Yoga May Be Bad For Your Health.

Via on Jun 8, 2010

Seven Ways To Avoid Yoga Injuries

My wife recently mentioned on her Facebook page that she practices yoga. To her great surprise, she received an angry response from a female friend who said she tried Power Yoga and got seriously injured.

Naturally the woman discontinued her yoga practice and is now urging other people to stop this “painful” form of exercise.

Yes, indeed, the wholesome practice of yoga can be bad for your health.

Carol Krucoff reports in Yoga Journal that increasing numbers of yoga injuries are being reported to medical offices these days. Even insurance agencies are paying out an increasing number of yoga-related injury claims.

Krucoff herself is one of the practice’s many victims. She “felt a sickening pop in [her] hamstrings” after practicing Utthita Padangusthasana (Extended Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose).

“Hamstring tears heal slowly,” she writes, “and mine required rest and extensive physical therapy. It took me six months to be able to run again and more than a year to fully extend my leg in Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose.”

So, if yoga may be bad for our health, what can we do about it?

1. Easy does it. Practice yoga gently, especially in the beginning, and in coordination with the breath. The literal translation of the word asana (yoga posture) is, after all, “comfortably or easily held posture.”

By gently massaging and pressurizing the various endocrine glands in the body, the various yoga poses are balancing the chakras and the hormonal secretions from many important glands.

These glands include the prostate and perineum, gonads, testes and ovaries, adrenals, pancreas, thymus, para-thyroid, thyroid, pituitary and pineal, all glands that, when properly balanced, positively affect our physical health, mental mood and spiritual well-being.

Practicing yoga too energetically, or too forcefully, may not give the same physical, mental and spiritual health benefits as doing the poses slowly, in harmony with the breath, and with ease.

2. Combine yoga with a meditation practice. Yoga postures are of two kinds: 1. those primarily for physical and mental health and secondarily for spiritual elevation and 2. those primarily for spiritual elevation.

Hence, many yoga postures were clearly not just designed for the body. They were developed for the mind and spirit as well.

My own teacher emphasized that it is essential for optimum physical, mental and spiritual development to combine yoga exercises with meditation. Indeed, it is said in the scriptures that Hatha Yoga (physical yoga) should be combined with Raja Yoga (spiritual yoga).

3. Listen to the body. Pain is an indication that you should stop, take a deep breath and be gentle with yourself. Pushing the body too far may lead to injury.

4. Yoga is not a competitive sport. Besides—showing off may not just increase your ego, it may lead to injury. Serious injury.

Here’s some sage advice from Carol Krucoff. “I learned the hard way that there is no place for showing off in yoga,” she writes.

So, don’t succumb to peer-pressure or to a zealous teacher urging you to perform a-next-to-impossible pose when you know in your heart you are not ready for it.

You may just end up on your back at the chiropractor’s office.

5. Pick an experienced teacher. Yoga’s popularity has resulted in a shortage of teachers and sometimes teachers with inadequate training are being hired at a studio. “Even new graduates from highly reputable teacher-training programs often lack experience,” writes Krucoff.

This lethal combination—new student and inexperienced teacher—is one of the leading causes of “injury-overzealousness.”

6. Know the weakest links. The lower back, knee and neck are usually the parts of the body that are injured the most during yoga practice.

If you are a couch potato, trying to sit in lotus position or do headstand the first time you practice yoga is definitely not advisable!

7. Accidents do happen. A few years ago, I tore my meniscus while falling sideways in the bed of my friend’s pick-up truck when it jerked into motion.

For a long time I had pain in my meniscus when I sat in meditation. But, too immersed in my mind and spirit, I did not listen to my body.

Then suddenly one day bending down to pick something up from the floor, my knee went out. The pain was excruciating, and the healing process took a painstakingly long time.

For nearly two years, I was unable to perform my asnana postures properly and also unable to sit in siddhansana during meditation.

Our bodies change with age, sometimes we sleep improperly, or we have slacked off on our practice and become less flexible. Suddenly the body says “pop.”

So, once again, listen to the body.

Listen carefully. Treat it gently. One yoga pose at a time. And remember, you are not doing yoga for anybody but your own body, mind and soul.

