Ten Reasons Yoga Might Be Bad For You


Ten Reasons Yoga Might Be Bad For You

Ten reasons yoga might be bad for you isn’t a list of reasons not to do yoga. It is intended to encourage people to do yoga consciously, with a specific eye on what their body needs in the moment, but also, possibly more importantly, what the body needs to age well. I often say in classes that I teach that what your body can get away with in your 20’s, 30’s and 40’s might come back to haunt you in your 60’s, 70’s and 80’s.

While I love yoga for the workout it provides, it should be more about building a vessel that accepts and cultivates the breath in pursuit of a long healthy life. From my perspective you need to approach your practice as a means to change, rather than reinforce, long held conditioned patterns. Certainly, exercising is better than not exercising – and very important for everybody –  if you are doing it incorrectly it will not be good for you.

1.            Forward Head Posture And Headstand

yoga might be bad for youForward head posture is the most common form of misalignment, along with a tucked pelvis and turned out feet. In fact, forward head posture is most often the result of a tucked pelvis and weak abdominal muscles. If you fall into this category, and so many of us do, it is probably not wise to put the weight of your skeleton on top of a misaligned cervical spine. Even if you are able to get yourself up into the pose you will be building all of the wrong muscles and often reinforcing your bad posture. While I do headstands myself, I stopped teaching them a long time ago.

 

2.          A Tucked Pelvis And Tadasana

yoga might be bad for youTadasana is the foundation pose of many yoga styles. While your yoga practice should be an ideal place to work on changing your posture and long held conditioned patterns, most people show up to yoga and continue to reinforce, or even exacerbate, their postural inadequacies. For many students, Tadasana is very often a more active version of bad posture. At the beginning of each class I walk around un-tucking every student’s pelvis (except for the few that aren’t) and then ask them to return to where they began, watching them re-tuck and lean backwards, compressing their lumbar spine.

It is essential to stop tucking our pelvises.

 

3.            Having Excessively Loose Joints (Hyper-Mobility)

yoga may be bad for youSome people have more space between their joints than others. It is good to be flexible with a wide range of motion but there is a large contingent of people who are too loose, which can easily lead to injury.  In a class of twenty people there will be a mix of loose, tight and somewhere in between. A teacher would have to be pretty amazing to provide for everyone’s need in this context. Personally, I don’t worry too much about the tight people; it is hard for them to overwork, their bodies simply won’t go where they can’t. The people in the middle are usually okay as well, but the loose must be hyper-vigilant if they want to serve and protect their body as they attempt to develop the necessary tension in muscles and ligaments to support an excessively mobile skeleton.

 

4.            Carpal Tunnel Syndrome And Downward Dog

yoga may be bad for you.Many doctors tell patients with carpal tunnel syndrome to do yoga because it can help strengthen the hands and wrists. Never mind that most carpal tunnel issues emanate from the neck and basic postural corrections are key to alleviating the injury – many people with carpal tunnel syndrome don’t know the anatomy of their issue. There is a tunnel formed by the carpal bones of the wrist that the median nerve passes between.

If you are doing downward dog with heel of the palm flat on the floor, rather than creating a tunnel for clear passage of the median nerve to travel through to the hand, you can actually make the problem worse. This link shares an affective technique for creating space in the carpal tunnel.

 

5.         Weak Core Muscles And Wheel

yoga may be bad for youMost yoga classes include urdhva danurasana, or wheel pose. Wheel pose is very difficult to do correctly and trying to do it without the appropriate amount of core muscle tone it is going to end badly for your lower back and sacroiliac joint.

There should be no thrust in a successfully executed wheel pose. If you are someone who can’t get into the pose without turning your feet out, which externally rotates the leg and forces the pelvis to tuck under in order to get up, wheel pose might not be good for you until you develop more core tone. The video at this link can help develop a successful wheel.

