The Science writer for The New York Times, William J Broad has highlighted the possibility of serious health risks associated with yoga. Speaking on the Today programme on Radio 4 recently, the author stated that in his view some yoga poses have extremely high consequences which could lead to death.
The positive effects of yoga are well documented and this ancient discipline originating in India is renowned for having physical and psychological benefits. It has been claimed that yoga can help an ailing sex life, reduce stress and increase longevity. How shocking then to discover that if not done properly, yoga can kill you.
William Broad has been practising yoga since 1970 and loves it, but whilst he was compiling research for his book; ‘The science of Yoga Risks and Rewards’, he discovered to his horror that there are some poses that can be extremely dangerous. Shoulder stand and plough are inversions which tend to be for more advanced people, but these positions are also found in many less advanced classes and can cause health complications. It seems that the neck is the part of the body that can cause major problems if twisted too much. The vertebral arteries that supply blood to various parts of the brain are quite fragile and if twisted too strenuously the linings of these arteries can tear. This in turn can lead to clots which can cause a stroke. William Broad asserted that it is estimated that one in twenty people who suffer strokes because of these vertebral dissections will die.
Sarah Montague, the presenter posited the idea that they were just freak accidents, but William Broad informed her that there were many clinical reports of yoga practitioners suffering these types of strokes. The Consumer Product Safety Commission in the USA has gathered data from emergency rooms citing these types of injuries and there are also surveys of people reporting strokes caused by yoga. The author stressed that he didn’t embark on five years of research for his book thinking the worst and he wanted to emphasise that these are small dangers and that things can be done to lessen the risk. Pierre Bibby, the chief executive of the British Wheel of Yoga suggests the problem is not with yoga per se, rather the way it is taught that could cause problems, so obviously it is important yoga is practiced properly under the guidance of an expert practitioner. There may be inexperienced teachers who are not always aware that people in their class are not as flexible as they are. We all have varying levels of flexibility and limits vary from person to person. In a class environment it is difficult to keep an eye on all of those participating whereas personal trainers would be able to focus on the individual since personal training is usually carried out on a one to one basis.
When embarking on any fitness activity it is important to make sure your instructor or personal trainer is qualified and insured, so that you exercise within safe limits. There are some intrinsic risks, but in general yoga is a positive experience.