WASHINGTON — Newcomers to yoga may find an unexpected twist--instead of growing stronger and more flexible, they get hurt.
As yoga grows in popularity, instructors and students should watch out for positions that can get the student hurt, an expert warns.
"Virtually everybody can benefit from yoga, but it's still a 'buyer beware' market," said instructor Mara Carrico, who conducts yoga teacher-training courses in San Diego.
Aging baby boomers are turning to yoga to keep their joints supple and to learn to relax. Younger people are trying yoga as a new way to keep fit, said Carrico, who has been teaching yoga since 1971 and training instructors since 1983.
Beginning yoga students may not realize that what they want is not what they are yet capable of, and new instructors may not realize their students' limitations, Carrico said.
Yoga ranges over a myriad of schools and techniques, from breathing exercises to intense exercise positions that require strength and fitness. And the more demanding ones are often taught in health clubs, Carrico said.
These "power yoga" techniques, generally from the ashtanga method of yoga, may lead to injury for some students, Carrico said. She outlined the techniques and the risks in IDEA Health & Fitness Source, a group exercise leaders magazine published by IDEA, a fitness industry professional group.
"Power yoga answers the needs of a lot of people who work out hard," Carrico said. "That isn't for somebody who is just starting."
Ashtanga's vigorous, almost acrobatic moves and swift pace, coupled with poses that put weight on the hands, may make much of ashtanga unsuitable for people with bad joints, Carrico said.
But ashtanga can be modified to make it less risky to these groups, Carrico said. For instance, yoga push-ups, which put weight on the hands similar to an ordinary push-up, can be changed so that the weight is on both forearms, which removes pressure from the wrists, she said.
And the plow position, in which a person lies on his or her back while extending the legs past the head, "has been contraindicated in the fitness industry," Carrico said. The position can put too much pressure on the neck, she said.
Clubs should market programs with clear terms that newcomers can understand, such as "Gentle Yoga" or "The Yoga Workout," Carrico said.
And students should check their teachers' backgrounds, Carrico said. Some have long histories, while others are recently certified former aerobics teachers seeking to ride a new trend, she said.
But it's also up to the teacher to spot potential problems, and a good one can, said Matthew Yee of Oakland. He teaches classes and appears in yoga videos.
Teachers should ask first whether students have any physical problems, ranging from high blood pressure to bad joints, said Yee, who has taught for 15 years.
They also can watch for signs of trouble in such areas as how the students walk or stand, he said. "There's a lot of rounding of the back," he said.
And students' problems moving or holding poses tell much about their physical weaknesses, said yoga instructor Dominic Corigliano of the Ashtanga Yoga Center in Encinitas, Calif.