The Changing Face of Yoga: Different Bodies, Different Needs – Charting the Road Ahead

This article first appeared as a thought leader article on the Yoga Alliance website under the title New Research Dispels Common Myths about Yoga Injuries.

A few years back, an article in The New York Times, entitled “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body,” raised some serious questions about yoga, implying that yoga commonly leads to injuries, including serious ones like sudden strokes. At the time, it created quite a stir because of its assertions that yoga injuries were of almost epidemic proportions.

Scientific Research on Yoga Injuries: Yoga Not Dangerous

In the years since, however, several new studies have painted a more realistic picture of the risk of injury linked to regular yoga practice. The verdict? Yoga is not dangerous and it does not come with a higher risk of injuries than regular exercise. In fact, there’s possibly even lower risk of getting injured through yoga than conventional exercise.

One of the most comprehensive studies was a recent meta-analysis of 94 randomized controlled trials on yoga from 1974 to 2014 published in The American Journal of Epidemiology. The researchers found that only 2 percent of the 8,430 people included in the studies experienced adverse events. If those who suffered from preexisting conditions and severe diseases were excluded, that number was even lower. Findings from the review, the researchers conclude, indicate that yoga appears as safe as usual care and exercise.

Another study of actual yoga practitioners looked at the number of yoga injuries in Canadian emergency rooms over a 20-year period from 1991 to 2010. During that period, a total of 66 people sustained injuries from yoga serious enough to bring them to the emergency department. Almost three out of four injuries occurred after 2005, in keeping with the growth in the number of yoga practitioners. The most common injury was muscular injuries like a sprain (34 percent). Still, while the new studies show that yoga certainly is not ‘dangerous’ and injuries are not of epidemic proportion, questions remain. According to surveys, yoga is becoming America’s most favorite complementary wellness program, and with the growth of yoga comes a much more diverse population of practitioners.

New Demographic of Yoga Practitioners: Baby Boomers

More older adults are practicing yoga now than a decade ago; 7.2 percent of 45-64 year olds practiced yoga in 2012, up from 5.2 percent in 2002. Among those 65 and over, practitioners grew from 1.3 percent in 2002 to 3.3 percent in 2012. With the rapidly aging baby boomer generation looking for ways to manage their health actively, the trend among older adults to adopt a yoga practice is likely to continue.

The changing demographic of yoga students poses a new set of questions for yoga as a profession. Different bodies have different needs, and yoga teaching should be adjusted to meet the unique needs of unique people. This takes more training and the development of the specialized knowledge about the techniques and approaches best suited to adapt yoga to the common musculoskeletal limitations of the Western body.

Although yoga is not inherently dangerous, it is our job as yoga teachers to do no harm and serve our students safely. That’s why it’s imperative that yoga teachers take their continuing education seriously and constantly survey new techniques and skills from qualified teachers. Online learning is an exciting new frontier that opens up opportunities for refining and expanding yoga teaching techniques to fit the needs of new yoga practitioners. Yoga teachers can advance their skills through comprehensive libraries of yoga teaching methods that serve groups with more specialized needs.

Since adopting a healthy lifestyle is the most important factor for preventing major chronic diseases, the demand for programs and services that facilitate lifestyle change will only intensify. Yoga teachers who position themselves to serve this rapidly growing market will find that they can finally do what inspires most of us to become teachers to begin with: share yoga and change lives.

YogaUOnline Older Beginners Class

Eva Norlyk SmithEva Norlyk Smith, Ph.D., E-RYT 200, RYT 500, is a long-time yoga teacher and co-founder of, a leading resource for online yoga education. Members of Yoga Alliance get special discounts on online yoga training courses offered via YogaUOnline.

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