When people think of yoga, they think of relaxation, deep breathing, mindfulness and balance in body and mind.
But new research out of the University of Sydney has found the ancient physical, mental and spiritual practice is exacerbating old injuries and even leading to new ones.
Ten per cent of participants in a survey reported having new musculoskeletal pain as a result of yoga practice.
Twenty-one per cent said pre-existing injuries were made worse by yoga, in particular in the upper limbs, such as shoulder pain.
“On average yoga is as dangerous for injury as any other sport,” Associate Professor Evangelos Pappas said of the findings.
“Yoga is beneficial for the most part, however there is a higher risk for injury than what we previously thought, because previous studies thought it was about 1 to 2.5 per cent.
“The upper extremities are not designed to bear a lot of weight for long periods of time, and in yoga these downward dog postures and all the other inversions actually are quite common.”
Participants in the study were based in New York, were about 45 years old, and ranged in their level of experience from beginners to those with up to 20 years of practice.
In all, 354 yogis were surveyed then followed up on a year later.
Yoga community ‘in denial’, teacher says
Veteran yoga teacher to some of Australia’s top sportspeople, Greg Wythes, said he was not surprised by the findings.
“I think it is something we haven’t investigated enough within the yoga community. We tend to be in denial about those kind of things,” Mr Wythes said.
“If we had more awareness of what we are doing in perhaps potential causes of injury, we might actually be able to improve the quality of what we are doing.
“Not everybody finds it as easy to get into the poses as someone else, and if you can’t get into them you find a way to make it look like you do.
“That often means compensating in some way, using other parts of the body to compensate for something that may not be moving as well as you would like it to.”
Associate Professor Pappas said pain caused by or made worse by yoga was preventable.
“There’s quite a variability in the quality of teaching,” he said.
“I think it is important for people, especially those who start yoga, to find a teacher who understands the different injuries that they may have, who allows them to go out of positions, instead of dogmatically saying this is what you need to do next, and adjust positions based on the capabilities of each person.”
The new research, part of a prospective study into yoga injuries, was published in Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies.