You won’t expect some of these yoga poses to make the “Most Dangerous” list.
Have you ever been in that class of the super-annoying yoga teacher who spends more time talking about the alignment of a yoga pose than actually doing the pose? Perhaps they aren’t as annoying as you think. Most likely, they aren’t pretentious or trying to sound like a detail-obsessed expert, but in reality they really care about you and don’t want you to get injured.
Let’s get one thing clear right off the bat: “Most dangerous” doesn’t mean “most courageous” or “bold.” In this context, most dangerous refers to improper alignment that can create injury over time or simply be ineffective for the results you want on your mat.
Many times we get onto our yoga mats and repeat the same alignment techniques in every posture, which imbeds habits into our bodies that aren’t actually serving to create balance, strength and flexibility.
The worst part? Most of us don’t even realize we are putting our bodies at risk. We can’t expect in a class of 10 to 85 students that a teacher will be capable of correcting our every posture to show us shifts we can make for the practice to be effective for our unique needs.
This is one reason that I strongly suggest to all students of yoga, whether you are an absolute beginner or have been practicing for a decade, to take a couple of private yoga sessions. Even one private session could be the difference between a rotator cuff injury and happy shoulders.
I created this list based on over 15 years of yoga practice and a decade of teaching yoga as well as my over seven years of exercise physiology as personal fitness trainer. You’re safe to practice any of the following poses. The information I give is to help progress your practice, not to scare you out of practicing. Alongside each posture is a note about common misalignments and quick fixes to keep your practice feeling good:
7. Down Facing Dog — This is one of the most repetitious postures in almost every yoga style that is practiced in America. This makes being out of alignment a dangerous thing. Most common misalignments include a rounded low back, inward rolling shoulders, and improper weight placement in hands. To correct or ensure your alignment in downward facing dog, shift your pose by bending your knees to lengthen your low back, turning your shoulder heads away from your ears, and pressing into your finger pads.
6. Warrior 3 (photo above) — Trouble comes when some of our muscles don’t want to do their job, resulting in the standing knee locking, the belly relaxing, and the shoulders squeezing up to the ears. There are amazing muscles in your legs that exist, in part, to hold the force of your bodyweight so that your knees can be protected. This means to protect your knee in Warrior 3, you cannot lock it. Two more things to be aware of when you practice Warrior 3 are engaging your belly muscles and bringing your shoulders off your ears while lifting your chest.
5. Revolving (Twisted) Triangle Pose — Common injuries are hamstring tears, low back pain, and pressure in the shoulders. Most important in Revolved Triangle is the foundation you create before you twist: effective foot placement, straight but not locked knees, long torso with lifted chest, and shoulders pulled into the socket. The rotation happens as you reach your shoulders down your back and away from your ears, turning your opened chest to the side of the front leg. If need be, give a bend to your front knee and keep your upper hand on your hip.
4. Half Pigeon — I know this is a wonderful hip stretch for many of us. Issues come up if your hip isn’t ready for that deep of a stretch. Gravity plays a part in stretching the hip open, so when the stretch is premature your hip will refuse to open under pressure and instead ask the knee joint to perform some of the stretch. Again, this isn’t the knee joint’s job. The opening happens at the hip. If you feel a sensation in your knee at all in Pigeon pose, get out of it. Take the posture on your back and allow your hips to open gradually.
3. Camel Pose — Camel Pose provides plenty of opportunities for injury, fear and breath restriction. For many people, the fear of dropping backwards results in holding their breath and tensing the front of their neck. Find a more energetically aligned Camel Pose by lengthening your low back, lifting your low belly, tucking your chin to slide your neck open, and maintain breathing. Another tip is to say your name in the backbend. If you can’t say it easily, then your neck isn’t in the most effective position.
2. Frog Pose — Frog is one of the most demanding postures on the inner thigh muscles and the sacral iliac joint. Some teachers refuse to teach it, while others have people hold Frog pose for 30 to 60 minutes. There is a similarity to half pigeon pose wherein gravity is forcing pressure directly into the hips. If the muscles originating and inserting at the hip joint aren’t already susceptible to this type of opening and you force it anyway, Frog pose could harm your sacral iliac joint or tear your groin. I suggest mastering Frog pose on your back, straddle forward fold, and Butterfly pose before demanding your hips to withstand the pressure of Frog.
1. Shoulder Stand — Shoulder Stand is by far the most commonly practiced posture without necessary preparation, supportive props or instruction of alignment that I’ve seen. As kids we do this posture freely, and your body may still be as supple as a child. That’s great! I never ever want you to have a neck injury. And especially if you already have whiplash or any other injury to your neck, follow these simple rules: place a 1-2-inch thick blanket under you so that your arms from shoulder to elbow are on it but your head rests off; when your feet are in the air lift your chest instead of tucking your chin or rounding your spine; and look at your toes the entire time (don’t turn your head).
As with all yoga postures, listen to your body for clues about what’s right in the present moment for you. Try news things and know when to adapt the pose for your needs. Most importantly, ask for guidance from a teacher. Invest in a private yoga session with a teacher you trust to get the attention you need for an effective practice.
Especially if you are practicing two or more times per week, it’s invaluable for you to have a personal yoga coach to guide your unique needs. What’s more important than taking care of your life vehicle? Nothing. Take care of it.