What negative experiences in yoga were reported in our survey?
A good amount of media attention has been paid to yoga and its potential for causing injury. However, these reports are often anecdotal, individual cases. They don’t say much about what kind of trends might or might not exist with regard to negative experiences in yoga practice. In order to explore that question, we asked practitioners a series of questions in our survey. We wanted to get more information about what negative experiences they have had related to their yoga practice.
It has always been my contention that context matters. This was in fact, one of the strongest driving forces in creating this survey. In the same way that postures don’t live in a vacuum, neither do the injuries that may come from them. Were there pre-existing conditions? Was there influence by a teacher? What age was the practitioner? What was their level and frequency of practice? These are just some of the contextual factors that might influence the incidence of injury or other negative experiences in yoga practice. Stay tuned for a future post where we report more specifically on the relationships between practice context and injury in yoga.
You’ll remember from our last post, that the respondents to this survey were primarily long-term practitioners (greater than four years practice). They were generally between the ages of 31 and 55. Primarily they practiced either at home or in a studio environment.
Self-reported negative experiences in yoga practice
More than half of respondents (60.6%; **n=2613) reported some kind of negative experience in yoga practice. The most common negative experience reported (n=1577) was physical (56.2%). Some respondents also reported negative emotional experiences (11.7%), negative mental experiences (5.4%), and relationship problems (4.5%) associated with yoga practice. [Note: respondents had the option to mark ALL negative experiences that they had in this question.]
Rates of injury
Close to half (54.8%) of respondents (n=2620) reported yes, when asked specifically if they had had a physical injury as a result of yoga asana practice. But, the number of injuries that respondents reported over a lifetime of practice was fairly low compared to other activities like dance, CrossFit, or some styles of martial arts.
In our survey, 30.3% reported one injury, 17% reported two injuries, and only 7.5% reported three or more injuries. Forty-five percent of respondents never had a physical injury from yoga practice. Average rate of injury in yoga asana calculated from our survey respondents was 1.6 injuries experienced over total number of years of practice. We calculated the injury rate of our respondents based on average reported number of injuries, average reported number of days of yoga practice per week, average length of each yoga practice session, and average number of years that respondents practiced. In comparison, rates of injury recently reported (see literature cited) in the sports research literature for other leisure activities and sports include:
Areas of the body impacted by yoga
The most common areas in the body where practitioners reported an injury, among total reported injuries were: knees (12.1%), shoulders (11.5%), low back (11.2%), and hips, which included hamstring injuries (9.6%).
Remember in our last post, that we asked a similar follow-up question, “Where in the body did you experience healing?” of those respondents who reported healing from a pain or injury in the body. We’re showing that graphic again here, so you can see the similarities and differences between areas of the body where respondents reported injury and areas of the body where respondents reported healing. Interestingly, some individual respondents reported experiencing both injury and healing from yoga in the same area of the body!
We can’t make specific conclusions about injury or healing from this kind of survey data. We don’t know the relationship between the injury and healing experienced by respondents as this wasn’t addressed in our survey. What the survey results do suggest is that yoga practice itself is not inherently healing or injurious. That’s true in general and in relationship to particular areas of the body. Although some percentage of respondents reported experiencing injury, some also reported healing, and some reported both, even in the same area of the body!
Changes to practice in response to injury
Unsurprisingly, the most common change that practitioners made to their practice when they were injured was to modify their practice (41%). Six point nine percent changed their style of practice, 6.8% changed teachers, and 4.9% stopped practice for some period of time. Only 5.6% made no change to their practice when injured. [Please note respondents had the option to mark ALL appropriate answers to this question.]
Yoga injury and social media
As social media yoga challenges are a part of the yoga discussion on Facebook, Instagram, and other social media outlets, we were also curious whether these kind of challenges in particular pushed practitioners to try postures in a way that increased injuries. Perhaps surprisingly, very few respondents (n=2613), only 5.8%, reported getting hurt as part of taking part in a social media yoga challenge.
Negative experiences in yoga with teachers
Interestingly, most practitioners did not relate their injury or negative experience in yoga practice to either verbal or physical pressure from a teacher. When asked: “At any point before the injury occurred, did you feel like a teacher was directing you specifically to do something inappropriate for your level of practice?”, 79.6% of respondents (n=1415) answered no. And, when asked whether they were being adjusted when they got injured, 68.4% of respondents said no. Twenty-two percent said they were receiving a physical adjustment when they were injured and 4.6% reported that they had received a verbal adjustment that contributed to their injury. However, 4.8% didn’t remember the circumstances of the injury.
**A Note on statistics: For each descriptive statistic included in our summary post, a number “n” is included in parentheses (n=). This indicates the number of people who responded to each individual question reported in our summary statistics. Percentages for an individual question were calculated based on the number of people who answered that question. And this varied from question to question as not everyone answered every question.
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