Yoga: Gentle. Affirming. Dangerous?
No activity is completely without risk, even yoga. In fact, William Broad wrote a book that created quite a stir when it was published in 2012.
The Science of Yoga: The Risks and the Rewards
laid out the many benefits of yoga, but also didn't shy away from exposing the poses that could maim or even kill a practitioner.
Nina Zolotow, a long-time yoga practitioner and teacher, is the editor-in-chief for the Yoga for Healthy Aging blog. She recently posted an article on how to stay safe while practicing yoga. The article was a compilation of wisdom from an MD, a physical therapist and a long-time, older practitioner, all of whom practice as well as teach yoga.
You can read the full article
but below are her suggestions in a nutshell.
1. Inform your teacher.
If you're in a class, tell your teacher about any injuries, illness, conditions or problems that might affect your ability to do certain poses or put you at risk. Your teacher can help you figure out what you should not be doing and give you alternatives.
2. Pay attention to pain.
Learn to tell the difference between sensations that are potentially good for you, such as the healthy stretch of a tight muscle and those that are potentially injurious to you, such as over-stretching a tendon or compressing structures to the point of injury.
3. Listen to your breath.
Although your breath may come more quickly in demanding poses or long-held standing poses, gasping for breath indicates you're over-stressing yourself. As you practice, notice if you are holding your breath; this could mean you are becoming a bit fearful or anxious, or reacting to pain.
4. Rest if you need to.
If you feel you've reached your limit with your time in a pose, no matter what the rest of the class is doing, come out and take a rest. If you feel like you just can't finish the rest of a class, either go into a resting pose or lie down in Savasana.
5. Stay balanced.
If you are weak or have trouble with balance, use props, such as a chair or the wall, to stabilize yourself so you don't fall and can practice with confidence.
6. Use props.
Even if you have not been specially instructed to use a prop and you know that it is important for your safety, go ahead and use it. And if you know you typically need a certain prop, such as a block or blanket, have one ready at your side before class starts. (And if your teacher disapproves, consider finding a new teacher.)
7. Resist peer pressure.
If your class is doing a pose that you feel is beyond your capabilities or that you aren't ready for, just don't do it. Ask your teacher for an alternative or take a resting pose. Or watch the others do the pose and learn through observation. If your class is consistently too challenging for you, look for another a class that fits your level, such as one for beginners or one designed specifically for older students.
8. Only do inverted poses if they're okay for you.
Inverted poses are contraindicated for people who have uncontrolled high blood pressure or who are having eye problems, such as glaucoma or detached retina. If you are having neck problems, refrain from Headstand and Shoulderstand. If you have no contraindications and want to learn inversions, start by finding a special class, series, or workshop designed to introduce you step-by-step to the inverted poses.
9. Talk to your doctor.
If you have had surgery or have a medical condition or an injury, ask your doctor or physical therapist what you can and can't. Don't wait for the medical professional to tell you. Ask: Can I go upside down? Can I round my spine? Can I twist my spine? Can I cross my legs? Can I put pressure on this or that part of my body? And if you get no for an answer to any of those questions, be sensible, and follow the doctor's recommendations.