the resulting practice of yoga was an outgrowth of their daily postures whereas today, many American practitioners sit in chairs all day and are unaccustomed to yoga postures. Overall, the purpose of this article is not to scare away those new to yoga but to ensure that beginning and advanced yoga practitioners are knowledgeable on how to have a safe and fulfilling practice. Yoga, like other forms of movement and exercise, should be practiced correctly with awareness on preventing injury.

Some helpful tips from The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons are:
• Speak to your doctor before participating in a yoga class if you have any medical conditions or injuries.
• Practice under a qualified yoga instructor. Inform them of any injuries or medical conditions PRIOR to class.
• Remember to properly warm up before a yoga session.
• Do not push yourself too far. It is important to listen to your body and not be overzealous or let your ego get in the way. A yoga practice is built over time, not in a week or even a year.
• Learn the basic firsts. Ask questions if you are unsure about a posture.

• Do not attempt poses beyond your experience or comfort level. It is perfectly normal to back off from a pose if it does not feel right.
• Find out what style you are practicing and whether it fits your needs.
• Keep hydrated especially if participating in Bikram or “hot” yoga.
• Make use of props such as blankets, blocks, bolsters and straps. If you’re unsure how to use them than ask your yoga instructor how to incorporate them into your practice.

Works Cited:
“Yoga Injury Prevention – OrthoInfo – AAOS.” AAOS. Web. 05 Feb. 2012 <>.
Fishman, L. M., E. Saltonstall, and S. Genis. “Yoga Therapy in Practice: Understanding and Preventing Yoga Injuries.” Web. 5 Feb. 2012. ;.

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