Bad News. Is Yoga Dangerous ?

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Is yoga dangerous it what I have titled this blog and of course it is only my perspective.

A recent New York Times article has been making the rounds on the web this year – titled: “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body”

shoulder injury

Let’s look at the New Zealand figures which are well documented within the medical system as a rough cross section of Western society.

The FACTS:

The New Zealand Accident Compensation Corporation says people do get injured doing yoga.
A recent article in New Zealand titled “’Fad’ Yoga a Costly Risk” – which by the way – yoga is not a fad, it’s been around for five thousand years, and it’s not going anywhere fast – says: “More than 1,000 New Zealanders are bending over backwards to get injured each year” (Ref 1).
And that… “The only New Zealand study on yoga participation levels was undertaken in 2007. It found about 9 per cent of adults had done yoga or pilates exercise in the previous year” (Ref 1).
Ok… for a start,  let’s take a quick look at those numbers:
New Zealands’ estimated resident population was 4,228,000 at 30 June 2007, (Ref 2)

Let’s estimate on the low side that each person did yoga once per week on average (some do it every day, others not so often – maybe once a fortnight). At an estimate, that is 380,520 yoga sessions per week x 52 weeks – makes close to 20 million yoga sessions in New Zealand per year resulting in just 1,000 reported  injuries. That is one injury per 20,000 classes – so the odds are pretty low that you might do some damage.
Let’s take a look at a few other things that are more likely to cause injury:

Top 5 list [highest ACC claims]:

1. Rugby union
2. Football
3. Netball
4. Cycling
5. Rugby league
Others of interest:
(Ref 4.)

Recent New Zealand figures for ACC claims for other physical activities:

 

  • Gym and fitness training with 14,866 claims – 14 times more likely to get injured than in yoga.
  • Tennis came in with 9,255 claims – 9 times more likely to get injured than in yoga.
  •  Skateboarding had 8,390 claims – 8 times more likely to get injured than in yoga.
  • Dancing generated 7,277 injury claims – 7 times more likely to get injured than in yoga.
  • Weightlifting with 7,185 claims which is therefore 7 times more likely to get injured than in yoga.

But is it dangerous?

Overall my take is the benefits of yoga far outweigh the risk. Life can be dangerous, more people get killed crossing the road. Has that ever stopped any one crossing the road?  Eating can be dangerous, ie choking on your food. Everyone eats.  I think that you get the picture.

What’s more important is increasing our awareness of how can we minimize the risks of injury – and this should be done in all fitness activities.

Let’s look at a few quotes from the New York Times article:

“…that awareness is more important than rushing through a series of postures just to say you’d done them. But then he said something more radical. Black has come to believe that “the vast majority of people” should give up yoga altogether. It’s simply too likely to cause harm.”

I agree that awareness is very, very important and cannot be understated… but give up yoga because you can’t be mindful? Well that’s a catch 22 as the whole point of yoga is to help one cultivate mindfulness.

The population of people practicing yoga in the US went from: “4 million in 2001 to what some estimate to be as many as 20 million in 2011 — means that “…he spoke of well-known yoga teachers doing such basic poses as downward-facing dog, in which the body forms an inverted V, so strenuously that they tore Achilles tendons. “It’s ego,” he said. “The whole point of yoga is to get rid of ego.” (Ref 5)

Yes overdoing things is not cool, at all!.  Work with your limits and understand them – or seriously you are asking for trouble.

“…the Consumer Product Safety Commission showed that the number of emergency-room admissions related to yoga, after years of slow increases, was rising quickly. They went from 13 in 2000 to 20 in 2001. Then they more than doubled to 46 in 2002.”
These surveys rely on sampling rather than exhaustive reporting — they reveal trends rather than totals… and again when comparing to the numbers of other fitness activities,

Ok let me get this straight 4 million people doing yoga in 2001 and 46 people admitted to hospital – seriously it’s somewhat miniscule in comparison.
Let’s put it in some perspective. The numbers are tiny. More people would drown in a month. Does that stop people from enjoying the beach?
You would get more hospital admissions in a decent size city in just one night – let alone the whole country – for alcohol related admission… pity that never stopped any one drinking.

