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The 4 Most Dangerous Yoga Poses (Seriously)

By Jacqueline Burt for DETAILS

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(photos: Getty Images)

While pulled hamstrings and torn rotator cuffs are the kinds of injuries one might expect to suffer from hardcore workouts like powerlifting or CrossFit (when done incorrectly, anyway), most of us think of yoga as relatively risk-free: Even high-intensity versions of the ancient practice are known as being more gentle on the body than most fitness regimes. But that doesn't mean the yoga isn't potentially hazardous: Recently, an otherwise-healthy 38-year-old man broke his thigh bone attempting to execute Marichyasana posture B, an advanced Ashtanga yoga pose that involves flexing the hip and knee into the opposite inguinal (groin) crease. (That's the kind of break doctors usually associate with car accidents.) Of course, this type of yoga-induced damage is rare, but the point is that nearly any kind of physical activity has the potential for injury.

"People can get injured reaching for the toilet paper, so it's not as if you need to be doing an advanced pose to throw something out," says celebrity yoga instructor and best-selling author of "Yogalosophy for Inner Strength" Mandy Ingber. "Usually, injuries are an accumulation of patterns created in the body over time. We can't avoid every injury."

Another common way that people hurt themselves during yoga--as with most other types of exercise--is simply by pushing too hard, says Jessica Stickler, an instructor at Jivamukti NYC.

"I see plenty of type-A folks who are also so-called 'weekend warriors' who want to push, push, push in every pose," Stickler says.

"We have to quiet that urge to squeeze every last drop of sweat from our practice, and remember that yoga calls on us to find a way to work hard from that place of deep inner peace," she adds.

That's especially true if you're attempting any of the following poses, which are known for causing the most injuries.

1. Shoulder Stand

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A popular inversion, Sarvangasana is said to include such benefits as better thyroid and metabolism regulation. Unfortunately, the posture also compresses the spine and puts a lot of pressure on the neck. Skip this if you have high blood pressure or existing neck problems, and if you do try it, be sure not to move your neck while in the pose (and proceed with caution).

"I think because the pose is often taught towards the end of a practice when people may already be tired or ready for relaxation, or perhaps because teachers are not taking the time to fully teach the pose, it seems that there is a lot of misunderstanding about how to safely practice this one," Stickler says.

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2. Standing Forward Bend

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Also known as Uttanasana, this pose is great for opening up hamstrings, calves, and hips, as well as supposedly stimulating the liver and kidneys--but forcing yourself forward can easily undo all that good stuff, especially if you have any pre-existing aches and pains.

"If you have a back issue, forward flexing can do more harm than good," says Ingber. "Don't force yourself: bend your knees; Use props." Or, as Ingber suggests, stretch out your hamstring while lying on your back, using a support like a strap.

3. Bound Triangle Pose

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This one--like above, but with one hand in front of the body grasping the other hand, behind--is definitely not for the newbie. Baddha Trikonasana is an extremely effective hip opener, but still challenging enough to present problems for experienced yogis. A modification of the triangle pose that involves clasping the hands behind the back, the pose can easily result in hamstring injuries--particularly if "people are too eager to get their leg straight," Stickler says. The best way to tackle poses like this one, Ingber says, is with the guidance of an instructor.

"Ask questions," she says. "Get tips and share information." (Good information, by the way, for all of these poses, regardless of skill level.)

4. Camel Pose

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Ustrasana is thought to relieve everything from fatigue to anxiety to respiratory ailments--but it can be a real pain in the neck--literally. If you've ever experienced a pinched nerve or similar problems, "a deep back bend is not the greatest idea," Ingber says.

"The spine tends to be unevenly flexible and will take the pressure more in one area than another," she says. So if you're going to attempt this back bend, start slow and be sure to prep your body with prior poses to warm up your spine. "Sequencing is essential in yoga," Ingber says.

No matter what pose you're looking to master, Ingber continues, "listen to your body instead of your mind or ego. Don't push yourself to the point of strain." But if you do get hurt, don't take that as a sign that you should give up entirely:

"The body is resilient and can bounce back from most injuries," Ingber says. The most important thing is that you learn from those setbacks and try to be more mindful going forward. Listen to your body's limits, and namaste!

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