SAN FRANCISCO, CA — Dr. Jeffrey Halbrecht, board-certified orthopedic surgeon specializing in arthroscopic surgery and sports medicine and former medical director for the Women's World Pro Ski Tour, is calling on the fitness industry to take action to combat the mounting number of yoga-related injuries being observed across the country.
“We're starting to see the types of injuries from yoga that we usually see in high-impact sports such as basketball,” said Halbrecht. “These are senseless and totally preventable. And it's not just beginners who are suffering these injuries, it's experienced yoga clients who are being advised to perform in ways that are clearly counter to good fitness and the wisdom of traditional yoga.”
Part of the reason for the reported rise in yoga-related injuries, although little research has been done to this point, can be attributed to the practice's recent spread into the mainstream along with other factors, such as inexperienced teachers and overcrowded classes, said Arkady Shirin, a ‘traditional’ yoga instructor who is an outspoken proponent of safety reforms for the industry.
“Clearly, though, it's not the sheer volume of new clients that's responsible for the injuries,” says Shirin, “It's a combination of factors, such as the large number of poorly trained yoga instructors practicing in the United States and the emphasis on large classrooms of students packed into tight quarters for these ‘hybrid’ forms of yoga. Most of these adulterated forms of yoga are hazardous and completely negate many of the benefits of the practice.”
Currently, no federal agency supervises the safety of yoga programs or supervises the certification of instructors and no agency keeps accurate records with regard to the number of yoga-related injuries. But, The Yoga Alliance, a non-profit organization supporting yoga teachers and the diversity and integrity of yoga is hoping the community can police itself.
“We believe that there needs to be safe standards for practicing yoga and by clearly pointing consumers and employers to reputable instructors and instructors to recognized schools. But we must be able to police ourselves,” said Nancy Ferguson, spokesperson for the Yoga Alliance and an instructor. “These standards cover all aspects of yoga not just the physical so they can be applied to any style.”
But even with self-regulation and safe standards, Shirin said that it takes an experienced and insightful teacher to help curtail the rash of injuries, especially as classes grow in size eliminating the traditional one-on-one nature of yoga.
“The practice of yoga has to be steady and joyful. The problem is that Americans often are too competitive and push themselves too hard against others in the class. It is up to the teacher to reinforce the need too mix in humor and keep yoga safe,” he said. “Yoga is a journey not a destination and if you read the yoga scriptures you learn that it is a journey for many lives not a weekend certification course or an hour-long class.”
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