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by Christel Swasey

The Dangerous Health Side of Yoga

Yoga is incredibly popular;  the number of practicing yoga enthusiasts in the U.S. is estimated to have risen from 4 million to 20 million, in just ten years.

Yet there is controversy in the peaceful world of yoga.

What’s the issue?

Well.  Apparently yoga can hurt people.  While the stats on yoga injuries aren’t quite as scary as those on football and rugby, many people have been injured while practicing this peaceful sport.

Some critics –and even some yoga experts– now say that yoga should not be offered as a class for the general public, but should be reserved for people who are already in good physical condition.  Spine and joint injuries happen when yoga students try poses that are not appropriate for their bodies’ current abilities.

Some yoga teachers justify knowing about the dangers of yoga and keep teaching it but make sure not to take a one-size-fits-all attitude about  teaching.  Still,  it is hard for any teacher to be aware of each new students’ physical abilities and limitations.  Also, sometimes yoga students may feel embarrassed about inflexibility or weakness, and will push themselves to fit in with other students in the class.  These factors contribute to the number of yogis who suffer injuries.

In a recent New York Times article, yoga teacher Glenn Black said that you cannot teach a class of people with many problems, saying ahead of time that these are the set sequences of poses they will do.  http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/08/magazine/how-yoga-can-wreck-your-body.html?_r=1

Some people blame yoga’s problems on the new and improved form of yoga called hot yoga.  In hot yoga, you do the same poses in a room heated to about 105 degrees.  Many first timers throw up, or feel as if they need to throw up, in hot yoga, and the main benefit (besides sweating, if you like to sweat) is that warmer muscles tend to stretch further.

Some hot yoga classes will warm up the room to 120 degrees.  In such heat, muscles relax much more quickly than they normally would, but this can lead to students going much deeper into postures that they may not be prepared to try, and it leads to injury. In Bikram classes (done in 110 to 120 degree temperatures) many injuries occur.

If you are going to try yoga for the first time, keep the following in mind:

1.  Don’t eat for at least two hours before you  yoga, to minimize the likelihood of vomiting.

2.  Drink water before, during and after you yoga.

3.  If you feel lightheaded or nauseated, rest.

4.  Do not go further than you would normally in a yoga pose.

5. Move slowly and gradually to increase the depth of the yoga poses.

6. Practice yoga with a very experienced teacher.

7.  Get medical clearance if you have any medical issues.

8. Try regular yoga before moving into the more stressful hot yoga.

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