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18 November 2007

How You Can Prevent the Casualties of Yoga

Yoga is enjoyed by at least 18 million Americans, according to the May 2006 issue of U.S. News & World Report. People swear by this increasingly popular pastime to relieve stress, tone their bodies, increase their energy and more.

But as with most things in life, the benefits do not come without a risk.

In 2006, there were 4,459 yoga-related injuries in the United States, a report by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission found.

Ironically, the very same things that provide your body the benefits -- the stretching, holding, balancing and flexing -- can also lead to injury if you try to do too much, too quickly.

The most common injuries related to yoga, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), are caused by repetitive strain to and overstretching of your:





Legs and knees

While many injuries are minor, they can be severe, leading to serious back injury or requiring surgery. The faster-paced yoga varieties and Bikram, which is done in a hot room that increases your flexibility (and may make you stretch farther than you should), are especially risky.

And as yoga enthusiasts continue to grow in numbers, so too will the prevalence of injuries.

Preventing Yoga-Related Injuries

Yoga is a process that is founded on rhythm, flow and patience. If you buck these principles -- for example the Baby Boomer who attends the "advanced" class before mastering the "beginner" one, or the young convert who is too eager to try difficult positions -- you increase your risk of getting hurt.

The number one way to prevent injury while practicing yoga, or any other type of physical activity, is to start slowly and work your way up gradually. You should feel you're being challenged, but your body should not be in pain. If it is, you need to back off immediately.

You can also protect yourself during a yoga session by:

1. Finding a qualified instructor. You should not attempt to do yoga on your own until a knowledgeable teacher has taught you at least the basics. Yoga instruction is not regulated in the United States, so be sure to ask your potential instructor where he or she was trained, what experience they have and even for a few referrals.

2. If you're a beginner, start out very slowly. Learn the basic poses, but focus on picking up the breathing techniques rather than trying to stretch too far.

3. Warm up before class. You should warm up by jogging in place, doing jumping jacks or other vigorous activity to warm up your muscles, tendons and ligaments.

4. Stretch regularly. Stretching will help increase your flexibility, reduce muscle tension, improve your circulation and help prevent injuries if you do it on a regular basis. For an excellent stretching routine that takes just 15-20 minutes a day, check out the Stretching Toward a Healthier Life DVD.

5. Learn about the different types of yoga. Some are fast-paced and strenuous while others are more gentle and relaxing. Choose your yoga type according to your fitness level and purpose.

6. Tell your instructor about any medical conditions you have. He or she can tell you what precautions to take if you have back problems, high blood pressure, a knee injury or other conditions that may be impacted by yoga.

7. Wear loose, comfortable clothing. Tight, stiff clothing can restrict your movements.

8. Listen to your body. If something feels too hard or painful, don't do it. If you're unsure of how to do a pose, ask your instructor for help before trying it out.

Finally, remember that millions of people practice yoga safely, without injury, every year. If you start gradually, progress slowly and always listen to your body, your risks are minimal.

According to AAOS, "The rewards of basic yoga outweigh the potential physical risks, as long as you take caution and perform the exercises in moderation, according to your individual flexibility level."

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