I recently sent a link to an article about yoga injuries to a long-term client that I was currently seeing for a shoulder injury. My client’s response was brief – that although the article was interesting, she did not associate her injury with yoga. I felt compelled to respond to address this misconception of separating out cause and effect in movement and how we need to look at the integrated total effects of all our movements and how they are impacting our bodies. Here’s what I wrote to her:

I think there is great worth in understanding the prevailing trends of our yoga craft as they affect how and what we end up learning and consequently practicing more, rather than less, of. For example, the fact that head and shoulder stand are taught as the King and Queen of Poses or that Down dog is labeled a ‘basic’ beginner pose. A not-so fun newer trend development is the amount of shoulder and neck injuries from these ‘great; poses.  It begs the question: do we practice poses or just trends in poses? (Check out Mark Singleton’s book Yoga Body for more on this.)

Bottom line, as teachers, as long-time students, I think it would be negligible for us to not observe how the practice is evolving in our own culture and in our own time and with our own uniquely biased imprint on the subject.

As to your specific injury and whether or not it was caused by yoga, we actually will probably never know for sure. It certainly was not an injury you had during an actual class or practice. However, an ability (or an inability) to adapt to a situation of extreme usage, like what occurred at work, is a COMBINATION of one’s movement habits, posture and stress levels (both mental and physical). The poor posture and stress that resulted from the overload and work demand were obvious culprits in the short time span of the summer, but what about your movement habits/history that led up to that point? Perhaps if we consider it in that direction, the work demand was just the proverbial straw? How you choose to use your body in your yoga practice is just as important a question to ask as how you choose to use your body at your desk, in the car, in the kitchen, etc. As a bodyworker constantly assessing causal factors I have to ask, could the shoulder demands of your movement practice have set the stage for what happened at work? To that end, do you know what the physical shoulder demands are of the yoga poses you practice the most and how they may or may not be similar to the demand that faced you this summer?

I am seeing a surge of these types of shoulder injuries in my practice, (3 rotator cuff repairs/replacements in the last 3 months alone). Every single one is a long time (and in some cases, masterful) yoga student. Yet another trend in our craft that I see blooming is that our body of long-time practitioners is becoming a more aged one. Those who were practicing years ago are now in their 50s, 60s and 70s. Most (95%) of the injuries and surgeries I see are in this age bracket.

I do not say this to scare you or to poop on the yoga party in your life. I do hope it makes you BE(A)WARE that this is what is happening around you and your fellow yogis whether people are coming out to acknowledge this large elephant or not. (That open admission and acceptance (the pre-cursors to change) I think will be another trend–but hopefully sooner than later).

I know how beneficial yoga can be. But I also have seen what it can do to break the body down, slowly, gradually over time. Please hear me when I say, yoga can be good. Yoga can heal. Yoga can change lives. I believe, practice, and teach that too. But do you know what yoga poses are really the best and worse for you, and why?  It is certainly a tricky selection process to navigate in a classroom setting that presents a popular menu of choices that seem to satisfy the masses. Is your practice at home markedly different? I have seen yoga change bodies/lives for the good and for the bad. Can you say you really know what your practice is doing to your body? Most don’t until the damage has been done. (And I speak from personal experience here too.)

I want you to be informed and empowered as a yoga practitioner. Yoga, if anything, is about clearly seeing all that is and clearly choosing. I hope in my attempts to share my honest personal and professional experience that your curiosity and your passion for this amazing practice is piqued.

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Lillee Chandra

Lillee Chandra, L.M.T. is a former competitive gymnast, dancer and acrobat who specializes in teaching injury rehabilitation, prevention and self-care. She is a licensed massage therapist, a certified Yoga Tune Up® Teacher, the lead Anatomy Yoga Tune Up® teacher trainer for nationally recognized yoga schools and has assisted Jill Miller for several years. Known for her keen intuition, she compassionately leads anyone to become healthfully aligned in their life adventure.

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Allison English

I have spent the past several years deconstructing my yoga practice for the many reasons you speak to here. Without an ability to honestly look at our movement patterns and blind spots in strength, stability or even how we overuse certain movements, how can we every truly practice for our own unique body? This is wonderfully stated and I thank you for writing about this important topic in our craft. The injuries in yoga students are arriving earlier and earlier – strokes in 35 year olds, knee and hip replacements in 40 year old students, multiple shoulder surgeries in 30… Read more »

Sun Kim

This article was both difficult & interesting for me to read since what brought me to YTU was my injuries caused by my yoga practice. I read the article 3 times and all the comments & Still don’t want to quit some king& queen asanas because of the sweaty exhilarating endorphin rush they provide. The addiction is mostly mental.