About Ramesh Bjonnes

Ramesh Bjonnes was born in Norway and lived for nearly three years in India and Nepal learning directly from the masters of tantric yoga. He has written extensively on tantra, yoga, culture and sustainability, and his articles have appeared in books and numerous magazines and newspapers in Europe and the US. His forthcoming book on Tantra will be published by Hay House India soon. He is currently contributing editor of New Renaissance and a columnist for Fredrikstad Blad, a Norwegian newspaper. He lives in an eco-village in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. Visit his blog here: Eight Fold Path. His book Sacred Body, Sacred Spirit: A Personal Guide to the Wisdom of Yoga and Tantra can be purchased here.

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38 Responses to “Yoga May Be Bad For Your Health.”

  1. Shanna says:

    You can hurt yourself doing any physical movement. Period. I have hurt myself getting out of the bed in the morning even much doing something intricate like Yoga.

    • Ramesh says:

      Shanna, Point well taken, and, yes, sure, as I mentioned in the article, you can also hurt yourself while sleeping, as well.

  2. Yoga is not bad for your health. Bringing your ego to the yoga mat may be bad for your health, but yoga, done properly…. Blah blah blah. People must take responsibility for their own behavior. Your body speaks loud and clear. If you don’t listen. – that’s about you. Although, yes, it does help to have a well trained, qualified teacher too.

  3. Gina says:

    Also, consider the style of yoga you are practicing. Anusara yoga, for example, has the least amount of injuries of all styles of hatha yoga. All Anusara yoga teachers are highly trained.

    • Ramesh says:

      Good point, Gina. Vini yoga is also slow, as well as the form of yoga I practice, Tantric Yoga is the old school. These exercises are primarily done carefully and slowly with the breath, almost like a meditation in itself.

    • Chris Acosta says:

      This is an incorrect statement . I am not sure where you are receiving this data. I have treated many injured from this relatively new style. Though there are many variables, the main factor in injury or not is the instructor.

  4. Jennyoga says:

    I guess its not bad for your health , you just have to do it in a right way. That's the reason why there are yoga teachers so that they can help you do it rightly.

  5. Hi Ramesh,

    I was a little surprised to see the quotes used from my 2003 Yoga Journal article about injuries from yoga, which made it seem like I disapproved of yoga or was a “victim”. As you certainly know from reading the entire article, the reason for my yoga-related injury was my own ego and I learned not to show off doing yoga from that negative experience. As a yoga teacher and yoga therapist I certainly agree with the principles you mention on your blog. You may also be interested in my new book, “Healing Yoga for Neck and Shoulder Pain” — visit http://www.healingmoves.com.

    all best,
    Carol

  6. Ramesh says:

    Carol,
    What a surprise! Great to hear from you! The title of my article may seem like I disprove of yoga, but when you read the entire article, you'll realize, of course, that it is all about balance and keeping everything in perspective. This balance is also what I found in your article, which, after 7 years, is as great and timely as ever. Thanks for your comments and also for letting us know about your new book!
    Warmly,
    Ramesh

  7. Tricia Ptak says:

    Letting your teacher know about injuries and limitations prior to beginning class are a good idea so they can assess how or not to adjust you as well. A friend has a ruptured disk and received an aggressive adjustment and found himself in pain for a while. He is fine, but lesson learned.

  8. Good advice. Thanks.

    Bob Weisenberg
    YogaDemystified.com

  9. Charlotte says:

    Thanks for the article. Both teachers and students would do well to follow your guidelines.

    Of course, the ego is the root of it all, the part of all of us that wants to distinguish itself, the part that needs to compare itself to others for its identity. The desire to compete is practically cellular in Western culture, so even when a yoga teacher tells students that yoga is not a competition, that teacher likely believes it only as a concept. My experience is that it took years to be able to unhook myself from competitive thinking in yoga practice. The striving that gives birth to yoga injuries is rooted in this competitive way of being. For me, years of insight meditation were what helped me recognize the futility of comparing myself to anyone else.

    So as Ramesh says, the multitude of yoga classes taught by recently trained teachers is a factor in the rising number of yoga injuries, along with the more aerobic forms of practice. Find an experienced teacher. They're out there!

