Does the practice of yoga cause hip degeneration?
Certainly there are senior teachers in many different yoga styles who are now facing hip replacement.
William Broad, a science writer from the New York Times published an article on Nov 2, 2013 about women's hips and yoga:
click to link to article
In the article he cites research and anecdotal evidence that repetitive, extreme flexion can lead to hip injury as with dancers.
There are some yoga teachers, like Michaelle Edwards of YogAlign who is cited in the New York Times article, who feel that the way yoga is practiced today is injurious especially to hip joints. She says "People need to be aware that intense stretching of the SI joint and forward flexion yoga poses are Russian Roulette for the hip joint. I have students in their 20's who have yoga injuries and are already experiencing extreme groin pain, inability to climb stairs etc."
You can read more about her theories at:
(I asked Peggy Berg, a certified Iyengar yoga teacher with an anterior hip replacement for her thoughts about yoga and hip deterioration. Here is her reply -NR)
I've given a lot of thought to your question about yoga contributing to the deterioration--it's possible, and I know many people who have had hip problems who haven't been dancers. I'd be happy to talk it over with you and I have tried to understand how someone might be damaging the joint without realizing it. Mostly though, I believe my yoga practice gave me at least a decade more without surgery--I was really in a lot of pain before I began yoga, in my back, shoulders, hips, knees, etc. I have really done some damage! What has been amazing is that the Iyengar approach has "cured" so many of my issues. It has taken an enormous amount of awareness and caution, but I continue to be amazed as my body "evolves" along with my practice.
In my opinion, the people who seem most at risk for hip damage in yoga are extremely flexible people who either lack the strength to support their own flexibility or who tend to "drop" or "hang" into their joints when doing certain poses. One sees this most in bent knee standing poses. You can observe the torso's weight dropping into the flexed hip rather than strongly lifting out of the hip as the practitioner bends or holds the pose. It is somewhat less of a problem in some seated forward bends, but I'd urge caution about those poses as well (e.g. upavista konasana) if the flexible person is not observing good control in the legs and low back while moving the chest onto the floor. People with less flexibility seem to be less at risk--a curious irony, since yoga tends to attract flexible people who get lots of ego reinforcement for their ability to move into extreme poses.
For myself, I believe that yoga when physically over-done can be injurious. Additionally, the emphasis on the physical aspects of yoga, particularly in the USA, detracts from the other benefits of yoga practice which include self-inquiry. One of the main tenets of the yoga life-style is non-harming --including to one's self!
I encourage yoga practice and recommend Iyengar teachers to people of all abilities. I know that the training of Iyengar teachers is excellent and the use of props for alignment and stability increases the safety of the practice.
What do you think?
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