Can yoga pose a problem?

While millions of people have found better physical and mental health through the practice of yoga, downward dog could have a downside for your health.

Recent reports highlight some potential dangers of yoga, including the fact that more than 7,300 people were treated for yoga-related injuries in 2010, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. The most common injuries included repetitive strain injuries and overstretching of the shoulders, knees, neck, and spine.

But when done correctly, yoga is an effective – and popular – form of exercise. So popular that the American College of Sports Medicine named it #11 in the top 20 fitness trends of 2012.

Here are a few tips from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons to help you practice safely:

  • Get clearance. Talk with your physician or a physical therapist before you start a yoga practice so that he or she can recommend specific poses to avoid or modify based on any pre-existing conditions or injuries.
  • Find a good fit. There are dozens of types of yoga, all with differing degrees of difficulty. Figure out which type will work best for you and then find a qualified yoga instructor .
  • Get more clearance. Before your first class, talk through any concerns with your instructor. Throughout class, ask your instructor for ways to modify poses that you can’t hold safely and strongly or cause pain.
  • Start slow. Yoga is not a competitive sport. Begin by learning to breathe properly and stretch safely. As your practice progresses, you’ll learn your limits. Don’t try positions that are beyond your comfort level, especially early in your practice.
  • Be a good sport. Just like other athletic endeavors, you need to follow a few simple rules, such as staying well hydrated, plus warming up and cooling down properly.
  • Listen to your body. Most important of all, be aware of how each pose affects your muscles and joints. Do you feel a sharp pain? Are you lightheaded? If you need to take a break, stop! If you think you might have injured yourself, be sure to talk to your doctor.