    • Ramesh says:

      Well said, Charlotte. An integral part of the problem is the limited focus yoga has so far had in the West–mainly as a form of physical exercise, rather than as part of an overall body-mind-spirit practice and tradition that includes asana practice. However, this is gradually changing and for many the hatha yoga focuds has become a doorway to a broder, more traditional and spiritual way of embarcing and practicing yoga. Asthanga Yoga as systematized by Patanjali (or Raja Yoga, or Rajadhiraja Yoga, as it is also called) as well as the more Bhakti (devotional) oriented aspects of yoga is gaining recognition, even in many yoga studios. And this is gratifying to see!
      In my own tantric tradition, because the main focus is the holistic and spiritual aspect of yoga, and thus how a healthy body serves spiritual development, I have seen very few injuries. Yoga asanas are typically practiced in slow, gentle motions, emphasizing chakra and hormonal balance rather than physical achievements and goals.

      • Charlotte says:

        I agree completely. In the U.S., we've divorced a small part of a broad system and severed it from its roots. I sometimes guest teach in teacher trainings and trainees who are 2/3 of the way through their programs have never heard of the eight limbs of yoga. (I had to at least know what they were when I certified with Iyengar 20 years ago, which is not to say I had explored them in any depth!) When we make the practice just about physical exercise, as good as it might feel, it lacks depth and perspective. In order to unhook from the competitive conditioning that is at the root of yoga injuries, we have to understand at a very deep level why comparisons are neither constructive nor true. This requires getting to know all aspects of oneself—not always an easy or pleasant task, but one that is endlessly rewarding.

  10. freesoul says:

    As a yoga student and a yoga instructor, I want to say yoga is not a magic wand. It has many benefits, but I have found many students or a friend who thinks this is the magic trick and then are surprised that they have to work at their practice. Many come to class and it is just exercise and if you view it as such you are bound to injury yourself. If you honor you body and your spirit, you will see many benefits. The ego or the Western comes in with the idea that my head needs to reach my knee and that is exactly where they push their head, weather it can make it to the knee or not. When I began yoga, it was from a place of the ego, and my body could twist like a pretzel, now my practice is from the heart, I'm not so much about the pretzel look as much as about where my practice can take me completely.

    I've been to many classes where the teacher also pushes the student beyond their range of motion (inexperience or their own ego), yoga is a big business these days, and big business brings its own competition. Each student must go in and remember within is their own teacher and to feel into their own body and if its there today, maybe tomorrow. I always tell my students, I'm the guide that takes them on the path. Where the path leads….

  11. Yoga is not bad for your health. You are bad for your health. You must take responsibility for being the one who pushed your body too far. You must be the one who is not listening to your body or your self. Yoga will help you listen, whether or not you want to hear.

  12. Betsy / Santosha says:

    Breathe people, Breathe…….. The breath, the ego, practice sthira sukham asanam. It's not a competiotion out there people!
    If the teacher pushes the student beyond their comfort, then "Bad" teacher. Listen to your bodies. This practice if for you and not your teacher, and who cares what other people are doing in the class. I can bet they are not getting the full benefits of the breath. Namaste….

  13. CJ M says:

    Student's need to take ownership for their own actions. Studios, gym's and instructors should do the same and reiterate the "whole" idea behind the practice of yoga…remembering that a "Power Yoga" class will tend to draw in students with driven personality types that are less inclined to "listen" to their own bodies and more inclined toward competitiveness. Yes, most practiced yogis understand it's not a competitive sport but unfortunately, there is also a big name out there putting on National Championships in Yoga…. gack.

  14. Tobye says:

    It's impossible to injure yourself while practising yoga. The reason why peeps get injured, is because they're not practising yoga!
    They may be doing stretchy, heat building stuff with sanskrit bells on, but it ain't yoga.
    Yoga is the union of mind, body and spirit and if you end up popping a hammy its because you weren't listening and nothing was united.
    Stretching too far into the future without listening to the past will only end in pain. ie.. let go of all ideas of where you want to be and just experience what your body wants and needs.

    Simples! (or is it?)

  15. Ramesh says:

    Charlotte mentions above the importance of knowing yoga from its roots. Those of you who have read some of my other posts on EJ will know that I completely agree. The roots of yoga has many names, including Ashtanga Yoga (the eight limbs of yoga systematized by Patanjali) Ashtanga Yoga is also often called Raja Yoga, sometimes Kundalini Yoga, Kriya Yoga, even Tantra Yoga. Another name few in the west is familiar with is Rajadhiraja Yoga (English: the King of King Yoga), which was developed by Astavakra in his Astavakra Samhita and a contemporary with Patanjali. This form of Ashtanga Yoga is basically a subtle form of Tantra (indeed all of these yoga forms mentioned are tantric) and places great emphasis on various subtle meditation practices very few in the west are familiar with. While many western yogis may know the 8 limbs of yoga intellectually and perhaps practice the third limb (asanas) and also study and follow the first and second limbs, yoga ethics, or yama and niyama. Not many practice the other meditation-related limbs, such as pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyan and samadhi. Simply because these practices are not taught in most yoga studios. So when I said in my article above that the most integral form of yoga combines Hatha Yoga and Raja Yoga, I basically meant a practice that includes all eight limbs, not in theory but in practice…

