As I write this blog I am trembling with fear, as I am afraid that all those yoga lovers will hunt me down for even questioning if yoga is really that good for us. Because, as we have all heard or even been taught, yoga is amazing. Yoga improves flexibility, yoga improves sex, yoga improves balance, yoga reduces stress, yoga helps menopausal women, yoga lowers the risk of heart disease, yoga reduces anxiety, yoga, yoga, yoga(1-4). Whatever your problem is, yoga will have a solution. I am surprised there is not a yoga phone line to help us in the need of an emergency.
But all kidding aside, yoga is good for us, as is any other physical activity. And if someone ever asked me if they should do yoga, I will 90% of the time say yes, the same as if anyone asked me if they should start walking, or if they should sign up to the gym, or if they should do dancing, or if they should do pilates. Exercise is great and it produces a great benefit to anyone who practices it (https://sports-diet-pain.com/2013/10/18/exercise/), so if that exercise is called yoga then great, go for it, but as with any other activity it has risks, especially more in men.
Yoga plays around with different postures and in some of them you need a lot of flexibility. So yoga enhances flexibility, but we must not forget that more flexibility doesn´t mean a lower risk of getting an injury, sometimes even the opposite is true, the more flexible you are the greater chance of getting injured (5).
We all know that women are more flexible than men and this is where yoga poses some threat to men. Some of the postures that you have to do in yoga are almost impossible for some men (and even women), because of their lack of flexibility and also because of their bone structure. That bone structure will suffer if forced into a position that anatomically is not possible for them. And according to William J .Broad, ¨men will sometimes use their muscle to get into these challenging poses and this is where they get hurt and why men get injured more often than women and suffer damage that is far worse, including fractures, dislocations and shattered backs¨( 6).
But women also suffer, especially in the hip area, due to the mechanical limitations of the joint. Extreme leg motions could cause the hip bones to repeatedly strike each other, leading over time to damaged cartilage, inflammation, pain and crippling arthritis (7). This is called Femoroacetabular Impingement, and is often found in middle-aged women who do yoga ( it also happens a lot to dancers). Yoga has also been associated with a higher risk of meniscus injury compared to badminton, jogging and climbing hills (8). So you see, yoga also has its risks as with any other physical activity.
The last thing I want to touch upon before I leave is the ¨back topic¨. I always hear people say that ¨yoga is wonderful for the back and anyone who has back pain should do yoga¨, and this is not true. Exercise and movement are great for the back and those are two things you do with yoga. But with yoga you also do a lot of bending.When you bend forward, or when you move any joint for that matter, ligaments really aren’t on tension until you get to the end range, so they aren’t loaded. What this means is that when you bend forward or round your low back, you don’t really put strain on the ligaments so long as your muscles are keeping you from end range . This seems fine, right? Well, there is this thing called the flexion-relaxation phenomenon that happens when people round their lower back: the muscles relax and people end up hanging on their ligaments and discs. And this is not a good thing. As I mentioned in one of my previous blogs (https://sports-diet-pain.com/2013/10/21/low-back-pain-part-2-herniation/), it is almost impossible to herniate yourself without being in full flexion. Well, guess what? In yoga you are doing a lot of flexion and in some cases even full flexion. Now this doesn´t mean that you should stop doing yoga, or that yoga is going to cause you a herniation. It probably won´t and I will say it again, YOGA IS GOOD, but if you have back problems, depending on your problem yoga can do more harm than good.
The good thing about yoga compared to other physical activities is that it promotes a healthy lifestyle effect like non-smoking, reduced alcohol consumption, increased exercise, vegetarianism and reduced stress, this could all be factors that lead people to say that yoga is amazing and that it does wonders. If we all changed our way of life, did more sports, ate better and reduced our stress, we would all feel much better.
- Li AW, Goldsmith CA. The effects of yoga on anxiety and stress. Altern Med Rev; 2012 Mar;17(1):21-35.
- Ross A, Thomas S. The health benefits of yoga and exercise: a review of comparison studies. J Altern Complement Med.2010 Jan;16(1):3-12
- Innes Ke, Vincent HK. The influence of yoga-based progams on risk profiles in adults with type 2 diabetes mellitus: a systematic review. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med 2007 Dec;4(4):469-86.
- Oken Bs, Zajedl D, Kishiyama S, Elegal K, Dehen C, Hass M, Kraemer DF, Lawrence J, Leyva J. Randomized, controlled, six-month trial of yoga in healthy seniors: effects on cognition and quality of life. Altern Ther Health Med 2006 Jan-Feb;12(1):40-7.
- Battie MC, Bigos SJ, Fisher LD, Spengler DM, Hansson TH, Nachemson AL, Wortley MD. The role of spinal flexibility in back pain complaints within industry: A prospective study. Spine 1.
- William J. Broad. www.nytimes.com
- Ganz R, Leunig M, Leuing-Ganz K, Harris W. The Etiology of Osteoarthritis of the Hip.Clin Orthop Relat Res 2008 February;466(2):264-272.
- Zhuj JK, Wu LD, Zheng RZ, Lan SH. Yoga is found hazardous to the meniscus for Chinese women. Chin J Traumatol 2012 Jun1;15(3):148-51.
- Women’s Flexibility Is a Liability (in Yoga) (nytimes.com)
- Are we addicted to the Pigeon pose (and other “hip openers”)? (sequencewiz.wordpress.com)