Heres more facts:

What were the most serious yoga-related injuries (disabling and/or of long duration) they had seen? “…revealed that the largest number of injuries (231) centered on the lower back. The other main sites were, in declining order of prevalence: the shoulder (219), the knee (174) and the neck (110). Then came stroke. The respondents noted four cases in which yoga’s extreme bending and contortions resulted in some degree of brain damage. The numbers weren’t alarming but the acknowledgment of risk —

Its undeniable overall there are risks with any physical activity and it is about working within your own limits and really truly understanding them. But the most important part of yoga practice is in leaving your ego at the door of the class so you don’t overdo it.  Feel your way to your limit and then ease off to just inside that, be mindful of where you’re at and how you breathe etc. Also find a yoga system and teacher that you trust. There are so many yoga systems available these days – some are very vigorous and I would suggest more likely to cause injury if you’re not that experienced not that this was mentioned any where in any of these studies every thing is lumped in the same pot.
The use of props can be very helpful so that you do not put your body in positions that are going to hurt it. A lot of the use of props is detailed in the Yogasync.tv platform – which is well worth checking to get the ideas.

Here is an example of a shoulder stand with blankets.

Here is a good article on protecting the neck: http://www.yogajournal.com/for_teachers/1091 
Protect the neck in shoulder stand. Cole discussed the practice of reducing neck bending in a shoulder stand by lifting the shoulders on a stack of folded blankets and letting the head fall below it. The modification eases the angle between the head and the torso, from 90 degrees to perhaps 110 degrees. Cole ticked off the dangers of doing an unmodified shoulder stand: muscle strains, overstretched ligaments and cervical-disk injuries

So overall I recommend that you take care in your yoga, work at your level and don’t become one of the statistics because you over did it.  Yoga done properly can have amazing benefits and advantages.

References:

1. http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10786455
2. http://www.stats.govt.nz/~/media/Statistics/Browse%20for%20stats/SubnationalPopulationEstimates/HOTP30Jun07/subnationalpopulationestimatesat30june07hotp.pdf

3. http://www.stuff.co.nz/sport/rugby/6272149/Rough-rugby-tops-ACCs-sports-injury-list
4. http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/3301164/ACC-claims-up-for-dancing-skateboarding
5. www.nytimes.com/2012/01/08/magazine/how-yoga-can-wreck-your-body.html

 

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About Al Hall

Al has been a student of Yoga for the best part of 2 decades. Loves to surf, play beach volley ball and explore the deeper nature of reality. Fancies himself as a bit of a philosopher. Loves to make videos and is the founder of the Yoga.org.nz site.

39 Responses to Bad News. Is Yoga Dangerous ?

  1. In 2008 I had a bad bike accident with a seroius injury of my rotator cuff causing pain so I had to take painkillers for months to get to sleep. By the help of an excellent physiotherapist and yoga I am feeling better than ever. Now I can exercise movements many people don´t even know they can do. A basic rule for yoga is, that you should stop if it hurts but continue if it is demanding. Learn to feel yourself.

    • Barbara

      Thanks for sharing. Yeah I should have mentioned more of this type of thing, the benefits and healing that yoga facilitates is amazing. I have heard so many great stories about it. The positive effects are amazing.
      The idea of this article is to help people be more mindful.
      I for one are aiming to do more yoga, seeing the benefits over the years.

      Namaste

  2. Yoga is highly beneficial for various ailments and to keep one’s agiiity. The yoga techniques has to be learnt under a proper guidance of a Guru/Teacher to learn the techniques correctly and then it cannot be dangerous. This is my personal experience

  3. I have been doing yoga, some exercises and “Pranayama” for the past several years. I have overcome 100% of my back ache without any drug through “Bhujangasana” and “Shalabhasana”. We have to learn and practice yoga postures very accurately under a qualified Yoga Teacher.

    In addition, depending on the health problem, one has to use a particular Yoga posture to get rid of the problem.

    Through personal experience, I have developed full faith in the art and science Yoga.

    Regards,

    Ameer Hassan Arkula, India.

  4. The Shoulder Stand on a stack of blankets is just one of a large array of BKS yengar’s use of props. BKS Iyengar was a chronically ill teen when his brother-in-law told him to practice yoga or suffer a short life in poor health. WIth that background, Iyengar has been able to help many warped people stretch into healthful postions.
    Iyengar’s supportive techniques are most effective for novices or older, less flexible people, and essential to bring “Westerners” bodies into alignment. His books are also props for a student’s focus or attention. Iyengar’s writing is succinct aphorisms, able to help many, many warped minds stretch into consistently expansive conditions..