Mira

Lillee, thanks for writing about this important topic. I’m currently in YTU L1 TT, and have been pondering “what is safe” within the greater asana context of general yoga classes. I frequently remind my students that they are the only one inside of their body, and that they need to decide whether poses are appropriate for them in all yoga classes. This assumes that they can side step their ego, that all of the classes that they attend, mine and others, are taught with a variety of modifications offered that will include versions that suit their body, and that they… Read more »

Lorena

Thank you Lillee for yet another great article. I will most definitely be aware of the possibility of injury in something that appears to be an easy pose as in Downward Facing Dog. I have known a few people in the past that were really sore and still practiced yoga, probably not realizing that they could be injuring themselves.

Jess Blake

Lillee, thank you for sharing this letter to your student. I often try to remind my students of the same concepts and to invite inquiry as to WHY they are choosing to take a particular shape and WHAT/WHO that choice is serving and HOW that pose might effect their tissues-not just today, but long term. I think that, as teachers, we also have to be accountable for answering the same questions as we are offering the practice. WHY are we choosing to teach a particular movement or shape? Is that particular choice serving our students? Is it serving our own… Read more »

Anja

This is a great article! Many of us who practice “Yoga” only mean the asana part. There is so much more to Yoga than poses, such as deep inquiry, letting go of ego, non-harming (Ahimsa) to name a few. “Ignorance is the root cause of all suffering”. True Yoga to adapt and modify the practice to make it work for one’s body which, granted, can be a challenge in a group class. Injuries can be a painful and powerful reminder of the above. Practicing a fancy pose is often easier for some of us than deeply listening to our own… Read more »

isabelle deschenes

wow! I realise how much is important for me to choose how I use my body in my yoga practice. If I want to keep practicing for a long time. I will be more aware about it now. Thanks

Jason Koh

Hi Lillee. What the yoga world needs is some strong studies in peer-reviewed journals evaluating the issues you’ve raised in your post. With the explosion in the popularity of yoga, there’s also been a concomitant push to certify more and more instructors whose qualifications are not always clear. I’ve talked with several friends of mine who took 200-hour RYT certification courses from well-known yoga instructors, and the shocking thing was that so little of the actual course time was spent on covering proper alignment and how to modify a pose for a student with some sort of limitation. So, a… Read more »

Lita Remsen

It is interesting to ponder how do take in information when it may conflict with their current beliefs. How do you try to move people along the continuum. It is amazing the number of people who practice with sore / injured shoulders and don’t associate it with their yoga. I am grateful to yoga tune up for the considered approach to anatomy / alignment and safe movement. Three cheers!

Jennifer Whalen

I find this article very interesting. Extreme Asana, whether alone or in combination with pre-existing weaknesses/imbalances already in my body, brought serious injury to my hip and low back. I remember when I first began experiencing the pain (constant low back pain, hip pain, legs would go numb, etc), I 1. kept practicing asana every single day for hours and 2. thought it was ludicrous to believe that my injuries came from my yoga practice. Before I started working with my teacher, I read an article he was quoted in the New York Times talking about the risks of Asana,… Read more »

Kate H

I think this can be a hard life lesson. We are told yoga is great for your body, but there are so many types and instructors who don’t know the mechanics of body at all. I’ve sat in yoga classes, where a teacher has made an adjustment that didn’t serve the student and put them in worse alignment or where an instructor has students jump back to plank. My body cringes thinking about how bad it is. What is wonderful about Yoga Tune Up, is that it teaches people to be in their bodies and pay attention. To stop being… Read more »

Laurel Beversdorf

“I am seeing a surge of these types of shoulder injuries in my practice, (3 rotator cuff replacements/repairs in the last 3 months alone). Each one is a long time (and in some cases, masterful) yoga student.” I see the same thing working with teachers. It took me awhile, and it takes them awhile, to come to terms with the truth that optimal form in the relatively few joint positions required for the classic asanas (versus the thousands/millions available to you at your joints in basic human movement) cannot save you from your overall lack of movement diversity. Similarly, a… Read more »

Leslie

I feel tremendously relieved and inspired to be participating in a YTU training where so much thought and discussion has centered on not only the elements of the poses but on the appropriateness of poses for our students. Phew.