  16. Ramesh says:

    The rest of my comments were cut off earlier. Here they are:

    One difference between Hatha Yoga and RajaDhiraja Yoga for example is in the way pranayama is performed. In Hatha Yoga, pranayma is primarily performed for physical health purposes while RajaDhiraja pranayama is performed with a mantra and cosmic or spiritual ideation, thus its main benefit is psycho-spiritual. This type of pranayama should only be performed when the mind is calm and concentrated, then it will bring incredible bliss during meditation.
    Moreover, as others have emphasized, if our yoga practice has an integral, all-eight-limb focus, physical injuries will be few or non- existent.
    Here's one Rajadhiraja technique for optimum health during asana practice: it is best if asana and meditation is performed when both nostrils are open or at least the left nostril is open. This has to do with the subtle nadis ida (ends in left nostril) and pingala (ends in right nostril) that pierces through the chakras and helps balance body-mind-spirit. It is a complex science and I have no time to go into it here, but try it and see. When the right nostril is blocked, we are more restless and physical/sensory, when the left or both are open we are more open for mental and spiritual pursuits. So, if you want to study, keep the left nostril open!
    Try it, it works!

    • Ramesh says:

      Sorry folks. Too late at night… I should have said: When the right nostril is open and the left is blocked, the we are more restless and ready for physical activity, not mental or spiritual.

    • Ramesh says:

      Correction: It was late when I wrote the above last night, so the fourth line from the bottom should read: When the right nostril is OPEN, we are more restless and physical/sensory…. In other words, when the right nostril is open physical activity is good. But when doing yoga (which is a more subtle form of exercise) if the left nostril is blocked and only the right nostril is open, it is better to wait until the left nostril opens. One can usually open the left nostril by lying down on the right side. So in summary, yoga is best practiced when either both or only the left nostril is open.

  17. Charlotte says:

    Thanks so much for your further explanations. At the risk of shameless self-promotion, I want to offer that I've written a book that's sort of a beginning primer for the Eight Limbs of Yoga. I know there's much more to the system than just the Eight Limbs, but I wanted to introduce a framework for practice that brings the philosophy down to earth. It's called Mindful Yoga, Mindful Life: A Guide for Everyday Practice and is published by Rodmell Press. Here's a link, if anyone is interested: http://rodmellpress.com/mindfulyoga.html

  18. Ramesh says:

    Thanks, Charlotte, for promoting not just your own book but our Higher Selves in the process.
    Wonderful!

  19. Hi mate would it be ok if i used some info from here to use on one of our blogs? all the best

  20. ARCreated says:

    This is another RIGHT ON…I think my students get a little sick of hearing me say some of this but i am a BIG on this…some of my favorite in class statements: Yoga is good for everybody but not every asana is good for every body. (I usually go on to explain that group classes are NOT the ideal environment and that all yoga practices should actually be individualized to a persons doshas and physicality even the wrong pranayama can be damaging…but I feel it falls on deaf ears :( )Yoga is a conversation but you have to be still enough and open enough in heart and mind to listen.
    Being able to touch your toes does not make you more enlightened. Ahimsa starts with the self….and many others.

    The other thing I really emphasize physically is letting people know where and how they should feel stretches. and spiritually every class comes with a mantra/theme so we are practicing YOGA.

    Sometimes as a teacher I want to just quit because I worry so much about injuries — I mean I see people pushing themselves and not following ahimsa and I know they have to take responsibility for themselves but it is very hard on me sometimes to see :( I stop class A LOT to break down poses and attempt to have people back off a bit…so hard

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  26. ARCreated says:

    I felt the same way…ironically the two worst yoga injuries not self inflicted (hey even us teacher's have egos:) were from anusara experiences. I try very hard not to judge all anusara on my limited experience because I believe in the philosophy but truthfully I avoid anusara classes because of the injuries I expereinced there …oh and bikram.

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