Is Yoga Dangerous?
A couple of years ago, The New York Times published How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body, a discussion of serious injuries — even fatalities — resulting from yoga practice. The Times got lots of angry letters! In the US, yoga is often touted uncritically as a healing restorative, and a safe alternative to most other forms of exercise.
Yoga as a harmless, some might even say wimpy, activity is a bit of a cartoon. Advanced yoga practitioners are remarkable athletes, with tremendous strength, balance, flexibility, and muscular control. Yoga has a long history in India, where forms of it have been practiced for thousands of years, although the general Western idea of it was probably developed just a couple hundred years ago. Indians regard yoga as, among other things, a sport, with regular competitions. (Bikram Choudhury, pioneer of hot-yoga practice in the United States, was a yoga champion in India.)
Advanced yoga poses require not only strength and balance, but a flexibility that is rare in the sedentary Western office worker, so it is important not to be distracted by its reputation as an “easy” exercise. Advanced yoga poses are not the only goal for a long-term yoga practice, though. Yoga can as easily be used as a dynamic stretching and “mindfulness” exercise to prepare for a workout, warm up in the morning, or just take a moment to step back and see how you are feeling.
There can be an element of competition or bravado, or just social pressure, in yoga classes that encourages people to stretch themselves (literally) in a risky way. However you approach yoga, you should always feel free to say “No” — to a particular pose, to finishing out a demanding class, or even just to being an overheated room. Take the time to learn yoga on your own terms, to meet your own goals, as you would with any activity that involves technique and care.