Could your Yoga be Endangering your Health? By Sue Fuller

This question in the past has received a lot of attention from yogis all over the globe.   Some postures are not suitable for everyone and need to be practiced with care and correct alignment or avoided altogether.

Are you performing a posture within your yoga practice that could be detrimental to your health? Always listen to your body, if a posture does not feel comfortable or right don’t do it.  Yoga has the ability to improve overall health, so long as we practise mindfully with awareness, appropriate and relevant postures.

Halasana - The PloughIn an interview in 2012 with New York Times Science writer and Author of “The Science of Yoga: The Risks and Rewards” William Broad revealed that he has found substantial evidence to suggest that “Asanas such as the plough (halasana) and shoulder stand (sarvangasana) can apply considerable pressure to an artery in the neck called the basilar artery causing restrictions to the flow of blood to the brain; in some people such restrictions can lead to clots and strokes which could be fatal”.

This awareness regarding the safety of some yoga postures is great and just what we all needed to hear. 

Yoga is a tool that can enhance levels of health and vitality and bring so many positive benefits to all those that practice mindfully and without judgment.   Like anything to receive maximum benefits Yoga needs to be practiced and performed with awareness, a sound technique and correct intent. 

It is important to listen to your body and allow your practice to evolve naturally.  There is no rush to perform postures especially if they are not beneficial or relevant to you or your practice.

Every yoga student, practitioner and teacher of yoga has a different motivation for rolling out their yoga mat.  Twenty people that follow the same class will experience something different from that class.

Every time you practise will be different too.

Listen to your body and let your practise evolve, the ego will try to convince you to move deeper, to go upside down, to do what the person next to you is doing etc. The ego is one of the biggest challenges to all yoga students and teachers too, always move mindfully with complete awareness of sensations experienced within your body, if you feel pain or discomfort in any posture don’t do it.

Pain is a warning sign.

Yogis today are lucky enough to be able to access up to date scientific research and combine it with ancient teachings to enjoy a safe and effective practice.  The word yoga translates from Sanskrit (the ancient language of the Vedic civilisation) to mean join or union.   So lucky for us today we are able to unite ancient practice of yoga with up to date scientific research.

Utthita Balasana - Extended Pose of the ChildIf a posture feels unsafe to you don’t do it. There are 100’s even 1000’s of postures to choose from so it is not necessary to perform any yoga posture that applies strain to the body.  If you experience pain or discomfort in a yoga posture relax and choose an alternative posture or ask your teacher for another variation. Or move into any comfortable pose such as child or Savasana focus on your breathing and enjoy the experience.

Some form of yoga is suitable for everyone practices range from sitting with a straight spine breathing slowly to more advanced practices that are almost gymnastic by nature, practitioners should stick to postures and techniques that are relevant to their level and experience and perform them safely.

Before selecting any posture ask yourself the following questions; - Is this posture relevant or beneficial to me?  Are you physically and mentally prepared for the posture? 

If a posture does not feel right or comfortable don’t do it.  Even if a teacher asks you to do it!

Advanced students also need to take care and be cautious of any practices that apply pressure to the neck and make sure that they take note of correct alignment and

Here are a few basic points to remember for safe practices

Never turn your head more than 90 degrees.

Never have the weight of your body resting on the back of your neck or the top of your head. 

Never perform complete head circles.

Avoid dropping the head back as this can compress the cervical vertebrae and restrict blood flow to the brain. 

In postures that lift through the chest keep your neck in line with your spine, to help you do this always remember that your neck is a natural extension of the spine; do not allow that line to break.

Avoid all breath retentions if you suffer from high or low blood pressure.

If you feel pain or discomfort, relax the posture immediately.

If you struggle to breathe comfortably in a posture relax immediately, the breath should be a constant steady flow (some advanced practices may vary but this is a good guide to follow).

Always use a non–slip yoga mat.

Seek medical advice before commencing any new physical activity.

Do not compete with yourself or others.

Make sure that you always practice with care and attention, avoid postures that are considered dangerous or not appropriate for your level or current condition, listen to your body and take note of new research that presents itself and find safe alternative postures to ensure that your yoga practice remains safe, beneficial and relevant for years to come. 

Those that do perform shoulder stands and the plough, lift your chin a little to relieve any pressure on the back of the neck or place a blanket that is folded in half under your shoulders, if you experience any discomfort relax the pose immediately.

Gentle Yoga for Mindfulness by Sue FullerSue Fuller is a leading yoga teacher with a range of over 60 audio yoga classes, all postures are carefully selected for the relevant and appropriate level including Gentle Yoga for the absolute beginner, Beginners Yoga, Improvers for those moving on from the beginner level and Strong Yoga classes for the more advanced yoga practitioners who wish to perform stronger yoga postures. 

Sue’s complete range of Yoga 2 Hear audio yoga classes, are safe and effective and available from