Updated: Apr 16, 2020
With the current crisis we find ourselves in, along with other adjustments, many are having to practice yoga at home. Thanks to YouTube and many yoga studios offering classes online, we’re able to get our practice on in our living rooms, offices, bedrooms, etc. While I’ve practiced yoga for over 11 years now, I only started practicing yoga at home a couple years ago when I moved. I was used to my 105 degree hot yoga classes and didn’t want anything else and since no studios in my new city offered classes at that temperature, I decided to start doing yoga videos on YouTube.
At home, I’ve continued my Bikram yoga practice and have now expanded to Ashtanga and vinyasa. Yesterday, while doing a vinyasa video, I found myself in the midst of crow pose (more like trying desperately to get into it without falling) staring at the edge of my coffee table which I’d moved out of the way as far my space allowed. Despite this, I still found myself only a few inches away from its edge trying to hold a pose I wasn’t steady in and at that moment, I wondered “is this safe?” I mean, what if I fall forward and plunge my forehead into this coffee table?
This wasn’t the first time I’ve thought about this. The safety of practicing yoga at home is of particular interest to me as a yoga researcher. I design studies in which many people have been assigned to practice yoga and their safety is of utmost importance. For this reason, I've always had our study participants practice at studios as I had concerns about having people with little to no yoga experience try to practice at home with no supervision. Though I’ve fallen out of many balancing poses at home, I’ve never hurt myself.
In looking into the research on the topic, I found results from a national survey of 1,702 yoga practitioners in Germany that showed a few things. Over 20% of survey respondents reported having injured themselves during yoga with the most common injuries being neck, back or shoulder pain, shortening of a tendon, or sciatica (low back pain). Most participants (75%) fully recovered from their injuries and only 3% did not. As for practice location, 55% of these injuries occurred while the person practiced yoga under yoga teacher or therapist supervision, 22% occurred while practicing what they’d learned in a studio at home, and 22% occurred while doing self-directed at-home practices.
These results are consistent with another report of yoga-related injuries in emergency room visits in Australia. This report showed that 28% of the injuries occurred at home, 28% at schools, and 19% at athletic facilities. Based on these reports, it seems that it’s no more dangerous to practice at home without supervision than practicing in a yoga studio. These studies didn’t examine the relationship between years of practice experience and risk of injury and if you’re a new practitioner or seeking to try yoga at home during this time of social distancing, proceed with caution. Be careful and don’t overdo it. This is what I always tell my study participants.
There are many great instructors online. Just be aware, if they can’t see you, they can’t provide direct feedback or alter their instruction based on how you’re performing. If your body doesn’t bend a certain way, take it easy and don’t force it. Yoga has many physical and mental health benefits, both of which are of particular importance during these times, but pushing yourself too hard in the practice can do more harm than good.
Just a few tips from a fellow practitioner:
1) Avoid sharp edges. I know this common sense, but sometimes you may not realize just how close you are to something until you begin to flow through your practice.
2) Shag carpet is not your friend. Trying to do yoga on a yoga mat placed on shag carpet is difficult and the instability of the carpet fibers makes it more difficult to hold pose. If you have wood or tile floors, it’s better to place your mat on your floor. If not, try practicing on carpet without the mat.
3) Try to find a quiet place to practice and fully invest yourself mentally to the practice. Yoga isn’t like a traditional workout in that loud music or people talking around you takes away from the experience.
4) Finally, have fun!
Cramer H, Quinker D, Schumann D, Wardle J, Dobos G, Lauche R. Adverse effects of yoga: a national cross-sectional survey. BMC Complement Altern Med. 19(1): 190, 2019.
Sekendiz B. An epidemiological analysis of yoga-related injury presentations to emergency departments in Australia. Phys Sportsmed. 2020 Jan 27[Online ahead of print].