Do You Practice Too Much Yoga? Here's How You Can Tell (and Why It Can Be Risky)

Do You Practice Too Much Yoga? Here’s How You Can Tell (and Why It Can Be Risky)

If you find yourself out of breath during your yoga practice, reduce the intensity.

A single yoga class can make you feel energized, stronger, and calmer all at the same time.

“After practicing yoga, many of us notice that our minds feel clearer and calmer, and there appears to be a little bit more energy available,” says Baxter Bell, MD, a yoga instructor based in the San Francisco Bay Area who has an individual yoga therapist certification from the International Association of Yoga Therapists (C-IAYT) and is an experienced registered yoga teacher with a Yoga Alliance 500-hours-of-teacher-training credential (eRYT 500).

“It has the potential to be a wonderful tool for managing stress in our lives,” he says.

However, depending on the type of yoga you practice and how frequently you practice it, experts say you can overdo it.

There are many different types of yoga, ranging from physically demanding “power” classes to yoga nidra, which is the closest thing to napping while practicing yoga (it’s also known as “yogic sleep”). According to Dr. Bell, if you’re in good health, it’s probably safe to do a moderate amount of yoga every day, especially if you do a variety of styles.

However, because most styles of yoga include a physical component, you can definitely overdo it when it comes to the physical demands you’re putting on your body if you’re doing a practice that’s too advanced for you or one that’s too intense (without adequate rest), he says. “It’s all about balance — if we do too much, we can get hurt, and if we do too little, we may not get the benefits we want,” says Bell.

So, when it comes to yoga, how can you go too far? And how do you know when you’re pushing yourself too hard in your yoga practice?

How You Could Be Excessively Doing Yoga

Here are a few warning signs of an overly intense yoga practice.

Yoga is interfering with your sleep, social life, or other activities that keep you healthy.
“You don’t often hear people say, ‘Oh no, I’ve been meditating too much lately,'” says Judi Bar, the yoga program manager at Cleveland Clinic Wellness and Preventive Medicine. “The truth is that we don’t do that part of our practice very often.”

Though it is uncommon, according to Bell, you can overdo the meditative aspect of yoga if it interferes with your sleep, social life, work, or other responsibilities.

You’re overworking yourself physically and skipping rest days.
Bell understands the desire to outdo oneself. “I was a rock climber, a road cyclist, a triathlete, and a physician when I first discovered yoga in the 1990s.” I didn’t have much free time, so I crammed as much as I could into the little time I had, which often left me exhausted.”

Pushing yourself too hard physically can manifest as a physically demanding practice done for several days in a row with no rest, according to Bell. Perhaps you, like Bell, have a yoga practice that is too intense given all of your other physical activity. Overdoing it physically can be taxing on the body and cause pain and fatigue in the muscles and joints you’re using, increasing the risk of problems such as overuse injuries, he says.

You’re enrolling in classes that are either too advanced or too intense.

Classes that are above your level or too rigorous can cause you to overdo it and risk injury, according to Bell.

If you’re new to yoga, Bell recommends taking an introductory class in whatever style you’re interested in. “Many classes with titles like ‘core power yoga’ or ‘power vinyasa’ are intermediate to advanced,” he says. “Vinyasa” means “movement with breath,” and it is frequently taught at a faster pace.

“If you’re younger and healthier, you’ll probably have an easier time adapting to and enjoying some of the more physically demanding styles of yoga,” he says, “but even in that case, it’s a good idea to start with a beginner-level class.”

Also consider your fitness level. If you have a lower level of fitness, or if age or a health issue limits your physical abilities, look for a class that is at a pace that feels right for you and isn’t too strenuous, says Bell.

The Symptoms of Excessive Pushing in Your Yoga Practice

According to Carol Krucoff (C-IAYT, eRYT 500), author of Yoga Sparks: 108 Easy Practices for Stress Relief in a Minute or Less, the single best way to know if you’re pushing your body beyond its limits during a class is to pay attention to your breath. She advises against huffing and puffing excessively or becoming so strained that you can’t focus on your breathing.

That’s not to say you can’t push yourself in yoga or work out your muscles, but you don’t want to be out of breath, she says.

