The Cautionary News: Yoga can cause injury if not done with comapssion and respect for your limitations.
Neck rotation: Normally, the neck can stretch backward 75 degrees, forward 40 degrees and sideways 45 degrees, and it can rotate on its axis about 50 degrees. Yoga practitioners typically move the vertebrae much farther. An intermediate student can easily turn his or her neck 90 degrees — nearly twice the normal rotation. there is a story of one woman who took 2 years to walk again, and a man who took 2 months – both suggesting yoga as a cause. In my classes, the movement of the neck is always gentle, with a focus on remaining comfortable with easy breathing throughout each pose.
Over stretching: Bikram yoga could raise the risk of overstretching, muscle damage and torn cartilage. Stretching should always be done smoothly, and start gently. In cold climates it is not surprising that the body might get a surprise coming from stretchy hot to a suddenly cold damp environment. Use common sense and avoiding ‘trying hard’.
Shoulder stand: ‘muscle strains, overstretched ligaments and cervical-disk injuries’ Roger Cole, Iyengar teacher. In class about once a term we do shoulder stand, moving in such a way, that it is not possible to get into it if your body is not ready. There are many modifications that allow the benefits to be enjoyed safely.
Headstand: ‘too dangerous for general yoga classes’ Timothy McCall, physician & medical editor of Yoga Journal. I dont do headstands in my general classes for this reason, although i do practice them at home and with small groups when appropriate.
The Good News: The story behind the stories
The man who took 2 months to learn to walk had a series of bruises down his back from doing shoulder stands on a hard surface! Yoga is not self sabbotage or suffering. If you notice pain at any point: stop! Our egos can drive us to unhelpful places where we ‘aim high’, in yoga it is best not to aim at all and stay in the experience of each pose at each moment.
‘Asana is not a cure-all…. if you do it with ego or obsession, you’ll end up causing problems.’
We have to be especially kind as we are not living the life that ancient yogis did. This is why poses are modified: so our bodies can BENEFIT from yoga, not just achieve a new shape.
‘Indian practitioners of yoga typically squatted and sat cross-legged in daily life, and yoga poses, or asanas, were an outgrowth of these postures. Now urbanites who sit in chairs all day walk into a studio a couple of times a week and strain to twist themselves into ever-more-difficult postures despite their lack of flexibility and other physical problems’
Self care is very important. You can practice yoga safely at any age, with awareness. Awareness is more important than rushing through a series of postures just to say you’d done them.
“Is this yoga?…. It is if you’re paying attention.” Glenn Black
Yoga can calm, cure, energize and strengthen, it can lower your blood pressure, make chemicals that act as antidepressants and even improve your sex life.
Be mindful of your body as you practice: it should feel GOOD and KIND.
“Real yoga is as safe as mother’s milk” Swami Gitananda
For dramatic individual stories look up ‘How yoga can wreck your body’. Although to be quite frank I think your time and energy would be better spent doing relaxing yoga or contemplating how you can be KIND to your fantastic body and home.