 

6.            The Shoulders And Chaturanga

yoga may be bad for youOur shoulders have a wide range of motion by design, which makes them easy to abuse. When we lower to chaturanga from plank, or from a standing pose, there are four muscles that should activate to stabilize the shoulders en route (Serratus anterior, rhomboids, lower trapezius, pectoralis minor). If you do lots of chaturanga vinyasa, and the head of the arm bone consistently rolls too far forward and down each time, you won’t be developing balance in these muscles. Most often it is a tight pectoralis minor that pulls the shoulder blade on a sorrowful journey towards future injury. You might get away with this for a while, but you will be developing patterns that will never serve your body.

 

7.            You Do Both Sides Of A Pose With The Same Gusto When One Side Is Tighter Than The Other

yoga might be bad for youWe go to yoga to stretch with a capital S – which is a beautiful thing. But we are all tighter on one side of the body than the other for different reasons. So, say you are in down dog and come to a lunge on your tight right side, which might be frustrating. You give it your all, but your all doesn’t take you very far. Then you step back and step the left foot forward. As the left side has more room to move you take advantage of this and go as deeply as you can. While this makes emotional sense – we are there to move as deeply as we can – over time this simple repetitive pattern can end up increasing the body’s imbalances rather than bringing us closer to the middle ground that we are looking for.

 

8.            Opening the Chest and Breathing Abdominally

yoga may be bad for youThere a four different ways that we can breathe: abdominal, thoracic, cervical and paradoxical. In abdominal breathing, ideal in most situations, the diaphragm (the main muscle of breathing) is supposed to descend, pushing the belly out slightly.  When I am teaching and I ask everyone standing in tadasana where they think the breath should go when we inhale, almost everyone responds “the belly”. And then I ask where it is going at that moment and the answer is usually “the chest”.

With the exception of ashtanga yoga, where you consciously employ the bandhas and ujjayi breath in order to breathe only into the chest (thoracic), I think abdominal breathing is the way to go.

When teachers tell you stand up straight, open the chest, take the shoulders back, or any variation on that theme, the instruction shouldn’t interfere with diaphragms descent into the abdominal cavity. The front of the ribcage is not supposed to lift to accomplish the action. Once the sternum lifts too much, the ribcage is no longer level and the diaphragm is no longer free to drop, forcing the breath up into the chest.

The quality of our breathing is a serious issue for so many people in and out of yoga classes and it needs to be addressed in the search for a healthier practice and longer life.

 

9.            Yoga Isn’t Meant To Be A Group Activity.

yoga might be bad for youThe practice of yoga, at its root, is meant to be an exchange of one teacher to one student –  a guru/disciple dynamic that has only been subverted in the last hundred years. Not paying attention to the historical context for such a profound energy practice can have real consequences. Group yoga classes are seriously fun and exciting, but not necessarily to the point of yoga with a capital Y. And on that note, here is our final reason…

 

10.          You Think Your Teachers Know What They Are Talking About

yoga might be bad for youIt is all too easy to become a yoga teacher and, while there are many great ones out there who truly know their stuff and teach beautifully precise and informed classes, there are equally as many who aren’t. The truth of the yoga world is that there are so many yoga centers and so many yoga classes. Hiring practices, in my mind, should be akin to becoming a college professor – publish or perish! However, many teachers are hired on the basis of personality and looks (both valid attributes) and how many people they can put in the room (it is a business after all).

It is the student’s responsibility to be discerning. Just because someone stands at the front of the yoga room doesn’t mean that they have a clue about telling you what to do with your body. When I am teaching I often like to say that it is my job to be confident and act as if I am correct. It would be ludicrous if I didn’t. And, while I genuinely think I am right about everything… maybe I’m not.

 

The world needs yoga (and exercise in general), and I will even grant that it is better to do yoga badly than not at all. But, and the but is huge (no pun intended), it would be better for everyone to take some time to examine how they accomplish the practice outside of what their teachers tell them. Whether it be pursuing yoga for spirituality or exercise, students should spend most of their time getting to know themselves, inside and out, in the search for a healthy life.

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53 Comments
  1. Hi Jonathan,

    I just read the post you linked to about the carpal tunnel in Downward Dog, very interesting. Can you explain why the technique you describe is effective? What is happening anatomically? Is is something you would teach to a group or do you think it’s more effective on-on-one?

