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Preventing Yoga Injuries

Tips you can use to practice yoga safely


Updated April 01, 2005

Yoga is a great addition to any fitness training routine and has many benefits for athletes of all sports. Yoga can develop better breathing technique while it improves balance, flexibility, core strength, and endurance. Yoga also helps balance the body by stretching tight muscles and strengthening weak ones.

However, there has also been a steady rise in yoga-related injuries. Experts attribute the increased injuries to three major factors:

  1. Yoga’s increased popularity and greater participation
  2. Inexperienced and poorly trained yoga instructors teaching new ‘hybrid’ forms of yoga
  3. Individuals simply pushing themselves too hard and not listening to their bodies

Tips for preventing Yoga Injuries

Find a Qualified Instructor
Currently, no one agency supervises the safety or certification of yoga instructors. The closest thing to regulation is found through the Yoga Alliance, a non-profit, voluntary registry of Registered Yoga Teachers and schools. To be registered in their database, teachers must demonstrate how they have met Yoga Alliance standards for 200 or 500 hours of training. Check out their database at Yoga Alliance.

The bottom line is that yoga, like any other exercise class, is completely safe if performed properly and taught by experienced instructors. The concern is that not all teachers are qualified, and some certifications aren't very rigorous.

Personal Safety Measures
Even with self-regulation and safety standards set forth by the Yoga Alliance, it still takes individual participants to know when to push and when to back off. The most common yoga injuries are caused by repetitive strain or overstretching and occur at the wrists, shoulders, neck, along the spine, and at the sacroiliac joint (which links the spinal column and pelvis), hamstrings, and knees.

New students of yoga are often young, healthy adults who are awfully competitive. They will simply push themselves too far, getting into positions that their bodies aren’t ready for and wind up with muscle strains and pulls.

How to Prevent Yoga Injuries

  • Find a Qualified Instructor
    This is the most important safety tip, so read the previous section one more time.
  • Progress slowly
    If you are new to yoga, it’s important to start slowly and learn the basics. Take a beginners class and learn what to expect and move through the poses cautiously for the first couple of weeks. If you feel that your instructor is pushing you too far or isn’t focused on your safety, find a new class. Video tapes are also a good way to learn if yoga is right for you, but be careful because without an instructor, you could easily perform the poses incorrectly and not even know it.
  • Don't Compete
    Many yoga students get hurt while trying to keep up with the instructor or other students. Yoga is not a competition so don’t let yourself get pressured to compete with anyone else. It is better to practice a partial pose with good form than a full pose with poor form. Try to focus on your breathing rather than how far you stretch.
  • Set Personal Goals
    You are unique and should make your goals unique as well. You should determine your own baseline and work (slowly) from there. It helps to set small, specific goals for each yoga session. Don't be swayed by what the instructor or others in the class can do. You are there for your own personal health and fitness. Don't allow your instructor or a partner to push you deeper into a pose if you don't feel ready.
  • Listen to Your Body
    Pain is your body’s way to let you know something is wrong. Listen to it and back off. Your strength, flexibility and mental attention can vary slightly from day to day, so allow for some variation without getting concerned.
  • Ask Questions
    If you are unsure of a position or movement, stop and ask your instructor for more explanation. If you have any injuries, chronic conditions of other limitations or medical conditions, let you instructor know before class. You should also check with you doctor about any movements or poses you should avoid.

    A Word About Bikram (hot) Yoga
    The hot room facilitates flexibility and can help you get into positions that you couldn’t before, but you can also take it too far and go beyond a safe range of motion. This is where a good instructor is critical to help you set limits. It’s also important to balance this sort of flexibility with strength. A basic fundamental concept that many yoga students ignore. It’s important to remember that if you stretch a muscle too much, without then strengthening it, it is more susceptible to strain. Most experts advise students to refrain from physically demanding, high impact activities such as running or lifting weights right after hot yoga.

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