There can be serious injuries that occur while practicing yoga asana. No matter your age or experience level, you are susceptible to such issues as herniated discs, torn rotator cuff, back pain, sprains & even strokes. Most instructors would have you believe that yoga is the end all, be all to exercise. Not long ago, I believed nothing bad could happen to somebody that practices yogasana.
After reading The Science of Yoga by William J. Broad, my perspective on my passion has been altered. I’ve heard mention that asana occasionally causes unknown issues during a practice; my best friend Noel has had a black spot in the middle of his palm since practicing ‘Down Dog’ with me. I myself have garnered a headache after an intense back-bending class or re-injured my shoulder after too many Chaturanga Dandasana. What I did not know was that even after years of continuous practice in Sirsasana (head stand), one could have a stroke, caused by the head stand itself. That yoga poses could potentially be the cause of brain damage?
What Poses Can Cause Injury?
The Science of Yoga, Mr. Broad mentions the story of a male college student in the 1960’s that “sat in Vajrasana (a kneeling posture with the buttocks on top of the heels) for hours at a time. This asana was said to be used while meditating and he would chant for world peace while seated on top of his heels, ankles and shins. “Soon he was experiencing difficulty walking, running and climbing stairs. In Manhattan… an examination showed that both of his feet drooped… problem being an unresponsive nerve… a peripheral branch of the sciatic, the longest nerve of the body, which runs from the lower spine, through the buttocks, and down the legs… because of a lack of leg control… the young man’s kneeling in Vajrasana had clamped his knees tight enough and long enough to cut the flow of blood to the lower leg, depriving the nerve of oxygen. The result was nerve deadening” Now coined by physicians as “yoga foot drop” – he was able to recover by chanting while standing up.
One woman fell asleep in Paschimottanasana, a Seated Forward Bend, its Sanskrit Meaning “stretch of theWest.” Upon awaking, she found her legs numb and weak. A medical team at the University of Washington told of the Finding injuries to both her sciatic nerves that had crippled her legs. The scientists reported that the woman regained “some sensation” after three months of therapy but still displayed persistent foot droop. A half year after the mishap, the woman was still unable to walk without assistance. Her doctors said evidence of permanent nerve damage left them doubtful that she would ever recover with full use of her legs. These cases are obviously extreme & not instructed by an expert in the field.
Qualified Instructor or Teacher
Broad’s book mentions multiple poses that are more injurious than others as well as interviewing Instructors that have studied with the Iyengar family, lived at the ashrams of Gune & taught directly by Krishnamacharya (the guru of the flow style of asana) and other notable individuals teaching in the Schools of Science. It could be stated that not every yoga pose is for everybody. W. Ritchie Russell believes that yoga is for people that are already physically fit and should not be attempted by those who have no exercise experience.
What about Beginners? You might ask. How are they to approach yogasana and forget their fear of having a stroke. Therein lies the matter of qualified instructors. Did you know that some people spend three weeks training to be a teacher? Some can even obtain their certificate online in a matter of hours! People, Urbanites specifically, are adding yoga to their workout routine five times a week. The market being in high demand for teachers, in an unregulated world; but for a few organizations printing certificates to the newest additions of the 200 Hour Registered Yoga Teacher/Therapist [RYT] alumni. Probably not going to luck out with every teacher at 24 Hour Fitness. Experience, personality, teaching style, education and whether or not they are continuing that education after leaving school is essential to studying with a qualified instructor.
What Poses to Stay Away From
I believe that yoga is for everybody. It’s how you approach the mat that makes the difference. If you go in with ego, you’re going to get beat. If you respect the art that is meditation, and you enter with humbleness in your heart and your brain in focus, and ego in check, you will prevail. In your skull lies your brain, the key to keeping alert by remembering what you are supposed to safely do while moving. The book mentions that many Doctors are afraid of inverted asana, Sirsasana & Sarvangasana [Shoulder Stand], intense upside down back bends like Urdhva Dhanurasana (Wheel), Padmasana (Lotus) could bust your kneecap and you could sprain your ankle in Virabhadrasana II easier than you can walking down the street. You must know what you are doing so as not to slam your body into the ground when not necessary. How tense should you be in your legs before extending in a direction you only go during class? Just how much of a turn off your neck should you make before you are over extending?
Injuries are not inevitable but the risk is higher than most believe there to be in a stretching class. Breathe in and out. Take caution & listen to the instructions. Take your time. If you want to jump into a pose, jump, but stay there for a while and feel your oats.