Yoga injury prevention. Is Yoga Safe?

Even if you are physically prepared you never “have to” do a headstand. (There is a “fear factor” with certain people even when physically prepared. Others are too eager and not physically prepared!) It generally takes years to prepare the body safely for headstand. There is in fact very little weight on the head -the arms and shoulders do all of the work! It is an Intermediate practice. The preparation work as an Intermediate Yogi may take a year. There are a number of “tests” we can do to make sure the head is not bearing the weight.


The “crazy” dangers of Yoga. How many yoga injuries have I seen in my life? When do alarm bells ring? Including: How to stay safe, practicing with injuries, and a list of poses we need to be mindful of…

The Dangers of Yoga and Voodoo!

I will never forget hearing second-hand how an individual injured themselves from Beginners Yoga -while running. Hmm…Let me explain, the lady in question had not been at class for two weeks. Over these two weeks she was stuck into high intensity fitness training. Previous to this there was no mention of pain after Yoga, and I gather there was none. After two weeks of not-actually-being-at-class this individual became injured after a kick-ass running session. Supposedly this was from Yoga classes that hadn’t been attended!

Here’s the thing. It is pretty difficult to injure yourself from Yoga when you’re not actually doing it! Yoga is not voodoo!  Injuries do not build up, to pounce weeks after a class.  Yoga is in fact designed to stretch and strengthen the body. Practiced correctly Yoga can be excellent for injury prevention and management. It is invaluable to use in conjunction with other types of exercise.

Do not allow fear to get the better of you.

The philosophies of injury prevention in Yoga.

More than any other physical practice, in Yoga we are told to listen to our bodies and move mindfully. It is not part of the path of Yoga to injure ourselves. Controlling the ego is critical. It is a massive no-no to compete with others or push the body beyond its limits.

Practice Yoga safely. Injury Prevention: Why “The Ego is not your Amigo”

  • Be patient with your body! Deepen poses gradually over time.
  • Be true to a pose. Forget about what a pose looks like!
  • Build strength as well as stretch. Keep your limbs in their sockets! Magnetise your hips together in low-lunges. Pull your belly button into your spine as required.
  • Keep the breath flowing. Breath is a gauge of “how” we are practicing. If we stop breathing easily and smoothly while practicing, this is a clear sign. To find the breath again rest or modify a pose.
  • Pain or twinges are not part of Yoga. This is a sign to back off a pose or stop.
  • It is the small things. Get specific with feet and hand alignment. Internal rotations, tilting the pelvis and dropping the tail bone in specific poses make a world of difference.

Indications of an injury not caused by Yoga.

  • Not having attended a class…
  • Feeling healthy leaving class
  • No unaccustomed pains during class
  • Previous injury which has caused pain, Yoga or not.
  • Factors outside of class; overly ambitious exercise routines, falling, or pulling something. Pain was experienced during and after this activity.

Is it always safe to do (physical) Yoga?

Absolutely not. Danger cannot be entirely eliminated from any form of exercise. Take full responsibility for your own health and well-being each time you come to class. This is your life. I facilitate your sessions.

Do you need to check in with your health professional prior to beginning? Find out what kind of pace the class is and who it is designed for.  Call the teacher and ask for their opinion. Then understand that everything in life and class is a suggestion.

Here’s the thing though, you may sign all the disclaimers you want and take full responsibility for your body but there are times when people sincerely need a Yoga One-to-One. At other times people benefit the most from an almost non-physical Yoga session.

When to think twice about coming to class.

I have had people rock up to a class after being in a car accident, while recovering from a spinal injury. They must have figured that by going to a Beginners class and informing the teacher they should be okay. Remember that the care and attention a teacher can give in class must be divided between the number of people there. A class sequence is also largely predetermined.

Coming to a One-to-One may seem like a “conservative” way to work with injuries, but I have got great results with students with private Yoga classes.

Patience pays off. In terms of a spinal injury I “would not go there” with certain angles and poses. There is no way that a teacher can monitor your situation properly in a class with other people, and offer alternatives when half the poses are not suitable. Do your body a favour and go to a One-to-One!

My advice, if you having anything going on with the vertebra in the back? “Splash out” and get yourself a One-to-One -you will make savings on health care and your well-being.

The same is true if you have an old injury that you are managing, specifically if you are unsure of how to modify your practice or if there are a lot of poses that you feel you should sit out. Or simply, if you do not know how to protect your body.

