Yoga can be a gentle way to strengthen and lengthen your muscles while calming your mind. But even so, not all yoga poses are safe for everyone. Giving your yoga teacher an honest account of your conditions or physical limitations is imperative. So, if you suffer from high blood pressure, are pregnant, have joint injuries or are simply heading into your senior years, she can modify certain poses so you still experience some of the benefits without the risks.
High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure can be controlled by medication, and unless your doctor advises against it, you can practice yoga and most yogic breathing techniques safely. However, if your high blood pressure runs amok without the benefit of medication, stay away from poses that require your heart to be above your head, such as Downward Dog or Bridge. Shoulderstand, Headstand and Handstand, which are examples of poses where your heart is above your head and your legs are above your heart, are especially contraindicated. The sudden increase in pressure in your blood vessels can put you at risk for a stroke. Even if you are taking medication for hypertension, work your way up to fully inverted poses over time to strengthen the walls of your blood vessels.
Pre-natal yoga classes abound, but take precautions. Talk with your doctor if you want to continue your yoga practice through pregnancy or start if you’ve never practiced before. If your doctor approves, make sure your instructor is pre-natal certified. She’ll know to steer you away from or modify poses that require you to lay on your belly, be inverted, twist or stretch forward. Also, do not practice in the 105 degrees Fahrenheit of a Bikram class as it can cause hyperthermia or attempt any strenuous styles like Ashtanga, unless you are a seasoned practitioner who has your doctor’s blessing. Above all, follow your instincts when it comes to protecting your baby bump.
Injuries to Joints
An old injury to your wrist from playing tennis 20 years ago can come back to haunt you during a pose that requires you to bear weight on your hands, like Handstand or Plank. A shoulder injury may preclude you from poses like Bow or Cow Face Arms, which require a range of motion you may not have. Full Lotus pose is contraindicated for anyone suffering from knee problems. Protect injured joints by giving yourself time to heal, following your doctor's suggested treatment and avoiding poses that require you to put pressure on or stretch your joints beyond their current capabilities.
You can take up yoga at any age -- 60s, 70s, etc. However, you must be cautious and attentive to your body and fitness level. A good, safe option is to join a yoga class for seniors run by a certified instructor who knows to employ props, like chairs or bolsters. And use your common sense. If you suffer from balance problems, don’t attempt to stand on one leg in Tree pose, unless you’re next to a wall or chair to grab onto if you feel yourself wobble.
Linda Kaban is a certified yoga teacher and professional life coach who specializes in helping people achieve their fitness goals. With a bachelor's degree in the humanities, Kaban has been writing since 1998 and has been published in YOGALife magazine along with other healthy living publications.