Alison

I think this is why I am so drawn to rolling. It helps me see where there is potential to refine my yoga practice whether there is room to expand or back off. The balls have been the catalyst to a new depth of understanding in my mat practice. As a teacher, safety is always my first priority. I am now starting to embody that priority for myself! Thank you, Lillee!

Camille Morrs

Wow, this article has given me courage to quit my membership and only have an at home practice! I’ve been nursing a shoulder injury for several months now, trying to do what I think is right for it but also hoping I’m not doing damage to it in yoga class. My hips love yoga right now but my shoulders don’t. So I think its time to go explore my body outside of the classroom where I can experiment with what poses are good for my body right now and which ones aren’t.

Prem

Thanks Lilly. My personal practice and my yoga teaching practice has changed significantly since I joined the Yoga Tune Up world. As a result, some like the practice and others are disappointed that they did not get the multiple sun salutations they were looking for.

Nancy

Great blog Lillee on the Asana practice that seems to be booming not blooming. So noted…. that people are taking Yoga to places in their physical bodies they have no business going. I recently as a teacher have been spending more time on pose modifications, meditation and the inquiry being that non-harming is my primary focus. I am so very grateful to be part of the Yoga Tune Up Community that has placed themselves in the “Pain Free Yoga” classroom.

Jessica

Yes! Love this. Especially the point about down dog being considered a beginner pose…every pose can be used as a tool for learning about your own body, and the more advanced practitioners are the ones who can find subtlety in every pose, especially the ones that are traditionally considered introductory. Those are the places we are most likely to forget that we are not masters–and it takes an advanced practitioner to stay curious and attentive there! Plus, aren’t these qualities (curiosity, mindfulness) the ones that help us protect learn to protect our bodies from injury as well?

Erin

Hi Lillie! Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this topic. It’s good to hear from a “yogi” that yoga isn’t this magical solution to curing all of our bodies ailments, and can, in fact, be quite the opposite. It’s a good reminder to always be conscious when practicing and to really take time to understand your own body so that you can practice poses in such a way that works with your structure and alignment. It’s also a good reminder to eliminate poses that don’t work for you. It’s not about being able to master every pose. Every body is… Read more »

Isabelle Barter

Very well said. I have thrown myself into poses that require a tremendous amount of flexibility and strength that I did not have at the time just because it was what everyone else was doing or what looked cool. I have taken numerous classes where instructors have cued students to “hang out in downward dog to catch your breath” after a long sequence involving several sloppy chaturangas and arm balances where wrists have been over worked and shoulder girdles are literally hanging out. Any movement performed with poor alignment and added weight can cause harm.

Liza

Hi! Thank you for writing this article. It is important that people are aware. I recently had a knee injury that was caused by yoga which I did not possible. Since we are told the yoga cures all. I think being mindful is important to practice safe. I learned that lesson the hard way.

Rebecca

I am currently going through my 200 hour TT and this article touches upon something that has been on my mind a lot lately. I feel like during my teacher training journey my preferences in the type of class I like has shifted dramatically. I used to like fast vinyasa where I felt I could feel my mind transcend into the movements from pose to pose. Now I find myself preferring slower hatha classes where I can really focus on each muscle and my placement. I feel in these classes my mind transcends into the muscles and that is where… Read more »

Cindy DeCoste

Thank you for this great posting Lillee! It was not until I started practicing yoga regularly at home while preparing to teach my classes that I discovered that some poses do not feel good in my body and I need to either not do them or work the pose in a different way than how I’ve experienced them being taught in class. For example, I’ve been recovering from a long-term hip injury and recently discovered that “Frog Lifting Through”, a Forrest Yoga abdominal pose does not feel good on my hip. While the abdominal aspect of the pose feels great,… Read more »

Deepa Dravid

So well put.. Yoga Tune up has brought that awareness in me. I teach with the intention to cultivate this awareness in my students.Thank you very much for such a wonderful article.

Evelyn

This is a great article about being cautious when teaching your yoga students. I wish more people would read this and take it to heart. I am always stressing with my students they have to work with the body they have not their neighbors.

Melissa

This post really resonated with me. I was diagnosed with rotator cuff tendonitis (right shoulder) in November 2011. I assumed it was from the yoga teacher training I was taking, but my physical therapist suggested it could also be caused/exacerbated by using the mouse on my desktop computer. I’ve made several modifications since then, both to my yoga practice and my work day.

