15 qualities for safety in yoga practice

 In Practice, Science of Yoga

In their recent article in Frontiers in Psychology, Dr. Shirley Telles and her colleagues explore the reasons that lead to injuries or illness due to yoga practice. Dr. Shirley Telles is the director of the Patanjali Research Foundation in Haridwar, India, and an editor of “The Principles and Practice of Yoga and Healthcare”.

The most common reasons for adverse events, according to Dr. Telles, are (a) practicing yoga for an unusually long duration, (b) practicing yoga more frequently than is recommended, (c) excess strain on a specific joint during yoga practice and (d) ignoring a prior health condition which could be a contraindication for a specific asana/exercise.  

How can we improve safety and reduce adverse events related to yoga practice as therapy?

Safety Guidelines

This list is a summary of Recommendations for safe use of yoga, provided by Dr. Telles and her colleagues.

Yoga practitioner 

Motivation: you are motivated to learn safe yoga.

Objectives: you are clear about the objectives to practice yoga, for example to manage symptoms of a chronic illness, to improve your stress response, or to balance your lifestyle.  

Supervision: your yoga practice is under the supervision of a reliable and trained yoga instructor.

Boundaries: you view yoga instructors with respect, but are not confused by concepts of a “guru” or the “need to surrender” which could lead to weakness, a dissolution of boundaries and hence exploitation 

Disclosure: you are open about any earlier accident/injury or surgery to the yoga instructor. This is especially important if you have a diagnosed health condition.

Attitude: you approach yoga for self-improvement without a sense of competitiveness which could lead to going beyond your physical ability and hence resulting in injury.

Expectations: you have realistic expectations and not expect miraculous changes/cures.

Pace: you approach the practice at your own pace and do not force through it. For example if you miss a yoga session on one day increasing the practice the next day may not be appropriate.

Monitoring:  if you notice any changes in your general health or specific symptoms, or there are changes to your current medication, you report it to your yoga instructor/ yoga therapist.

"[In reports of] adverse effects associated with yoga practice, the subjects were either (i) practicing the yoga technique incorrectly, (ii) having precondition(s) related to the reported adverse effect, or (iii) were not aware that the particular yoga technique they were performing could worsen the precondition that they had." Full article text

Question on yoga and (neuro-) science?

Meet Irina Simanova at The Yoga Therapy Conference | Amsterdam | May 10+11 2019

Yoga instructor or yoga therapist

Motivation: you are motivated to teach safe yoga.


  • you are experienced in yoga practice and theory based on knowledge of traditional yoga texts and the commentaries written on them. 
  • you have basic knowledge of physiology, functional anatomy and biomechanics. 
  • as a yoga therapist, you know therapeutic yoga in theory and practice and additional information about basic diagnostic methods and the disorders they may treat.
  • you know the basics of first aid (for example how to treat minor injuries, record the pulse, blood pressure and body temperature). Ideally you know on-the-spot emergency treatments (e.g., cardiopulmonary resuscitation, managing choking, bleeding and fractures) as well as the contact details of a hospital nearby.

Context: you gather information about any earlier accident/injury or surgery of your students. As a yoga therapist you have detailed case histories and knowledge of your patients.

Caution: you are aware about the contraindications of yoga practices. As a yoga therapist, you are cautious attempting to treat patients who are weak, liable to fall, have poor balance or are otherwise “high risk cases.”

Clarity: you communicate with complete clarity about the method of practice and the contraindications of the practice.

Reporting: you are able to report an adverse event with sufficient accuracy to a medical practitioner if necessary.

"Most of the studies which were conducted to assess the efficacy of yoga practice did not identify or report adverse events in the trials. This may be due to the fact that in such studies the yoga interventions were designed and delivered under the supervision of experienced yoga teachers. [...] It could also be that adverse events were not reported or noted by the yoga teachers as they were not trained to do so." Full article text


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hi, i am IRINA

I am a yoga teacher and a scientist. In this blog I write about the most recent scientific research about yoga/meditation/mindfulness. Please leave comments and share your thoughts!

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