    Thanks,
    Whitney

    • Hi Whitney, This action works simply because of engaging muscles towards the midline from either direction creates the dynamic action of popping up the tunnel. I teach it in group classes by showing it to people while they are on their hands and knees and then encourage them to keep the action going when we move to DD. I tell people that if they want to incorporate it into their practice they should think about that one thing obsessively for a while until it becomes habit (which is how I develop my own practice). Thanks for weighing in. I am happy to answer your questions.

  2. Very helpful info. I have one ?, though. Which pisture is the one you suggest re tucking and not tucking the pelvis? Also, when some teachers say to tuck.. they mean to not curl backward sup as gymansts used to do in hyper extending. Pleas clarify the ‘tail’ ideal position.

  3. “…it would be better for everyone to take some time to examine how they accomplish the practice outside of what their teachers tell them. Whether it be pursuing yoga for spirituality or exercise, students should spend most of their time getting to know themselves, inside and out, in the search for a healthy life.”

    Love this! My students often laugh at me because I tell them that my goal as a yoga teacher is to work myself out of a job. Great article. Thank you.

  4. Hyper-mobile and way too many handstand push-ups.Two and a half years later and I’m still stuck with thoracic outlet syndrome involving a slipped first rib causing nerve compression issues. Two frozen shoulders are the icing on the cake. Lost my job because I can no longer type of do anything that requires dexterity. It felt good pushing my body for all those years but it just came crashing down all in one very short period of time.

  5. I have tried some yoga at a small class taught by a very good teacher of both Yoga and Pilates. She was very perceptive in which exercises were unwise with my hypermobility, and which would help.

    The problem with this condition is that due to the inflammatory type behaviour of the joints during an episode of trouble, sometimes an exercise is easy one week, and impossible the next! And it is perfectly possible to get into a pose thinking yourself really clever, then realising it was a very silly idea… I have done it in Pilates, too, so it is not just Yoga that can have unintended outcomes.

    The hypermobility means that it can take longer to fix than it takes to break, unfortunately, and it means trying several things out to see if you can find something that works for you.

    I have recently been trying Hendrickson type massage from a qualified physio (she teaches it too, but there are not many practitioners in the UK – it started in the USA). It is great in that it doesn’t seem to trigger the inflammation, and seems to persuade things to go where they should be rather more politely than a deep tissue massage.

    Best wishes, Joyce – your shoulders and ribs sound really painful. I’ve tensed up just reading about them!

  6. Thank you Jonathan for such an awesome article ! I have spent the last 4 years trying to move properly with awareness and re-program my hyper mobile ways of moving. Any advise you can give for hyper mobile hips ? I was told 4 years ago I need a hip replacement because I’ve worn all my cartlidge away. I’m still practicing yoga and with awareness to keep muscles strong But i do worry i may be doing harm as well. Any poses you would avoid or helpful links you can share. Thank you again !

  7. Great article! However, I have the impression that some points are not finished in explanation. For example, what should people do if one side of the body is tighter that the other one? Should they stay longer in the position on the side which is stiffer? What about the Hyper Lordosis in Lumbar spine area? I do have it and slightly tucking the pelvis in has helped me to not have a pain in lumbar spine. Thanks for an answer!

  8. I have hyper mobility as well and scoliosis and the looseness activates the scolios regularly…….. have bad pain episodes then am fine…. then….. have been working on stabilizing and have strong core……..

  9. Hi Jonathon, Thanks for the article! I agree with most of what you talked about in your article. I am a Pose Method Running coach, developed by Dr. Romanov and YogAlign teacher, created by Michaelle Edwards. Both of these methods are based on maintaining natural alignment, proper breathing mechanics, functional movement, avoiding over extending or straightening the legs, like seated or standing forward bending poses and heel-striking. With these methods, I have had excellent results with my yoga and running students. It is really good to see like-minded folks, putting out this information, because safety should be our number 1# priority for our students. Thanks! Joe Sparks

  10. Thank you for an interesting article. You definitely made a good point.
    One comment on Ashtanga and the breathing method: I don’t think you are supposed to breathe into your chest only. All teachers I’ve met keep saying you should breathe evenly into the front side of your body as well as to the back side. You “hold” the bandas, that’s true but when you inhale, the breath goes first to your belly and then up to the chest.

