Yoga can be a great way to keep in shape and maintain flexibility, but there are some health risks involved that you should be aware of. While yoga is generally safe for most people, being aware of the risks before you start can help make your yoga practice beneficial instead of painful.
People with certain medical conditions may not be able to do yoga safely. If you have spinal disk problems, retinal detachment in the eye, glaucoma, ear problems, severe osteoporosis, cervical spondylitis, hypertension, hypotension, or artheriosclerosis, you should avoid doing inverted yoga poses that place your head lower than your legs and feet. Some poses may also be problematic during pregnancy.
Dangerous Yoga Styles
There are many different styles of yoga, and the right one for you depends on your overall health and physical condition. Someone who is fit and active may be able to handle an Ashtanga yoga class, which involves constant flowing movement between various poses, better than someone who isn't physically fit before starting the class. Bikram yoga, also known as hot yoga, is another potentially dangerous form for some people. In Bikram yoga, practitioners do poses in a room heated to between 95 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit, which can cause overheating and dehydration.
Getting yoga poses right often requires the assistance of a trained and experienced instructor. If you try some poses on your own, you could end up causing injury to your muscles, joints, or tendons if you do the poses incorrectly. Avoid trying to learn yoga from a book or video and stick to a real class, where the instructor can adjust your positioning as necessary. However, not all classes and instructors are equally safe, either. Licensing requirements in the U.S. are not well defined, so finding a qualified instructor can be complicated. Before starting a yoga class, ask the instructor if he or she has any certifications from nationally or internationally recognized yoga organizations. You can also check for references and ask about specific training programs that the instructor has completed.
Even the best instructor in town can't help you prevent injuries caused by competitive overexertion. Yoga is not supposed to be competitive, but many people try to do poses that are above their abilities or hold poses too long just because others in the class are able to do those poses. You are the best judge as to whether a particular pose hurts or becomes too uncomfortable to continue, so it is important to pay attention to your own body's signals to avoid damage.
If you don't clean your yoga mat regularly or if you use a shared mat at class that isn't cleaned after each use, you could be putting your health at risk. Fungal infections, such as Athlete's foot, can develop as a result of fungal spores that thrive on a sweat-covered yoga mat. Bacteria and viruses can also thrive on yoga mats, blocks, and other equipment. To protect yourself, bring your own equipment to class and clean it as soon as you get home. If you have to share, use a sanitizing solution to wipe down the equipment before you use it. It's also a good gesture to wipe it down after use so that you aren't exposing anyone else to the health risks of any bacteria or viruses you might be carrying.
While these health risks of yoga might seem scary, in most cases, yoga is more beneficial than risky. Yoga can lower blood pressure, reduce stress, improve flexibility, keep you physically fit, and reduce the risk of disease. Before starting a yoga program, you should discuss your plans with your physician and take precautions to make sure you get as many of the benefits as possible while avoiding the health risks of yoga.
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