According to her, yoga is all about focusing on the breath. “If you’re shaking and your breathing is labored, that’s not yoga,” Krucoff says.

If you get out of breath during yoga, it could be a sign that you’re doing postures you’re not ready for, or that the class isn’t a good fit for you, she says.

Another red flag that you may be overdoing it with yoga is pain and soreness.

According to Bell, even the most well-intentioned yogis may feel like they’ve overdone it a day or two after a yoga class, especially if they’re a beginner. “I tell my new students to pay attention to how they feel after class, right before bedtime, and the next day,” he says.

If you have some (but not debilitating) soreness in less-used muscles that goes away in a day or two, that’s a normal and healthy response to your body being challenged, according to Bell. “If you’re actually experiencing more of a pain sensation that doesn’t go away after a couple days,” he adds, “you may have really overdone it,” and you should seek medical attention.

What Are the Dangers of Excessive Yoga Practice?

Yoga, like any other form of physical activity, can be overdone and lead to more serious injuries because it has a physical component, according to Bell.

“I’ve known people who tore their hamstring tendons doing fast vinyasa flow practices and developed chronic pain in that area.” “There have been reports of neck injuries from full inverted poses like headstand and shoulder stand,” he says.

Excessive effort is one of the most common causes of injury during yoga, according to a survey of 1,336 yoga teachers published in the International Journal of Yoga Therapy.

According to the instructors, the most common injuries were to the neck, lower back, knee, shoulder, and wrist.

Another study, published in the Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine in November 2016, looked at yoga injuries that sent people to the doctor between 2001 and 2014, and discovered that sprains and strains to the chest, back, shoulders, and abdomen were the most common (and the cause of 46.6 percent of yoga injuries).

According to Krucoff, doing too much of one type of yoga can aggravate existing injuries or cause new ones.

Overdoing hot yoga, which is typically practiced in rooms heated to 90 to 105 degrees Fahrenheit, can result in dizziness, nausea, or fogginess caused by dehydration or an electrolyte imbalance, according to Bar.

“One of the advantages of hot yoga is that your muscles warm up faster, but one of the disadvantages is that you never know if you’ve pulled something or injured a ligament when you’re in a hot class.” Ligaments, unlike muscles and tendons, are not designed to stretch,” she explains.

Expert Advice on Maintaining a Healthy Yoga Practice

Balance, according to all three experts, is the key to a healthy and happy yoga practice. Here’s what the experts recommend to avoid overdoing it (or to get back on track if you’re pushing yourself too hard with yoga).

Try a quick practice session. Bell suggests dedicating short sessions of 15 or 20 minutes to your practice. “Even if you do this every day or only take one or two days off per week, the risk of overuse from postures is relatively low,” he says. It’s also a great way for beginners to get started, he says.

Pay attention to your body. Check to see if you’re ignoring very clear signals from your body, advises Bell. “You should come out of the pose for a few moments if you feel like you’re really straining, your muscles are shaking dramatically, or you can’t maintain good alignment.” “You can always get back into the pose if [the class] holds it a little longer,” he says.

Investigate less physically demanding forms of yoga. If you frequently practice power or hot yoga, Bar recommends trying a restorative or yin yoga class, in which you will hold poses for longer periods of time. “Some of the class names can be a little elaborate,” she says, “so you may want to inquire with the studio or the teacher if you’re not sure what the class will entail.”

Take days off if you practice a physically demanding form of yoga. “If your practice is geared toward a specific goal, such as increasing strength or flexibility, consider taking a day off in between classes,” says Bell. He claims that by giving your muscles some time to repair, you can actually gain strength.

Begin to investigate yoga philosophies. According to Bell, delving into some of the underlying philosophies, such as nonviolence, could be enlightening. There’s more to the practice than just physically pushing yourself, and exploring those other areas can help you avoid overdoing it. “Try to be more generous and gentle with yourself,” he advises.

Consider hiring a yoga therapist for a private or small group session. They can help you make adjustments and guide you through the process of starting a practice and increasing the intensity safely. With a proper prescription for rehabilitation from your doctor, you may even be able to get yoga therapy billed through your physical therapist.


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