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These Basic Yoga Poses Can Cause Serious Injury If Done Improperly

Yoga | Yoga Poses

Yoga is incredibly helpful at improving wellness and generally elevating our outlook on life, but even the most basic of poses can cause injuries if misaligned. If you have ever felt aches and pains after practice, then it is time to start listening to your body and adjusting your alignment before they become more serious.

Misalignments crop up as a result of many things; competitively pushing into something that we are not yet ready for, a lack of focus in the moment leading us to fall out of alignment, or even exhaustion towards the end of a challenging class. Most of the time, however, we may not even know we are out of alignment at all, except that we wake up with pain of some kind.

Here are some aches that could turn serious, what to look out for in class, and specific anatomy-based alignment tips to keep you safer in the shapes used most often in Vinyasa classes.

Downward Dog

This asana is a great lumbar and hamstring stretch, plus it strengthens the shoulders, but repeatedly practicing it in a misaligned manner can cause various compression injuries leading to soreness at the shoulders and wrists, and lower back pain.

What to Look Out For

  • A short stance. This causes the weight to be dumped into the upper body, contributing to shoulder strain and wrist tenderness. It can show up as a rounded back, a deep bend at the wrist, or the shoulders being over the wrists.
  • Chest dipping. As flexibility increases, there’s a tendency to press the chest down towards the floor. This creates a lot of compression in the lower back. And if your core is not engaged, it will eventually contribute to back pain, disc or nerve compression (sciatica), and shoulder strain.

How to Fix It

  • Step your feet back. Generally, if you set up by leaving your hands and feet exactly where they are in your Plank position, then just slide your hips up into Down Dog and you will be in great shape.
  • Slight knee bend. This is not a “cheat,” it actually deepens the back stretch and prevents wrist and shoulder strain.


If you are unsure, or in any type of pain, just skip Chaturanga by using table top. While it is wonderful at strengthening the entire body, improper practice of Chaturanga can lead to injuries that include strained wrists or carpal tunnel, shooting pain in the elbows or rotator cuff of the shoulders, or low back ache.

What to Look Out For

  • A deep wrist angle. Wrists too far forward and elbows pointing out so the forearms are at an angle other than 90 degrees.
  • Dipping. The chest or hips dipping down towards the floor causes shoulder, elbow, and wrist strain. Alternatively, the hips pointing up to the sky causes a dip in the low back, leading to low back strain. Either of these can also contribute to wrist pain because the core is not pulling the weight out of the arms.

How to Fix It

  • Tip it, hug it. From Plank, tip all the way forward on your toes, then lower your knees or start to lower your body into the shape. Hug your elbows in towards your ribs. This set up briefly stretches your wrists and lines them up under your elbows when you lower your body down.
  • Stay high. If your chest or hips are below your elbows, put your knees down immediately. It is far safer to stay high. You want your chest above or in line with your upper arms and hips.

Warrior 1 & 2

The various Warrior Poses have different benefits, but they do have a few alignment strategies in common to keep your knees and lower back muscles safe.

What to Look Out For

  • Knee to toe alignment. The knee being too far forward over the front foot can injure your knee or ankle. Similarly if the knee is leaning internally (collapsing towards the big toe side of your body) it can put excess strain on the medial ligaments of the knee which eventually weakens the entire joint.
  • Low back dip. The tendency to pour the tummy forward can also cause lower back strain.

How to Fix It

  • Toe Check. Point the foot directly forward, and make sure you can easily see your front toes directly in front of your knee.
  • Leg engagement. To avoid back strain, always pull your belly muscles in. In Warrior poses, you can also squeeze your thighs towards each other so your quadriceps (thigh) and gluteal (butt) muscles pick up some of the weight for you. This strengthens the knee joint, supports the lower back, and encourages healthier hips.


Locust Pose is not about height or depth, it’s about length and activity. We generally tend to leap into backbends with the idea of going as deep as possible without regard to alignment. While wonderful at opening the hips and diaphragm, correcting posture, and creating versatility in the spine, backbends can cause disc compression and neck ache if we don’t activate key muscle groups while practicing them.

What to Look Out For

  • Over-arching the neck. Lifting the chin up to follow the eyes leads to neck strain, which can cause tension headaches.
  • Floppy feet and hands. If your hands and feet are not engaged, it’s highly likely that your core is not engaged—which can lead to back strain.

How to Fix It

  • Lengthen. Lengthen the BACK of your neck instead of your throat.
  • Engage. Simply squeeze your feet towards each other behind you as if you want them to touch. Do the same with your arms and activate your fingers and toes.

Every asana lineage has different cues and variations of these yoga poses, and every human body is slightly different. These tips are based purely on anatomy. Hopefully they will allow you to stay safer as you explore your physical practice more deeply.

And remember, the more flexible you become, the more strength you will need to stabilize the joints. And the more strength you cultivate, the more important it is to stretch the muscles.

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