While yoga practices may provide therapy for neck pain and other discomforts, some students find themselves injured rather than healed as a result of their efforts. Close to 5,000 people in the United States visited an emergency room in 2006 due to a yoga-related injury, according to Timothy McCall, a board-certified specialist in internal medicine. In an article for “Yoga Journal,” McCall identifies common causes of yoga injuries, such as trying too hard, improper form, insufficient teacher attention or inadequate teacher training.
Bikram Choudhury selected the sequence of 26 postures and two breathing exercises known as Bikram yoga from the ancient practice of hatha yoga and trademarked his brand in 2002. He describes this practice as a way to maintain optimum health and maximize function. Choudhury requires that Bikram yoga classes occur in studios heated to 105 degrees. He says this temperature warms the body to enhance flexibility and promote sweat, a natural mechanism for flushing out toxins.
Julie Gudmestad, a licensed physical therapist and certified Iyengar yoga teacher, calls chronic neck tension a modern epidemic. In an article for “Yoga Journal,” she says safe execution of poses with the potential to relieve neck pain requires proper alignment of the head, neck and shoulders as well as adequate strength. As described in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, a healthy yoga practice incorporates the concept of ahimsa, a moral principle that translates from Sanskrit as nonharming, nonviolence or noninjury.
While Choudhury’s devotees testify to the athletic prowess and internal cleansing of Bikram yoga, others contend that this style is risky if not dangerous. A profile of Choudhury, published in 2011 in “Details” magazine, mentions medical professionals who warn that the heat can increase the risk of cartilage tears, heart stress, heatstroke and dehydration. Other styles such as Iyengar yoga and viniyoga do not require a hot room for practice and focus on individual adaptations.
The sound humming in your mind and resounding in your body after yoga practice should be something akin to om -- not ouch. McCall advises yoga students to look for a class with personalized attention and useful feedback, whether it's a small group, semiprivate or private lesson. A careful teacher gets to know each student, his or her limitations and challenges, and offers modifications as needed. Talk to a doctor about finding a therapeutic yoga practice that meets your individual needs.