    • Thanks for comenting Martina. The image that I was taught in asthanga is that employing the bandhas and ujjayi creates the thoracic breath and then when the practice is complete and we do Maha mudra at the end, the breath drops washing energetically up and down the spine. Of course as I say at the end. I could be wrong.

  11. Jonathan,

    We found your article very interesting. We agree with you on many of the points as to why these things could be harmful in a yoga practice. These are also things we consider and would love to hear your opinion on our suggested solutions.
    It is true that many people do not have a correct embodiment of their head in relation to their spine. Therefore, this pose would not be in any way beneficial to correcting this alignment.
    A more beneficial approach would be to first address this in standing

    When looking at a forward head posture it is clear that the person does not have an embodiment of their Atlanto-Occipital Joint (ie: the place where the skull balances on the first cervical vertebra). This is the point of support for the 12 pound head that balances on the spine. This can be done by first standing and noticing how it feels to stand. Now notice how it feels to slouch.

    Let’s see if embodying the A-O joint makes a difference in slouching. The A-O joint can be located by touching the mastoid (bony protrusion) behind the ear with middle finger. Slide your finger slightly forward and down until you feel a hollow space- do this with fingers on at the same time on both sides. The A-O joint is between your 2 fingers. This is where your head rests on your spine (interesting to note this location is much further forward that people normally think).

    Ever so gently nod your head 10 to 15 degrees in both directions from this place and imagine movement in this joint. The movement is purely in the joint. You are not flexing or extending your cervical spine. It’s also useful to notice that the joint is composed of 2 convex protrusions at the occipital bone (base of skull) resting in the concave joint surfaces of the atlas (C-1). Do this for a few minutes. The movement is very subtle. Similar to a butterfly landing on your nose to take your head forward and feather landing on back of your head to bring your head back. The effort is minimal- allow the butterfly and the feather to do the work.
    Practice the nod with the imagery for a few minutes. Don’t forget to breathe.

    Now notice how it feels to stand.

    Notice the relationship of your head to your spine.

    Go for a walk and notice how you feel.

    Do you still feel like slouching?

    Still a long way to go before doing a safe headstand but worth recognizing that in a headstand, the entire weight of your body minus your head rests on this joint.

    Do you think its a good idea to have a felt sense of this joint?

  12. Response to #2:

    You would think standing on two legswould be easy. Its something we do all day long and a uniquely human characteristic. Yet, most of us struggle with this and feel the need to take a class in order to stand correctly. How ironic. There are many opinions on standing- most of which revolve around the teachers perspective of what it looks like from the outside (form) when somebody is standing correctly. Have you ever been in a class where a teacher has put you in a position and told you this is the correct way to stand yet it feels unnatural and uncomfortable? Yes? Us too. Been there.

    Let’s look at whats really going bio-mechanically when we are standing. Its not as simple as tucking the pelvis. It has much more to do with differentiating the movement of sacrum and pelvic halves. A major misconception about the pelvis and sacrum relationship is that they move as a whole. In standing the sacrum is slightly nutated. When lying down the sacrum in counter-nutated. The reason why people tuck is because the pelvis nutates along with the sacrum because of the lack of differentiation between the pelvic halves and the sacrum. As demonstrated in the picture in Jonathans’ blog, as in most pictures, the pelvic halves and sacrum move as one- functionally these bones move independent of each other.

    This is the whole problem with tail tucking. When you tuck your tail you are bringing your sacrum into counter nutation. While this is ideal in lying down, the difference is when you are lying down your sacrum does not need to support to entire weight of your upper body. Your sacrum is intelligent and knows to get out of the way when the force of the spine weighs down on it. Thus converting compression forces to radial forces. Why do you think the spine has curves??