    • Yes Zac
      Iyengar has done great stuff, helping people over come there limits with the use of props. I use a lot of props in my own practice. (Lots of Iyengar workshops and exposure to senior teachers) I have learned its best to have the energetics of the movement correct., rather than “looking correct”. That’s potential Injury point if you have not learned you own body. baby steps help you get there.
      We have used a lot of props over at http://www.yogasync.tv I think they are essential to help avoid injury. Just understanding the correct way to use them is important. Most people could do with getting hold of a good prop set as once you have them they can be a valuable partner in your practice. Good quality props last for decades and can cost less than a good pair of cross trainers which we be well worn after a year of solid use.

  5. HI FOR ME YOGA HAS DONE WONDERS MENTALY AND PHYSICALY IT JUST DID ITS LIKE I RE- BORNED MARIA

  6. I commend this blog article.
    Has anybody compiled statistics relating to the risks associated with being sedentary such as heart attacks and strokes?
    I’m sure that the risks associated with being a “coach potato” are far greater than any risk from doing yoga. I for one will carry on doing it in spite of my creaking 60 year old knees!

    • Hey Malcom
      NIce comment! Exactly they would be massive. Probably 1000 times the year due to the cost of yoga injuries or more.

      Namaste
      Al

  7. I’m Hidu and I think yoga is my bussiness. Non-hindus should leave it alone. Mind your own bussiness.

    • Hi John
      Pharmaceutical company want the monopoly on healing too.
      Yogas about life, its cross cultural its not something you can put in a box.
      Namaste

  8. So glad you came up with the statistics because in comparison to other sporting activity I was also thinking the injury % is low.
    As also pointed out the number of people doing yoga has increased and is steadily growing (fantastic!)
    What was not mentioned and I am uncertain if it has been measured statistically it the number of people that have been aided by yoga. Perhaps this would far outweigh the injuries therefore health savings. There would probably be some very surprising results and perhaps Medical Insurance people may have an interest in this particular area.
    Food for thought and thank you for the blog

    • Hi Ali
      yes I agree “What was not mentioned and I am uncertain if it has been measured statistically it the number of people that have been aided by yoga. Perhaps this would far outweigh the injuries therefore health savings. There would probably be some very surprising results and perhaps Medical Insurance people may have an interest in this particular area.”

      I would say the results would be staggering from the feedback I have had over the years.

      Namaste

  9. I see some good results supporting yoga from that article. It gives us yogis an inspiration to be more careful and connected with our practice and teachings. There is always going to be Yoga teachers as well as Yoga students those are not there for the right reasons. Ofcourse, there are some people may just love to discredit yoga because it originated elsewhere or outside their religious system.

  10. 6 years back I fell in heart attack and then got angioplasty having stunt. After 2 years I went to Nepal to get Yoga training. Before going for training I consultant well known Pakistani Dr. (heart specialist) who advised me that I must go and get yoga training. I took the same (breathing exercises). 4 years has passed I do breathing exercises daily. My blood pressure, kidney, arteries and all other internal diseases has gone. I feel very smart. Who says that Yoga is a dangerious

  11. First of all let me preface my comments by saying that I love Yoga, practice Yoga and encourage my patients to participate. That said, as a practicing Chiropractor for 24 years, I have seen a great many injuries that have occurred with Yoga. Typically, the vast majority of injuires have involved the shoulder, neck and upper back. I have also seen injuries to the low back and knee as well as the calf and achilles. While I would definitely agree with prior posts, that many of these injuries occur when we begin practicing Yoga with our ego’s unchecked and push ourselves to compete with others in the room or our own sense of self and where we think we should be physically. I do believe that there are some deeply rooted beliefs in Yoga philosphy about inversion based poses that our bodies just aren’t structurally built to handle well. While it is true that a slim, strong, careful Yoga practicitioner can put themselves into inverted poses, like Shoulder stands and Plow without great difficulty. It is my opinion, that these poses place the spine in an excessive amount of spinal flexion in the upper thoracic and to a degree the lower cervical spine. This excessive stretch and pressure is isolated to too small of an area in the spine and can create hypermobility of the joints and supporting ligaments, as well as disc problems in this part of the spine. One only needs to look at the shape and size of the vertebrae of the neck and spine to see that the size of the vertebral bodies, discs and ligamentous structures all increase in size and thickness as they descend down the spine. This is occurs naturally so that these structures can support the increasing weight supported at each successive lower level. When we invert the body, however carefully we try to support it with props and proper postures, we place the greater weight of the lower body on the smaller shaped structures of the spine. This can create problems. Because of this, I personally don’t practice inversion poses, nor do I recommend these poses for my patients. I say this with the greatest degree of respect and admiration for those who teach Yoga and inspire others to follow and shape their own Yoga practices. I believe that Yoga is still very much for everyone! Namaste..

