About a year ago, New York Times journalist and yoga practitioner, William J. Broad, rocked the boat in the yoga world and generated lots of dialog and arguments by presenting what he considered the "dark" side of yoga, its potential and serious dangers.
Since then, the debate has continued about yoga's safety and what practitioners can do to avoid injury. "Practice Awareness," an article in the February 2013 issue of Yoga Journal tackled the issue of injuries and how to avoid them by reporting the results of an inquiry to yoga practitioners posed on Facebook and by interviewing a paenl of yoga experts and teachers.
As I have stated previously in this blog and in my book,Yoga at Home: Gain Energy, Flexibility, and Serenity in 20-30 Minutes a Day, I have not experienced any yoga injury nor suffered from soreness post-practice in my 40+ years of doing gentle hatha yoga. The following advice is what I would give to any yoga newbie in order to practice safely:
1) If you are totally new to yoga, begin with a slow, gentle type of yoga practice like the hatha yoga practice I do in which each pose is executed slowly with definite pauses of 5-10 seconds between poses (you can learn other forms later but start with slow yoga -especially if you're out of shape!)
2) Thoroughly assess your physical condition- all your strengths and weaknesses before beginning your yoga practice. The longer you have been out of shape, the slower you should go and more caution you should take as you begin yoga poses. Seriously, start with only 5 minutes a day and add no more than 5-10 minutes a week - until you reach 30 minutes a day (or longer if you so choose and have the time).
3) NEVER strain your body to the point of pain in any pose nor push yourself to impress yourself or anyone else (e.g., an instructor) until you intuitvely FEEL your body is ready - and really think about this. Focus on FEELING your way into each new pose.
4) Synchronize deep inhalations and exhalations with your movements and move in as slow motion as possible (as if in a dream). I repeat this because it is SO important.
5) Pause at least 5-10 seconds between EVERY pose and rest for at least a few minutes after each yoga practice.
6) Accept that your body may not lend itself to every single type of yoga pose- especially those complex, pretzel type movements and holds. Don't compare and compete with anyone else.
Follow the above guidelines consistently and your chances of injury will decrease dramatically!