Victoria Ryder-Burbidge

This was a great post. I just finished the YTU level one teacher training and we were taught over and again to let the practice work for our bodies not our bodies for the practice. Having been hurt while trying to do postures that are not for me has taught me that really listening to what your joints and muscles are saying is vitally important. As a teacher, it is ok to only show a modified version so your students realize that this is not a competition but something that is flexible (pardon the pun).

Raisa

This is a great post. Yoga is definitely not a “one size fits all” practice. It is important for yoga practitioners to develop a personal home practice that takes into consideration the specifics of their own body. In my case, I have been practicing yoga for two years with some degree of intensity since I do it every day. I go to yoga classes at the studio and almost practice at home. I am paying the toll for this. I am experiencing pain in my shoulder and knees and have to move out of the basic poses like Downward Facing… Read more »

Kim

Thank you so much for this post. To quote Sarah Court, “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should”. That statement liberated me as both a teacher and practitioner. As Americans, we’re so focused on competition and winning that we’ll do whatever it takes to make it to that peak pose, totally ignoring how it actually feels in your body to get there. Listening to your body and also being responsible for your own safety is key, but so is practicing for yourself and not for anyone else that’s in the room.

Maya Gil-Cantu

“But do you know what yoga poses are really the best and worse for you, and why?”- This closing sentence was one of the most profound for me at this juncture as a practitioner and teacher. When I first started teaching I did what most beginners do, you sequence exactly based on your studies, and you mimic sequences of the teachers you enjoy. However, for myself, there came a time when I stopped and realized that I was tired of only leading classes and was ready to TEACH them and that involved added context to everything I did (thank you… Read more »

Sarah Davis

BE(A)WARE will change the way I approach my body and yoga. We often get lost in the relaxation or intense energy of our yoga, letting the ego override our practice and loose the purpose, true awareness, MIND-FULL-NESS, and develop injuries. Thank you for this awareness, it is truly important in our yoga practice and everyday lives.

tao

This article coincides nicely with the weekend-long tune up binge we just had. You helped me build a healthy respect for not only the body through the Tune-Up methodology and anatomy information, but also to how, as a teacher, I should always be AWARE of what I’m communicating to my students so they always reap benefits. Teachers have an enormous responsibility to promote informative dissection of our own bodies so we know how to move without creating more problems. I am so glad I got to be a part of the Yoga Tune-Up session. I feel much more comfortable going… Read more »

Jessica

Awesome article, Lillee! One of my biggest take aways from our first two days of Yoga Tune Up was that we are always a student of our bodies. During our first weekend of teacher training last week, we broke down downward facing dog pose and many of us learned that our alignment was wrong, even though this is considered a “basic” beginner pose. My hands were not placed in line with my shoulders (they needed to be about 2 inches wider to be underneath my shoulders!). I had been in the wrong alignment after years of practice. It is important… Read more »

Lara

Respectfully exploring the boundaries of my body through yoga, as through many exercises and sports, is how I’ve learned what works for my body, what helps my body, and sometimes, what’s too much for my body. Many times I’ve had no one more knowledgeable or reliable myself to guide my attempts. I appreciate that YTU puts such a great emphasis on us, as students or our body, getting to know our bodies, and being accountable for what we do with that awareness.

Lou Shapiro

The origins of Yoga are “ahimsa” (non-harming). Asana was developed as a way to bring well-being into the body in order to more easily focus the mind – the ultimate goal of Yoga. What we practice in the West is primarily for fitness. But, neither of those pursuits condone inflicting bodily harm. That said, up until the age of 20 or so, the body is anabolic – building up tissue. After that, the body becomes catabolic – breaking down tissue. The more strenuous (or, for many, impossible) poses we associate with Level 3 yoga evolved for 16 year old Brahman… Read more »

Marah

The problem are not the poses themselves but the way they are thought. Any physical exercise that is practiced without knowledgable guidance – and we all need guidance of some sort – can be harmful. So to me, it is not so much the ‘trendy’ poses that are dangerous, but ‘trendy’ teachers, who don´t educate themselves properly and neglect the fact that they are the ‘authorities’ in class, letting students do whatever they think is good for them.

Kim

Our culture is so focused on achievement at all costs, that we often make the mistake of bringing that same kind of dogma onto the mat. So much so that pushing through pain can become a goal. It’s a humbling thing to admit that maybe your body shouldn’t do something just because it can.

