There is no short answer to this aside from to say, yes and no. Yoga can be dangerous if not practised or taught safely.
Yoga is hugely popular, and rightly so, the benefits for the body and mind are incredible, but there is a dark side to yoga; a side filled with injuries, surgery and constant pain. But this side of yoga need not exist.
Recently the BBC published an article highlighting the increase in hip injuries in yoga teachers (find it here). It has brought some light to a topic I have been passionate about since the first day I sat down on my mat at my teacher training. I have been preaching about safety and yoga for years and I am pleased that this topic is finally reaching the public eye.
Scarily yoga injuries are not just happening to teachers, they are happening to students and teachers. It is time that we start eliminating dangerous yoga and start promoting yoga that will keep the body healthy for years, not slowly deteriorate it. This is the responsibility of everyone in the yoga world, whether they are teachers or students.
Sadly, yoga is being taught and practised in a way that is creating injuries. Some of the poses in yoga are very deep poses and not suited to everybody, and in reality some poses are not really suited to anybody! I know as a yoga teacher it seems odd I am criticising my profession and my passion, but my passion lies in helping people to move their bodies in a healthy way, not in teaching someone to do the splits. In fact, perhaps controversially, I never teach the splits (read all about why here).
I do not believe yoga is purely about flexibility, but instead about combining strength, flexibility and mobility to give our bodies the best support we can. Most of us lead busy lives and having a healthy physical body is going to help us live these busy lives to the full. Anyone who has been to my classes knows that I teach a range of poses and sequences that move between stretch and strength and I never encourage or even allow people to push themselves into poses that do not work for them.
Yoga is safe if you do it right, so let’s start getting it right!
My answer to ‘Is yoga safe?’, is yes, it is safe to practice yoga every day, but you must be practising safely. You can do this by combining strengthening exercises into your practice. Another great way to look after your body is to balance your practice with other sports. Climbing is great for the shoulders as it uses different muscles to yoga and ensures balance in the joint. Swimming is also great for the shoulders and also the hips. A yogic lifestyle is about balance and living life with less of a sense of ego, and that is what we need to remember. We need to balance our yoga with other sports, we need to balance our stretching with strengthening and we need to stop forcing ourselves into poses that look pretty and perhaps don’t feel pretty!
So my message to teachers, yogis and everyone who ever steps onto a yoga mat, remember that we are here to improve our body and mind for the long run, so please let’s really consider what poses and movements are right for us, our bodies and our long term health and that of our students. Yoga is safe if you do it right, so let’s start getting it right!