What troubles yogis

Yoga has without a doubt a whole lot of beneficial effects on our body and mind, which are mainly nowadays constantly talked about and endorsed. For instance, in USA is yoga currently one of the most popular alternatives instead of therapies treating painful conditions, cardiovascular illnesses, musculoskeletal or psychological problems and other conditions. Yoga is also used for weight reduction or as a exercise in pregnancy. What is not known entirely are the possible risks, which are involved in yoga. Even though more serious injuries and wounds in yoga are rather unique, there still remains some problems.

Yoga is in nowadays modern age included in many types of physical and mental exercises, from which most don’t have anything common with traditional yoga. Generally we could say that yoga represents any activity which is done fully consciously, when we give it all of our attention.

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Yoga as such and most of its positions (asanas) originated in India. Many indians still spend the many hours in a lotus position every day or other meditating positions, these positions are for many indians completely common since their early childhood. Their musculoskeletal system, and especially hip joints have a little bit different structure, than what is typical for most people in the west, who are used to sitting daily on chairs.

Yoga injuries therefore occur most commonly due to the effort to push our body into positions, which are oftentimes above our physical abilities. Unforgettable factors of occurrence of these injuries are also incorrect technique, previous injuries, using too much force or insufficient or incorrect guidance of the lecturer.

Cervical and lumbar spine, along with shoulder girdle, wrist and knee joints are among the most frequently affected body parts. Localization of the injury is always correlated to the focus of the asana.

For instance, injury of the cervical spine occurs most frequently from exercising the sirsasana (headstand). Injury of the lumbar spine usually results from bending forward and rotations in bending position. Injuries of the upper extremities are connected to the position of the dog including the plank variation and chaturanga dandasana. Injury in the area of the knee joint occurs usually when training the warrior pose as well as hero pose, one-legged king pigeon pose or lotus pose.

The most frequently affected structures are tendons, menisci, is joint labrum (fibrous cartilage in the area of the joint) and intervertebral discs, especially in the lower back area. There are however scarier cases, where individuals suffered from stroke or piercing the lungs.
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There are cases when, people who stayed too long in the vajrasana (sitting pose) or paschimottanasana (seated forward bend pose) suffered from damaged sitting nerve and even deadened nerves of the legs.

There are also rare cases when the affected people practicing specific yoga poses damaged their brains. That included sudden quick movement of the neck, abrupt movement of the head in a position, which restricted blood flow into the brain, such as bending or rotation. Specifically poses like headstand, candle pose, cobra pose or bridge pose are among the more risky poses. Another risk factor is old age, when the elasticity of the blood vessels is lowered or the person suffers from osteophytes on the spine.


In relation to these problems, american doctors found out 5 risky poses. Among which are headstand, candle pose, bending to the side and plough pose. As very risky is considered to be utthita padangusthasana. In several other cases, practicing this pose lead to injury of the hamstrings.

In year 2000 were in USA registered 13 cases of injuries, which occurred during yoga, in year 2001 it was 20 cases and in 2002 were treated 46 yogis. It can be only estimated how many more people did not bother to search out medical attention.

Generally it can be said that some yoga styles are more risky than others. Currently, physically more demanding forms of yoga are becoming more and more popular, such as Ashtanga vinyasa yoga. This style carries a fairly high risk of injury. Mikkonen et al. (2008) noted in their study that up to 62% from 110 asked respondents suffered during ashtanga vinyasa yoga practice an injury that took at least one month to heal. From a different perspective that is 1,45 injuries per 1000 hours of practice. The legs are most commonly affected, especially the area around hamstrings and knee joints, another common problem is pain in the lumbar area.
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It would be also optional to be careful when practicing bikram yoga. It should be noted that this style of yoga is definitely not for everybody. The risk of this style is that one can excessively stretch their muscles, damage or even tear the ligaments and relaxing the tendons, which can cause excessive release of the joint. It is therefore risky for hypermobile individuals.

Some breathing techniques may be also dangerous, if they are not done correctly. Even though pranayama has in many cases very positive effects, there are also few cases, where breathing technique kapalbhati (skull shining breathing) caused pneumothorax.


Yoga exercises should be always performed in concentration, giving it full attention and realizing one’s body. We should avoid uncontrollable abrupt movements and we should not go beyond our abilities and resistance. In such case we can enjoy yoga and reap its benefits. It is important to leave your ego behind, because yoga may heal, but also hurt!


Author: FYZIOklinika physiotherapy Ltd., Prague, Czech Republic

Source: BROAD, William J. Jóga: fakta a mýty. Praha: Ikar, 2013. ISBN 978-80-249-2315-4
FISHMAN, Loren, Ellen SALTONSTALL and Susan GENIS. Understanding and Preventing Yoga Injuries. International Journal of Yoga Therapy. 2009, 19(1), p. 47–53.
LE CORROLLER, Thomas, Alexandra T. VERTINSKY, Rikin HARGUNANI and Khalid KHASHOGGI. Musculoskeletal Injuries Related to Yoga: Imaging Observations. American Journal of Roentgenology. 2012, 199(2), p. 413–418.
MIKKONEN, Jani, Palle PEDERSEN and Peter William MCCARTHY. A Survey of Musculoskeletal Injury among Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga Practitioners. International Journal of Yoga Therapy: 2008, 18(1), p. 59–64.
RUSSELL, Kelly, Shantel GUSHUE, Sarah RICHMOND and Steven MCFAULL. Epidemiology of yoga-related injuries in Canada from 1991 to 2010: a case series study. International Journal of Injury Control and Safety Promotion. 2015, 23(3), p. 284–290.

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