Christina

I too know the many wonderful benefits of yoga, but I’ve also experienced the havoc it can wreak on the body when done improperly, or the pain it can cause because I’ve over extended my body’s own personal limits. I’m hoping that I’ll come to know what’s good for my body through YTU. Until now I just believed that mobility, strength, and openness will come through consistent practice. That’s what the yoga instructors have led me to believe. They wouldn’t steer me wrong; they’re the experts, right? I realize now how foolish that is, that I need to take responsibility… Read more »

Amanda

It’s an interesting debate but at the end of the day anything and potentially everything can wreck your body. What my yoga practice has taught me is mindful living on and off the mat. As yoga teachers and fitness professionals we need to educated and educators for any change in attitudes to occur. Keep fighting the good fight.

Yvonne Duke

Thank you for this honest and to the point blog. I agree with your insight. I am always telling my students that you can absolutely get injured in yoga. It has happened to me and I am constantly checking my own alignment. As others have stated, people believe that if they are moving quickly and increasing their heart rate, sweating more, they are doing something beneficial for their bodies. They seem to love the “bootcamp” style. This is simply moving the body without awareness for the most part. I was recently teaching a Vinyassa flow class and noticed too many… Read more »

Jeannette Foley

The title of this article certainly caught my eye and I appreciate the thoughtful responses. I’m a walking testimony to the sad truth that yoga is not a panacea and can cause injury if practiced carelessly as I am managing the inevitable shoulder injury resulting I suspect from the cumulative effects of 20 years of yoga and other fitness pursuits. But the risks of careless practice exist in just about every form of physical activity; it’s not exclusive to yoga. It’s emphasis on body mapping, on increasing an individual’s proprioeption is the inherent value of Yoga TuneUp as a conditioning… Read more »

Kristin

After reading the responses. I can relate to this on going discussion. A yoga teacher that I use to go to said, “You are injured during yoga then you are not doing yoga.” Sure if we are selfish and egocentric then we are going to go beyond what we are capable of because we are looking outside of ourselves. But we are human and not some ideology. So errors and blindness to patterns happens even with our best intensions. What I don’t understand is why you felt the need to write her the letter to correct her thought. What did… Read more »

Sharrari Fit

The only 2 injuries in my body are from practicing yoga and surprisingly while under the supervision of another teacher. Teachers not knowing what they were teaching and most likely not paying attention to what her student was actually doing. I had my confidence that the teacher knew what was going on in my body, and since I had never had an injury before, I trusted the teacher. Maybe that is the first mistake? Seeing it for what it is now, I actually grew from those injuries in a positive way. Learn to slow down and listen to the body… Read more »

Caitlin Vestal

This post of course makes me think of the William Broad article that caused such a hubbub a couple of years back. I’m still intrigued by how teachers (and students) seem incredibly divided on the topic–some seem unwilling to admit that yoga can cause injury, and so many others, like myself, think it’s a pretty obvious concept. As a former Vinyasa teacher, I can think of so many injuries waiting to happen that I’ve seen in my own classes, and so often students are unwilling or uninterested in taking the steps to correct the problem. As Ryan mentioned above, so… Read more »

Barbie Levasseur

I went to a workshop with Bryan Kest a while back, and he said something in this vein that I always share with my students: unless you’re extremely conscious and aware of what you’re doing (both physically and mentally), whatever habits you have in the rest of life will be reinforced in yoga rather than corrected in yoga. Chances are if you got a shoulder injury from a pattern off movement that you do off the mat, you have that same dysfunctional pattern of movement on the mat too–and by practicing it you cement it even more.

Jason Campbell

This has become such a big topic lately on a few of the yoga facebook groups I’m on, and it amazes me how often i see yoga teachers outright denying that injuries can be created in a yoga practice, or defending headstand like it was a life or death situation. I hope we start to see a greater increase in teachers and students taking a step back and assess what exactly they are doing and whether it’s right for their body, not whether it’s the ‘right’ sequence to practice.

Amanda Crutcher

Thanks for your post. Most valuable prosuits in life have risks and benefits. Yoga as one of these, especially, in its essence, demands awareness; however sometimes the persuit of awareness is hijacked by the desire to get somewhere in a pose. Kind of like driving a car without being away of the speed limit, yoga injuries are speeding tickets.

Ryan

It seems that most people are more attached to the extrinsic factors associated with a movement practice (physical performance or physique) rather than a positive physiological response. As a group fitness instructor, I find that most of my clients are looking for an ass kicking and anything less isn’t enough. It’s hard to balance between quality movement and the intense physical stress people associate with a great workout. I hope we can shift away from trends and make conscious movement geared towards longevity a sought after modality, for all time.