THINKING ABOUT STARTING YOGA?
Before you do you should understand the potential benefits and dangers (yes dangers) of practising Yoga.
Yoga has been criticised for being potentially dangerous by causing injuries and aggravating existing conditions such as arthritis. Some authors of critical articles have themselves been injured in a Yoga class, others get their information 2nd hand by talking to participants in Yoga classes. Research can be difficult to verify as there have been no specific clinical trials so information is usually taken from surveys.
An extensive survey of yoga practitioners in Australia showed that about 20% had suffered some physical injury while practicing yoga. In the previous 12 months 4.6% of the respondents had suffered an injury producing prolonged pain or requiring medical treatment. Headstands, hand stands, shoulder stands, lotus and half lotus (seated cross-legged position), forward and backward bends, produced the greatest number of injuries. Respondents commonly took the blame for the injury on themselves, citing reasons such as ‘pushing it too far’ and not warming up, along with being too competitive. Read the source document here
The same article also asked the participants for the effect that Yoga had had on a range of over 500 specific medical conditions from which they suffered. The results were positive:
• Much better 53.3%
• Better 29.3%
• Little better 12.5%
• No change 4.5%
• Little worse 0.3%
• Worse 0.0%
• Much worse 0.4%
In my opinion there are many health benefits for both mind and body to be gained from taking up yoga. The relaxation element is good for sufferers of depression as well as in rehabilitation from cancer and the management of heart disease. The flow through a succession of poses can help with stress management and improved posture
Injuries seem to come from beginners pushing themselves beyond their ability and instructors with little training, or experience, who cannot evaluate each participant’s ability and offer alternative positions. Looking at the list of positions which incurred most injuries, head and shoulder stands should only be performed under close supervision by those working at an intermediate level. Lotus and half lotus positions place the knees in positions which will aggravate any existing damage to ligaments or cartilage whether originating from an injury or wear and tear. Forward and backward bends put load on the spine which can aggravate any degenerative conditions and potentially cause back pain rather than ease it.
Ensure that you choose an instructor who has experience and a class which works at your level. Watch out for exercises which may not be suitable for you (see injury section above) and listen to your body.
As an exercise professional I am keen to see everyone partake in some sort of exercise, it’s a question of finding what suits you and for many Yoga will be ideal. Give it a try, but carefully.