  12. Second the (mindful) motion! The only problem with yoga is when it is done in an un-yogic spirit-competitively, unmindfull, with ego instead of insight. Any kind of physical activity can be dangerous, but even moreso, *inactivity*. but this is why we seek out good yoga teachers and do at least some of our practice in class. Part of the taching is learning when to get and how to take good advice.

    • Hey Chana

      I agree, Nice comment. learning the actual Yogic is not all in all an easy one. Unfortunately it some times takes a brush with an injury to push us in the right direction.

      Namaste
      Al

  13. Al, I agree with the information you posted. I practice yoga and so far it has not been damaging. Moreso, I have been doing it for some years now, started with books then went on to tapes and eventually joined yoga online as well. I found yoga to me an addition to my meditation. A form of exercise that is in sync with my blood type and generic make up. Yes, actually not all forms of exercise are good for all people. I also would like to add, that the approach to yoga is not the same as the approach to aerobics. I have seen some implementation of yoga postures in aerobics that should not be done to the beat of music because it is not suitable for that activity. It is a relaxing and healing art. Not something to be used otherwise as a test for added benefit. So people should be mindful of this. Yoga is Yoga. If you don’t know about it learn first, then decide if its rigorous enough for your fitness needs or not.

    • Hey Tricia
      Yeap . Yoga done properly works. PERIOD

      “then decide if its rigorous enough for your fitness needs or not.” Yoga can be fully intense as well with the correct combo of vinyasanas. It goes to all ends of the spectrum.

  14. Yoga for me has been the best thing I’ve done for myself. The rule is: act at your limit; if hurts, you are crossing your limit (maybe for competition) and then you are forgetting its first goal: to learn how to dominate your EGO.

  15. Cualquier actividad, tal como lo haces notar en tu artículo, es capaz de generar lesiones. El Yoga no es la excepción. Pero si la práctica es realizada de manera consiente, dejando de lado la idea de compentencia, y guiados por un Instructor debidamente preparado, los riesgos son realmente MINIMOS.

    Solo los practicantes de esta hermosa disciplina sabemos de sus incontables beneficios. Entonces … seguimas viviendolo como una verdadera sadhana!!!

  16. Yes – everything you do carries a degree of risk BUT I believe a really good, dedicated yoga instructor in a class that is not too big, will correct posture and advise how best to move in and out of postures carefully and at a level suited to the individual. People who are participating in yoga for the correct reasons and adopting the appropriate philosophy will gently move themselves through their yoga gaining strength and personal attainment rather than competing with the person next to them. People may get injured – but I believe they are not approaching yoga in the manner it is meant!

  17. Yes correct teaching is essential to progress.

  18. Mary, I agree with you,every sport has some risks involved.No sport is completely safe,good to use your commonsense.It is true,some teachers are not that much qualified or trained to teach yoga to the beginners.Basic knowledge of yoga has to be explained ,philosophy of yoga is not known by many students.Yoga is not a physical exercise.Every move is followed by breath.People,feel going in to head stand is the only way to learn yoga.
    Spending time on warm up & then follow with deep breathing.Breathing is extremely important as change the poses.Yoga is a move like a dance,slow & graceful.I did Taekwondo training many years & I was aggressive & had to pay the high price for those injuries,but I learned a lot from Taekwondo { Inner Discipline} I take the positive aspect & move forward with moderation & practice more yoga & teach all age groups,take the fear out,but live in the present moment & enjoy life.Relaxation & peace brings joy & peace.

  19. Yoga , doesnt mean only few postures n pranayam, its a word comprising of 8 things hence called ASHTANGYOG. It is to b practiced as a whole n it includes many effective changes in food habits, lifestyle etc. It just cant b harmful provided learned under proper guidance n done regularly . Gd luck to u all. Namaste.

  20. I’ve been practicing yoga since 2006. It helped me in many field. But only in recent years, I found a Teacher that lead me on the Patanjali path. And living every day in Dharma, I have the max benefits.
    Yoga is good when you feel good, when you are in peace. If you broken your body, you destroy the Temple of Atma. You aren’t doing Yoga, but simple exercises as fitness or body building, without sense.
    I’m a student and try to live in the best way following teachings of my Yogi Master.
    Good Life to everybody
    Prema

  21. yoga means union.practitioner should know for what purpuse of doing yoga.and teachar should know the practitioners health condition.and every time must interact with them.yoga gives misterious effect.
    by
    g.venkatesan

  22. Hello,

    I’m a yoga student and this is my perspective of yoga and ego.

