Is yoga dangerous? Defenders say risks are exaggerated

By Carrie Johnson Weimer O'Brien • Published: May 31st, 2012
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

In today’s fast-paced, hectic society, it’s no wonder that the practice of yoga is becoming increasingly popular. In fact, the number of people hooked on the popular workout has climbed from 4 million in 2001 to more than 20 million in 2011.

Yoga is billed as a cleansing experience for both body and soul. It provides an opportunity to connect with your breath, improve your balance and find inner strength. But some critics say the way yoga is being practiced in the United States is creating more harm than good.

An article in the New York Times recently quoted a yoga instructor who said the vast majority of people who start yoga have to give it up because it’s too dangerous. The story included descriptions of people who pushed themselves beyond their physical limits because of the emphasis on increasingly difficult poses, such as shoulder and head stands. Some people popped ribs trying to twist themselves into pretzel-like shapes. Another lost movement in her hip joint. Perhaps most worrisome, an article in the British Medical Journal suggests certain yoga poses could cause stroke because of hyperextension of the neck.

But yoga defenders say the risks are overblown. Sure, there are inexperienced and under-qualified teachers who encourage students to push themselves too far. But there have been several scientific studies that show yoga does provide serious health benefits, including asthma relief, non-surgical relief for injured shoulders and stronger bones.

So what’s the bottom line? Despite the hype, there’s no evidence that yoga is more dangerous than any other form of exercise. Find a safe, reliable teacher and don’t over-exert yourself. With a few sensible precautions, there’s no reason why the 20 million Americans who practice yoga should give it up.