Based on a new survey from the Centers for Disease and Prevention (CDC) as well as the National Institutes of Health (NIH), yoga is among the fastest-growing industries in the United States. In 2012, nearly 10% of American adults and 3% of children participated in yoga – an increase from 5% of adults and 2% of children just 10 years ago. In a Sports & Fitness Industry Association survey, over 24 million American adults practiced yoga in 2013 – an increase from 17 million in 2008.
Yoga is increasingly becoming a popular form of exercise among children and adults in the United States especially in gyms, such as American Family Fitness, because of its various physical and mental health benefits. But the rewards of yoga can easily and quickly be outweighed by its risks particularly the risk for injuries ranging from sprains and strains to ruptured discs, even fractures in advanced poses (i.e., asanas).
The bottom line: Safety is of paramount importance in yoga. Regardless of the type of yoga and the level of skills, yoga practitioners must always be conscious about safety matters from warming up to assuming the right form and technique.
Balancing the Rewards and Risks
The physical and mental health benefits of yoga should first be emphasized. Studies have shown that when yoga is practiced under the supervision of an experienced yoga teacher, the benefits of yoga include:
- Improve on body flexibility, a gradual occurrence with yoga as the practitioner progresses from basic to advanced asanas;
- Build muscle strength, especially in terms of toning the muscles resulting in a more sculpted look as well as in decreased severity of symptoms from arthritis;
- Improve on body posture, which usually result in other benefits like lesser pain in the back, neck and shoulders;
- Delay the breakdown of cartilage and joints, a benefit brought by yoga practitioners taking their joints through the full range of motion that reduces the risks for degenerative arthritis, too;
- Protect the spine, which can be achieved through asanas like forward bends, backbends, and twists;
- Improve bone health, a benefit brought by yoga being a bodyweight-bearing exercise;
- Increase the heart rate, which is a result of the aerobic range of motion that the yoga practitioner engages in during each session;
- Improve mental health including mood, especially among people with depression and anxiety since yoga is considered a gentle exercise that keeps the adrenaline pumping.
Indeed, yoga has proven benefits as an adjunct treatment for a wide range of illnesses ranging from carpal tunnel syndrome to arthritis because of its benefits for body flexibility, muscle strength, and bone health, among others. Due to its nature as a form of low-impact exercise, yoga also benefits people who cannot engage in high-impact exercises, such as people with arthritis, pregnant women, and people with joint injuries.
When people start pushing themselves too hard, too fast, and too soon, especially without expert supervision, their risks for injuries increase, too. Keep in mind that, as with any exercise program, your body will be challenges to perform thing that it may not have done before or that it may not be designed for. You are pushing your body to its limit – and this is where you have to be very careful.
The risks for injuries increase with advanced asanas, such as head stands and shoulder stands. Expert yoga practitioners strongly recommend starting at the most basic level of yoga before making gradual advancements to the intermediate and advanced levels. Otherwise, the risks for sprains, strains and fractures will increase regardless of your age and physical fitness.
Getting More By Adopting Safety Measures
Expert yoga practitioners recommend the adoption of the following safety measures to minimize the risk for injuries and maximize the health benefits from the ancient practice.
- Consult with your doctor first. Even when yoga is a low-impact exercise, you may have an underlying medical condition that precludes it as your exercise of choice. For example, if you have bone and joint injuries, your doctor may not recommend yoga.
- Enroll in a professional yoga program. While there are thousands of yoga videos on the Internet, you are well-advised to enroll in a gym-based yoga program instead because expert guidance is a must for both basic and advanced asanas.
- Listen to your body. Never overstretch or overstrain your body since your risks for injuries will be higher. Your body is the best judge of its limits so listen to it, not to mention that you will eventually progress to the more advanced asanas with time and practice.
Ultimately, your mind and body is the best judge of the actual benefits that you are reaping from yoga. Enjoy yoga as a form of exercise and a way of life but be sure to be safe when practicing it since you are in it for its rewards, not for its risks.