When Private Yoga/One-to-Ones Are The One

  • Issues with vertebra and disks. Old fractures & crush fractures. Often it is not wise to do complete forward bends.  Sometimes twists are out of the equation.
  • Curvature of the upper back. It is a good idea to learn forward bend variations without rounding the upper back further. (As I often see in class) Be guided towards physical awareness.
  • Car crashes where there have been injuries and impaired movement. The biggest factor in a serious crash is the “jolt” factor. Things may have “shifted”; re-discover where they “are at”. Poses may need to be modified or avoided completely for a while.
  • Injuries that can be addressed specifically: S.I joint problems, repetitive strain injuries, wrist pain, hip problems, areas of the body which have been operated on in the past.
  • Extreme challenges with fitness or mobility in comparison with the class.
  • If the ego needs quietening. When an individual feels competitive in class and cannot seem to take the easier variations as required. In a class our practice will be different from others around us. If this feels unsatisfactory it may be an idea to try private Yoga classes.
  • If an individual feels they need more of the teacher’s time than other students. If there is a language barrier or dyslexia or if they want to ask lots of questions during class. In general there is not much time to chat as poses are explained and demonstrated.
  • Stress related or emotionally related illnesses. Come to class, sure! We can however, develop a more productive calming practice using all the tools that Yoga can offer with a private Yoga lesson. This includes approaching the practice in relation to the energy centres of the body.

Where private Yoga benefits.

  • Everyone benefits from private yoga/One-to-Ones because they are tailored for the individual. We can simply get more specific with One-to-Ones
  • Tailored sessions might really suit those with health conditions such as M.S or Adrenaline Fatigue.
  • If you are getting back into your practice after a long time
  • If you would like to take your practice up a notch.

Coming To Class and Injury Management.

Lower back issues (At lot of the techniques I use in my beginners classes really strengthen the lower back, particularly the modified forward bends)

Scoliosis.  The way I teach “Spine is first” and “legs are last” in many poses, including forward bends. People with scoliosis might get great benefit from a Beginners class.

Knees : If an individual is open to listening to advice on feet alignment and can largely monitor themselves, classes can be suitable. Soften the knees and use padding where required. I have often found that people with knee problems need to lift their arches and bring their knees out evenly over the toes. Make sure not to over-extend the back of the knees.

Hips: Rotate the hips in the sockets to warm-up. Be gentle & patient with your hips while stretching . Never ignore pain there. Visualise breathing in and out of that area. Use props to prop up your legs while in poses such as Supta Baddha Konasana.

Ageing: While it is in no way unusual for Yogis to practice throughout their life certain modifications may be necessary. If you are new to Yoga and over a certain age, warm-up! Rotate ankles, wrists and hips! Bring padding for knees if necessary. Progress week by week. Listen to your body! Build strength not just stretch; using the body’s resistance is crucial!

N.B. Please note the above is not a medical evaluation of your condition or a guarantee that it is safe for you! The above is intended for informational purposes and is based on my personal experience teaching and practicing Yoga.

How often do people hurt themselves in Yoga.

Luckily enough I have only over-heard of one incidence when a person could not attend class due to injury.  My teacher mentioned that so-and-so would not be at class as they hurt their shoulder. It was not clarified if this injury was from Yoga but it is the only possible incident I can recall. Maybe I am lucky, maybe not. Yoga is not gym and if I ever attended a class where there was too much “push” I never returned again.

When are people most likely to hurt themselves in Yoga?

I am extremely grateful that no-one has ever hurt themselves in one of my classes. I will tell you when my alarm bells ring and I step in however.

  • When people approach a Yoga class like Bootcamp!
  • Pushing and pushing without breathing. The breath is a tether and tunes us in to what is happening in the body. It is a safety net.
  • Competing with others. Your body is unique and needs unique care
  • “Jumping”into advanced poses when new to class, even when not new to Yoga!
  • When an individual had a previous injury. We need to be extra mindful and patient here.

Poses that need experience, patience, muscle strength and gradual progression.


Shoulderstand (fully inverted rather than the” Banana” version I mostly practice in class)

Full wheel

Asymetrical balances on one leg.

Reclined hero pose 

Summary: How do I progress in my practice and prevent injury.

  • Watch your breath. When we are challenged we can lose the tether. Come back to it. If you “can’t breath” or find the breath again, come out of the pose or don’t hold it. Try a modification.
  • Build strength gradually.
  • The ego is the single most biggest factor to be aware of. It is not about how low you bring your head or how high you lift your leg, or how impressive a pose is from the outside. “The ego is not your amigo”. Find the truth of the pose with respect to your body.


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One Comment

  1. Stephan
    December 25, 2015 @ 12:47 am

    Very nice write-up. I absolutely love this website.

    Continue the good work!

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