"Yoga is not just repetition of few postures — it is more about the exploration and discovery of the subtle energies of life."
― Amit Ray, author of "Yoga and Vipassana: An Integrated Lifestyle"

Yoga is more popular than ever. According to a 2017 National Health Interview Survey from the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, the percentage of adults doing yoga in the U.S. jumped from 9.5% in 2012 to 14.3% in 2017.

The Yoga Alliance reports that Americans spend $16 billion on yoga classes, clothing, equipment and accessories each year.

Unlike in the Eastern world, where yoga has its origins as a spiritual practice, in the West, yoga has become another form of physical exercise. Power yoga, for example, can be found at many gyms across the country. As with any type of fitness program, injuries are possible. In fact, some people should avoid yoga altogether, or at the very least, be careful about which postures they do.

The National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS) found there were 29,590 yoga-related injuries seen in hospital emergency departments from 2001 to 2014. The trunk (46.6%) was the most frequent region injured, and sprain/strain (45.0%) accounted for the most diagnoses. That same study found that adults 65 and older were at the greatest risk for injury.

This many seem obvious; however, many people assume that yoga is harmless because it appears to involve simply stretching or holding postures. It is seen as highly beneficial because its proponents focus on how it improves balance, flexibility and strength. Therefore, what’s not to love?

Quite a bit, especially for those with preexisting neck problems, herniated disks, arthritis, osteoporosis or osteopenia, or who are at risk for a stroke.

Yes, you read that right. In some rare cases, people have had a stroke as a result of certain postures. This is due to an undiagnosed condition such as a tear in the right carotid artery,

This article is not intended to scare people away from doing yoga, because for the most part, the benefits of yoga far outweigh the risks. Rather, it is an invitation to educate yourself about this increasingly popular practice and to introduce you to some helpful tips and a wonderful resource that will help improve your practice and reduce the chance of injury.

1. Check your instructor’s training.

There are yoga training programs all over the world churning out thousands of teachers. Not all programs will have the same standards.

Make sure you take a class with a qualified instructor that has attended a school approved by The Yoga Alliance. According to The Yoga Alliance website, “The Yoga Alliance sets minimum standards for teacher training programs. Programs that meet these standards and pay a fee can market their trainings as “Yoga Alliance Approved.”

Graduates of these trainings can then register with the Yoga Alliance and then promote themselves as RYT — Registered Yoga Teachers. Registration is available at four different levels: RYT 200, E-RYT 200, RYT 500, and E-RYT 500. The E stands for experienced and indicates a certain number of hours teaching since the completion of teacher training.

2. Be honest about your needs.

Let your yoga teacher as well as your yoga studio know if you have any preexisting physical issues that may necessitate that you refrain from certain poses and postures. Most teachers will give you an alternative posture to do instead.

3. Talk with your health service provider.

If you have any serious medical issues, it may not mean that you can’t do yoga. Explore this with your naturopath or physician to see if yoga is right for you. It’s possible that a gentle or restorative class will work well for you.

4. Don’t push yourself.

Yoga isn’t a competition. Yes, some students may be able to do amazing headstand, handstands or beautiful back bends, but pushing yourself too quickly to accomplish specific poses may result in an injury.

5. Listen to your body.

When it comes to your body, you are the expert. You will know better than anyone when a pose doesn’t feel right. Your teacher isn’t a mind reader and won’t know when you’re uncomfortable or have gone too far.

6. Pace yourself and use props.

Move through your class at a pace that feels comfortable. Stretch just enough, but not too much. Let yourself have time to breathe.

And by all means, use props! That’s why they’re there. No need to prove you can do more than what feels right for you.

A Helpful Resource

There is a website called “Yoga Injury Prevention.” Designed for yoga teachers and students, it is a unique resource that allows two different types of searches: One in which you “select a pose to see do’s and don’ts for 90+ medical conditions” and another in which you “select one or more medical conditions to see beneficial, safe and contraindicated poses.”

For further information about the studies cited in this article: