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How to Practice Yoga Safely

Yoga Wellness educator. Hatha yoga, meditation, pilates, Reiki. Oracle card reader. Gateway Dream Guide. Yoga Therapy foundations program.

Safety first applies to yoga too.

Safety first applies to yoga too.

How great is it to learn from well-informed instructors! They spend time, money, and effort learning about recent developments in health and physical sciences from trusted sources. All we have to do is learn from them.

Yoga Teacher Training

Education and training include various aspects. Yoga-based anatomy is one part of the learning that targets the safety part of doing yoga.

Here, a sequence is designed to suit your body and your needs. Yoga for osteoporosis, for blood pressure, for a thyroid condition, or to build strong legs or a strong back are customized routines to improve your health and well-being.

Experienced yoga tutors create practices that are appropriate for each practitioner —be it at the beginner, medium, or more advanced level. They gradually prepare them to do the more sophisticated poses.

Yoga is mostly used to maintain good health and prevent illness. These days, it is also used to deal with, and sometimes treat, specific physical ailments and mental health issues. These health conditions include chronic back and/or neck pain, stress-related disorders, and depression.

A large volume of research has reported the benefits of doing yoga for health and well-being for a variety of these conditions.

According to a study on the “Adverse Effects of Yoga”[i], twenty percent or one in five of adult yoga users reported at least one acute adverse effect in their yoga practice. Ten percent or one in ten reported at least one chronic adverse effect, mainly musculoskeletal effects. Based on the overall injury rate per one thousand hours of practice, “yoga is as safe or safer when compared to other exercise types”.

Gentle Hatha Yoga or Viniyoga sessions supervised by skilled yoga teachers are linked to a decreased risk of adverse effects. Doing yoga alone without supervision is associated with a higher risk of injury.

Inverted pose

Inverted pose

Handstand, Shoulderstand, Headstand

Overall, yoga presents an insignificant risk of injuries.

Some people believe that it is the handstands, the shoulderstands, and the headstands in yoga that pose the most risk to causing injuries[ii].

These are inverted poses. Inversions are yoga poses where the heart is higher from the ground than the head. Holding a posture upside down help balance the energies of the body, boost immunity, enhance blood circulation, and strengthen your core.

The handstand is an inverted pose where you support your body in a stable and inverted vertical position by balancing on your hands.

The shoulderstand is an inverted pose where your body weight is supported by the top bony parts of your shoulders.

The headstand is an inverted pose where the practitioners have less than ten percent of their body weight on their head. The secret to a safe and successful headstand is to engage your arms, core, glutes, and legs.

Sacroiliac (SI) Joint Pain

According to WebMD, pain is often the main symptom of a dysfunctional SI joint. The pain is usually in the lower back and buttock and sometimes the back and upper leg. Aches from SI joint dysfunction usually show up on one side of the body.

You have two sacroiliac (SI) joints that attach your pelvis to the lower part of your spine. Joints like the knee and hip have a wide range of movement, but the SI rotates and tilts only a little. Its role is to stabilize and support your pelvis, help to transfer the weight of your upper body to your legs, and act as a ‘shock absorber’ when you walk or run.

Donna Farhi, a well-known yoga teacher trainer, gave a series of webinars on sacroiliac joint (SI) pain[iii].

Donna cautioned that SI joint problems are becoming widespread in modern-day yoga practices because the range of movements mostly used is not functionally secure. Practices like yoga flow may create an issue, as they combine asymmetrical movements done hurriedly, often by practitioners who do not have a clear understanding of alignment or how to correctly transition from one pose to the next.

Some yoga practitioners put themselves in risky ranges of motion without proper alignment, which wears out the stability of the SI joint.

There is confusion about the functional relationship between the pelvis and the hip joints, and how that manifests in standing and supine poses. “One of the most harmful practices is to square the hips to the front in wide-legged asymmetrical standing poses. This creates complications for the SI joint as well as the knees and hip joints.”

The way we practice yoga today, we time and again forget the anatomical differences between us yoga practitioners. If we are given the tools to feel the proper alignment in a pose, we can adjust our poses by ourselves.

Core strengthening is essential, not only isolated core work but as body integrated core strength. Strengthening in yoga is as important as flexibility if not more.



Tips for a Safe Yoga Practice

  • Practise yoga with a qualified yoga teacher, not with an individual who has taken a weekend course to become a coach.
  • Having a personalized and toned-down yoga session is immensely helpful. Yoga practice is not a one size fits all.
  • Avoid comparing your practice to that of another person, or an image you saw in a magazine or a book. Do not approach yoga as a competition, not with others and especially not with yourself.
  • Listen to your body and any physical sensations you feel. These should guide your practice.
  • It is fine to be in your comfort zone or to push into your discomfort zone. Never go into a pain zone. Always remain under the threshold of pain.
  • Start with warm-ups.
  • Progress slowly but surely.
  • Learn preparatory movements that take you from one level to a more advanced one. A preliminary group of movements will help you safely do back-bends such as the Camel pose, or inversions such as the Handstand pose.
  • Use props such as belts, blocks, and bolsters. They support folks who suffer from joints pain, limited ranges of motion, or have a medical condition or a health issue.
  • Be gentle in your practice. Avoid forcing yourself to do movements that you are not ready or prepared to do. This is the principle of non-violence in yoga.
  • Do not strain yourself. Listen to any physical sensation you feel, respect your body’s limitations, and stay in the present moment.
  • Keep an open mind. You do not have to keep doing what you used to do. Avoid doing the same routine every day. Try different yoga styles and choose the one that works best for you.
  • Do yoga with a calm concentration and without effort.

Letter to OYA From a Teacher of Teachers

Letter from the late Marie Paulyn, founder of the Hatha and Raja Yoga Studies (2009)

“In 1971, after having taught yoga for two years in different places, and wanting to learn more about teaching, I went to Switzerland to attend a 10-day yoga teachers’ course, yearly organized by the European Federation of Yoga Teachers.

Discussion about how different countries have organized their yoga teachers, led me to realize that in this country, we needed to form a professional body in order to be taken seriously.

Returning to Toronto, and feeling more confident, I opened in 1972 The School of Hatha and Raja Yoga, which I later renamed Hatha and Raja Yoga Studies.

Talking to yoga teachers in Toronto about organizing ourselves was not easy. Some felt insecure asking, “Who would be testing who?” It took a group of dedicated teachers (the Founders) several months to establish a professional body. Most of our work was focused on creating an Education and Standards Committee in order to decide how to test prospective members to ensure that all members were proficient not only in asanas, but also in yoga philosophy and basic anatomy. We agreed on an open book written exam and a practical instruction session, which would be evaluated by two accredited members of our organization.

In 1974 and after many meetings, some of them volatile, we founded the Federation of Ontario Yoga Teachers (FOYT). We always had volunteers to read and evaluate written exams. No one was paid; it was done for yoga and to ensure that the quality of certified teachers was excellent.

As one who has brought the Federation together, and one of its past presidents, it is with astonishment and sadness that I heard that Ontario Yoga Association (OYA) decided to eliminate the written exam.

Do you want quantity or quality in OYA’s membership? What is more important? Because yoga is popular today, there is a proliferation of pseudo-yoga teachers who only teach asanas, ignoring the philosophy or even basic anatomy, mixing together in one class: Pilates, spinning and even boxing!

Unfortunately, such disregard for traditional classical yoga gives a diluted and occasionally distorted view of yoga. Are these teachers the ones you want to have as members of your organization? Without an exam, how do you know about their training?

Every organization wants new blood; however, it cannot be achieved at the cost of a diminished quality of its members.”

Marie Paulyn (Marie Paulyn, the leader of my yoga teacher training course, passed away at the age of 91. The two organizations —OYA and FOYT— no longer exist.)


[i] “Adverse effects of yoga: a national cross-sectional survey”. Cramer H., Quinker D., Schumann D., Wardle J., Dobos G., and Lauche R. US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health website

[ii] “From Beginner to Mastery: Julie Gudmestad on How to Build a Healthy Inversion Practice.” Gudmestad, J. YogaU Online.

[iii] (Nov 17, 2019).

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.