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The Safety of Yoga

January 16, 2013
Josephine P. Briggs, M.D.
Josephine Briggs, M.D.

National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine

View Dr. Briggs's biographical sketch

A woman practices yoga while wearing electronic position monitors.

NCCAM has supported a fair number of studies on the potential health benefits of yoga. Of particular interest has been exploring the role of yoga as a strategy for alleviating symptoms such as chronic pain or stress or for promoting healthier lifestyles. There is still a lot we don’t know, but there is a growing body of clinical research evidence that now suggests that yoga can enhance quality of life, reduce psychological stress, and improve some mental health outcomes. Recent research also suggests that the addition of yoga or mindfulness meditation practices may be associated with promoting weight loss and healthier eating habits.

Equally important as the exploration of its potential health benefits is research on the safety of yoga. Yoga is often promoted as a safe and effective exercise program, and although the risk of serious injury from yoga is thought to be quite low, that’s not always the case. Some poses may place too much strain on certain joints, particularly if they're not being done properly or modified appropriately for the individual. In rare cases, certain types of stroke as well as pain from nerve damage are also among the possible side effects of practicing yoga. But in fact, the physical demands and safety of yoga have not been well studied, particularly in older adults. So, that’s why it’s important that NCCAM-funded researchers are looking at the biomechanics of yoga.

A new NCCAM-funded study, by Salem and colleagues, uses biomechanical methods to quantify the musculoskeletal demands associated with commonly practiced yoga poses in older adults. Dr. Salem was our guest speaker at the January 14th NCCAM Integrative Medicine Research Lecture and spoke about the results of his Yoga Empowers Seniors Study, which was published this month in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

Researchers in this study found that musculoskeletal demand varied significantly across the different poses. For example, the Warrior Leading and Trailing poses were the only two poses that produced appreciable hip adductor joint moments of force (JMOFs). These JMOFs were about 4 times greater than the average peak JMOF generated when the participants walked at a comfortable speed. This type of finding can be clinical relevant in helping seniors determine the most appropriate poses and modifications. You can read more about how the study was conducted in our research spotlight. The safety of yoga is an area of ongoing interest to NCCAM, and I would agree with the authors that this study, though small, provides data that could be used in future studies to test the clinical effectiveness of goal-specific yoga programs and provide more options for the design of safe yoga programs.


Comments are now closed for this post.

Thank you so much for taking on work related to yoga safety. The risk of stroke or other serious injury truly needs scientific research to determine the actual level of risk or whether specific groups are at a higher risk. The yoga community is very divided on this issue and the lack of information leads to impassioned hypothesizing. Very much looking forward to reading results of future studies! Thank you again! ~Victoria McColm  

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I appreciate your studies. I remember yoga being about stretching the body & meditation. It seems to me now that a lot of the poses are extremely unsuitable for various ages.   

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Great research. Best thing in yoga it teach you how to move your body in new ways. Choosing one of these styles offers the greatest health benefits by enabling you to develop your flexibility, strength, and balance.

I am very much happy to know and realize that how good effective yoga is. I have read about yoga in several sites. I think this is the most iformative site also for yoga. Thanks for your rich article. 

Nice post! It’s nice to read about these to increase productivity and health benefits especially with the increasing demands of work that cause strain not only in the body but also in the mind. I think yoga really helps in promoting a better lifestyle as long as you see to it that what you are practicing are age-appropriate and are also appropriate for your own body. Cheers! 

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Thanks for the informative article. I have been practicing yoga for over a year now and I am amazed at the impact it has had on all aspects of my life. The most noticeable change is that I am no longer suffering from chronic anxiety. The increased sense of calm and peace that is brought about by a regular yoga practice have really helped me reduce my anxiety to the point of almost total non-existence.

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The Yoga is indeed a best way to have a control over weight loss issues and to take health benifits. Especially the breathing excersises in Yoga are just remarkable. Thanks for providing us such useful infiormation and yes a great site. 

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From my personal experience, I have found yoga to be tremendously beneficial in dealing with stress and anxiety. I recommend it to all my clients in combination with meditation techniques. I agree that it can bring a sense of mindfulness which is so hard when dealing with the pressures of work.

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I personally love doing yoga. During the days when I was training very heavily for distance cycling (putting in 400+ miles per week on the bike, and a total of 40-50 hours per week training) yoga proved to be an amazing benefit to my fitness regimen. The level of balance, core strength, and flexibility required helped me excel at my other sports activities and undoubtedly helped protect me from injury.  However, I do not understand how yoga is an “alternative” therapy. The field of exercise physiology is a well known and well studied one, replete with its own science based mainstream journals and regularly advised to patients by physicians. In fact, exercise and lifestyle modification are tested on our medical licensing exams.  What is it that makes yoga “alternative”?

Very nice post regarding this matter. Yoga is very good for both body and soul. I am thinking about starting with yoga since a friend of mine has been on it and said it´s amazing.

Yoga is and should be a gentle practice. However, you can hurt yourself if you do the poses incorrectly or push yourself beyond your limits.

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As an active yoga student I welcome this article and initiative from Mrs Josephine Briggs of the NCCAM and would like add what seems to me an important part of the practice of Yoga: breathing. Since I started breathing properly from the moment I started this wonderful body and mind exercice my health has dramatically improve and I found myself using this breathing technique whenever I go throught a stressful time. Yes, breathing through your stomach release an enormous amount of stress and helps you focusing from within. Try it and good health to everyone. 

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It is important to emphasise the non-competitive nature of participation in yoga to reduce injuries. This will help you to listen to your own body and participate at a level that is appropriate for you. You don’t have to achieve the exact posture or degree of stretch.

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i like this post, keep work. thank youhichem from Algeria

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Yoga is very effective for your health like you can use it for the purpose of mental relief, for weight loss, for skin beauty and many more. But all you need some assistent and this article can help you a lot in this regard. Thanks for you sharing such nice information.

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It is great to see many are beginning to realize that how important yoga can be to ones overall health.  Thanks for your rich article.

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It is great to see many are beginning to realize that how important yoga can be to ones overall health. :)

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Yoga should be implemented into the schools as part of the Physical Education.  A lot of these exercises should be introduced into the schools so that it could be part of the culture.  

i like the post.Thanks for your artcle

Hi I really like and appreciate your work and i agree yoga should be implemented into more places. lets help spread the word. I wrote a similar article if you want i would like your contsructive advice.

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