    First EGO: What is it ?
    Ego comes from Latin and Greek and it means the first person ‘I’. bla bla bla… Honestly I don’t know much about it.

    Second: Yoga
    I believe yoga is created to enjoy one’s self. We (at least me) on the most part of the daylife live in my head. We think and worry about jobs, money, missing tv shows, shopping etc. we are never in peace. Our unlimited desires rule us, and this is why Buddha said: life is a suffering. But can a man live without desires? I believe no on can, because life would be meaningless without desires; only a dead man has zero desires. Also our sympathetic and parasympathetic nerves (basically our brain) does not allow us to live without desires, cause it is essential for survival. And, this is why Buddha talks about: moderation. How to achieve the perfect balance of mind and body? Desire and peace?

    Well, the answer is obvious: Yoga. Though yoga one can achieve peace and the satisfaction of living (desire).Yoga = Harmony (of mind and body). This the true befit of yoga, and also this why wandering wise men (or) sanayasi’s (or) gurus do yoga. And if Alexander the great was a man of thought and not action, he too would have done yoga.

    If people are getting hurt due to yoga, then its only because of these following reasons:
    1. Bad training and knowledge on the art of yoga
    2. Not physically fit; and
    3. They are zombies

    Well this is my perspective on the subject.
    Good Luck to you all

    oh! finally, some one said to me that: ‘the world is a illusion’ what do you guys think about this notion.

    • ‘the world is a illusion’ Well big can of worms that one . It really depends on where you are sitting when you look at it.

      Namaste
      AL

  23. @ Al,

    lol, so True Al. The guy who said that notion also said to me that god lives (resides) in everything (including atom)…

    So I asked him: If god is atom (or residing in atom) how can the world be an illusion? is god an illusion if not what?

    He did not speak to me after that, but I realized that illusion can be thought of EGO. We all think we are different, unique etc., but are we? Except for the physical part. We are all the same. I am made up of atoms and so are you, and the whole universe too. Any physicist or scientist will agree to this point.

    Therefore, the real illusion here is thinking that we are all different and unique. But as you said it depends on where your sitting and looking at the world.

    Namaste
    Sai

  24. @Sai..

    The world is indeed maya….an illusion. Let us take an example.

    We all know that the smallest unit of everything is an atom. When we divide atoms we get protons neutrons and electrons that is nothing but energy. So if we are made up of energy, what is the forms we see around? This is illusion. This is where quantum physics merge with spirituality.

    Thanks

  25. @Binoy

    Yeah, that is what I meant! Cool to see another person with my views. :) :D

    Are you a Physicist?

  26. I am passionate about the union with all creation of God .The union is the soul of all life on earth.The practice of union must be enjoyable to both than the real yog is realized.

  27. Just one comment–there is no proof that yoga as it is taught and practiced today is anywhere near 5000 years old–Indians may have been sitting in lotus posture for a long time, and there’s a form of Buddhist prostration that may have been the forerunner of Sun Salute, but the best educated guess is that hatha yoga as taught today was formulated in the early 20th Century by Krishnamacharya, and there is even some mythologizing being built up around HIM, by his son and others–for instance that he spent years in a cave studying with a yogi. So, we don’t need to make false claims about yoga’s age in order to argue for its usefulness.

  28. I never had food allergies and food allergy pain until I started doing yoga. I hyperventilate for hours every day because breathing reduces the muscle and joint pain of food allergies. Hyperventilation should always be taught before hatha yoga. I consider my food allergies to be beneficial. I also have shoulder and hip arthritis pain which I believe is the result of eating allergenic foods so I do Russian joint exercises (copyrighted as Zdorovye).

  29. Hi Al and Company,
    First, thank you for what you do. Great balance of business, marketing, and selfless sharing for others’ benefit. I love your videos.
    I began to investigate yoga to gain peace with my body, which I have always fought with. I enjoy the benefits of a good workout, but hate to exert myself, and I don’t enjoy running out of breath, either. Yoga practice, from the very start, is rewarding and satisfying without feeling awful, like I do when jogging or using weights.
    As for being dangerous, I am the one who “overdoes” it, then has to work through the self-injury. This is nearly impossible with the practice of yoga, unlike other workouts I’ve tried over a lifetime. I am convinced that proper practice, even for beginners, is beneficial to mind and body far beyond diet, drugs and conventional excercise.
    Again, thank you.

    • Hi Leslie! Thanks for reaching out. Im super happy to hear that you have found Yoga to be the best self-care for you and that the videos are helpful for you. Seems you have really understood our motivations to share yoga with all. Keep in touch. Keep practicing. :)

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