    In lying down the sacrum in counter-nutated. In standing (ie: tadasana) the sacrum is slightly nutated. When bending the knees, the sacrum nutates even more. So why then when standing would one want to adopt a lying down postural set up.

    A great way to experience the differentiation btwn pelvis and sacrum is by noticing the movement of the sacrum. This is only possible if we are balanced on our femur heads. Femur heads can be located by flexing the hips and and finding the middle of the inguinal crease (fold in your groin). In case of real emergency there are 6 exit doors- 3 on your left and 3 on your right ;). If there is no crease, you are compensating with your knees and spine. Instead try to flex at the hip joint. Now that you know where your hip joint is you have exponentially increased your possibility for moving from your hip joint. Might this be useful in yoga?

    So now, touch your sacrum. Bend your knees flexing at the hip joint. Does your sacrum move forwards (counter-nutate) or back (nutate). As mentioned above the sacrum is intelligent and will move out of the way of the force coming down (upper body), therefore chooses to nutate. How smart?! If the movement of the sacrum and pelvic halves are not differentiated, then the entire pelvis will tilt anterialy in an attempt to absorb this force. This is why its commonly suggested to tuck your pelvis to counterbalance this tilt. Seems to make sense, right? Functionally speaking the counterbalance happens at the level of the sacro-iliac joint. The sacrum is nutating and relatively speaking, the pelvis is counter nutating to balance this out. This counterbalancing exists throughout the entire body. The body does not balance forces by holding things in place (eg: tuck, pull in, zip up, lift, grip, engage, etc…) rather it creates stability by allowing movement.

    While in tadasana, bend your knees a few times and notice the movement of the sacrum while also noticing the counterbalance of the pelvic halves. Now to return to tadasana- notice how it feels to stand. Would tucking your pelvis (ie: adding more tension to the system) make this any easier?

    • Thanks for weighing. I try to keep it fairly simple. Even though I write a lot of anatomy I want anyone to understand what I am on about.In lesson two of my walking program the key postural instruction is there should be a crease in the hips. So we are on the same page.

  13. Hi Jonathan, greetings from Chile and thanks for your interesting article.

    I have been practicing iyengar yoga for the past 3 years and I am a happier and healthier person. It has not been an easy experience as I am very rigid, specially shoulders (played tennis for 15 years), hips, knees (surgery on 2007), ankle (several sprins), etc etc. However, my great teachers have helped me to be conscious with all of my conditions and to continue my practice with all my restrictions.

    This being said, in the last week I have been diagnosed a hip labral tear after long time of different studies and suffering different kinds of pains and discomfort in my right hip, lower back, right tight muscles, among others. Despite of this I continued practicing avoiding exercises that caused pain or discomfort. Do you think that I should keep on going forward with yoga? Do you think yoga may have caused the labral tear?

    Any comment or suggestion from your end will be appreciated.

    Wish you all the best.

  14. Hi Jonathan,
    I agree with most of the above, however, it may be interesting for you to check out Katy bowmans Book on Alignment Matters in which she explains why abdominal breathing may not be wise in positions such as tadasana, sitting, etc.. rather to do Thoracic breathing. The downward pressure of the diaphragm pressing down on inhale puts pressure on the bladder, and pelvic floor especially if overdoing it, so anyway the idea makes sense and expanding the ribcage laterally strengthens the breathing muscles, and actually is freely easy to do once you get use to it and puts less pressure on the Pelvic floor. Read her book if you can and let me know what you think.

  15. Hi! Thank you very much for your article. I’ve started Ashtanga Yoga about a couple of months ago and while I notice the big relief in my back, I also noticed that I have a lingering pain on my right shoulder blade, close to the neck. I have a thoracic scoliosis and I’m afraid I’m doing something wrong with the chaturanga-up dog combination so when I’m practicing I’m extra careful on these two poses. The pain is not as bad as before but from your article I got worried that I’m building muscles on the wrong places and this can come back deviously. I’ve mentioned this to our instructor and she has no suggestions yet.. Any thoughts and suggestions are most welcome!

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