This special report was prompted by your questions since January 5, when The New York Times Magazine featured this article: "How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body."
Before answering the question, here are a couple of analogies, corny or useful? You decide.
Exercise is a like a power tool. Learn how to use it and you can make something beautiful, use it improperly and you can cause damage.
Learning to use the gym is like learning a new language. It goes better and faster with repetition and as much professional help as you can get to master the basics.
Yoga isn't much different from any sort of group exercise class or exercise program, which I wrote about last February. If you carefully select the right exercises for you, do them properly, get rest in between workouts and don't overdo it, you've probably got very little to worry about and will see great results. Make wrong choices and you could be headed for trouble.
The idea that anyone can walk into a class and safely pursue an exercise program is questionable. Surely some people can, and class instructors are great with groups and love teaching classes.
When taking classes, it's wise to ask the instructor for assistance and recommendations when you begin, as you want to progress, if you have any injuries, or if you have difficulty with certain parts of the class. Sometimes this works, but those great instructors who teach classes or specialize in one training modality might not have the time, experience or education to help you with individualized assessment, program design and progression. In those cases, you may need to look elsewhere for help.
I've enjoyed taking classes and am a certified group exercise instructor. I rarely teach classes because I prefer to focus on careful, individualized exercise prescription, injury prevention, and proper form. It is not possible to do this for a group, everyone has different special needs or issues. This type of personalized approach can be a smart compliment to group classes or specialty training.
The group format encourages people to overdo it as they try to keep up with the class and impress the instructor. "There's enormous peer pressure in exercise classes. One-on-one training can be helpful in overcoming this," according to my client Jada Turco, MD, a psychiatrist and holistic practitioner with The Center for Integrative Psychiatry. "It gave me the knowledge and confidence to go into classes and decide which exercises weren't right for me and which to modify."
Bottom line: Make smart choices, know yourself and your limits, get professional input. Consider more individualized training to get the best results and reduce risk of injury