Yoga Could Kill You

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.



  1. 1
    my Store Says:

    Appreciate this post. Will try it out.

  2. 2

    Definitely appreciate this. It is something I have been reading a lot about lately as a personal trainer and it goes to prove one of my foundations of training

    Always be willing to have your world turned upsidedown. The great part about how fast the industry is evolving is that we are now learning that many standard practices may not be all they are cracked up to be.

    It is great that people are questioning things and some great research is coming out of it.

  3. 3
    Glenys P Says:

    I fully support William. I know o many people who are put at risk and by people who have taught yoga for longer than I, 35 years. One well known person wrote in a yoga magazine regarding someone who had a pacemaker fitted, that teacher saw no harm in the shoulderstands, her comment ‘the pacemaker wont shift’ according to the details provided she also worked in pathology. Class members are still put at risk even now and by BWY teachers who have taught for many years.

  4. As a personal trainer who has recently started yoga, I am starting to feel the benefits of building further strength and flexibility. However, all instructors have an ethical responsibility to ensure that clients are not pushing too far beyond their limits, then increasing the chances of injury. The trainer should always ask the client to ensure they listen to their body and its response to any movement or exercise and stop if feeling undue stress or discomfort. It’s also important, however, to place some context on this. The benefits of undertaking exercise almost always outweigh any risks, as long as they are done sensibly and with good instruction.

    • 5
      Edwina. Says:

      I agree with comments. But we must also know more about a person’s medical condition, medication and side effects. Too many people are injured because the teacher does not have the necessary knowledge. Osteoporosis has been described as a silent disease, it is not known about until someone has fractured a bone, then the person is screened. More information must be passed on and questionaires filled in, if needed, a letter from the GP also.
      There are also people who are not prepared to take advise from teacher, they feel comfortable, no pain, so they go ahead and that is where the harm is done
      We should also know about the risks of osteoporosis by someone who is taking anti co-ags. Check the osteoporosis websites. Osteoporosis Canada, the nof website etc. A person has vertebral fractures from bending over to tie up her shoelaces. If you are training to be a yoga teacher, do a lot of your own research, I had to find out for myself about the dangers. I have the book and I agree with it.
      William Broad has done the research and has written the book. He has only commented on the information that is already there. you only have to look. Look on the surgeon general’s website re osteoporosis and osteogenesis imperfecta.
      Do your research look for ‘Can we still recommend meditation’ by Peter Fenwick, the Maudsley Hospital. I think I have the right info, I’m sure you will find it.
      You just have to look.

  5. 6

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