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Chinese seek health through yoga, though injuries possible
Last Updated: 2015-10-10 10:31 | Xinhua
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Chinese urbanites are embracing yoga in pursuit of physical and mental health, but experts warn that the ancient practice can lead to injury if not done correctly.

Yoga was first introduced to China by Hong Kong practitioner Wai Lana in the 1980s. Her workout programs aired daily on China's Central Television and were the starting point for many Chinese yogis.

China's white collar workers have adopted yoga as a way to stay fit, with many attending a couple of sessions per week in the gym or studio.

In addition to traditional yoga styles such as Hatha, Iyengar, and Vinyasa, Chinese practitioners have also taken up new adaptations such as Taiji yoga and yoga dance.

He Min, a yoga instructor based in Hangzhou City in east China's Zhejiang Province, said practitioners should choose the right styles for themselves according to their physical abilities and needs. Practitioners should be especially careful of potential harm when practicing new styles whose effects have not been fully tested, she warned.

Even for ancient yoga styles, practicing the wrong way can still lead to injury, she added.

He Min once suffered from depression, insomnia and arthritis, but recovered thanks to years of yoga practice. However, in 2012, after six months of four hours a day of intensive yoga practice, her neck pain and insomnia returned.

"After being unable to sleep for three months, I realized that it could be some position that created too much tension on my neck. A while after I stopped doing that position, my health improved," she said.

Yoga is a sophisticated system that stresses the long-term cultivation of body and mind, but many just treat it as a shortcut to lose weight and tend to overdo it or force themselves, despite the limits of their flexibility, according to He.

Her opinion was echoed by Qi Qiang, a doctor with the orthopedics department of Peking University Third Hospital in Beijing, who suggested that yoga practice should be a gradual process, as it can be harmful if learners challenge themselves too much with difficult postures, or asanas.

"The spine and joints can only be bent and twisted so much, and they are prone to injury when moved excessively," he said. "It is okay for a healthy person to do yoga moderately, but it can be dangerous for people who already have conditions of the spine or joints."

Tan Qiuxiang, a physician at a sports injury center in Henan Province, has received dozens of patients with yoga-related injuries.

"Most of them are fashionable women in their 20s or 30s whose muscles or ligaments are injured during practice," he said.

Some of the yoga asanas are unnatural for human movement. For example, the spine is sometimes required to bend backward or to the side, which can be damaging as it is only meant to bend forward, he said.

He Min suggested that rather than doing yoga alone, beginners should practice under a professional instructor.

"However, yoga practice in China is still in its infancy, and both students and teachers are at a stage of learning and exploration. Instructors should also strive to improve their techniques and understanding of yoga."

"Most of my students are middle-aged women suffering from conditions such as lumbar disc herniation and shoulder periarthritis and wish to ease their pain by doing yoga," said Yan Qing, a yoga instructor in south China's Hainan Province.

It is challenging for instructors to advise students on how to relieve their conditions while protecting them from injuries during practice, she said.

Recalling her yoga pilgrimage to India last year, He Min said, "After visiting the Indian masters, I nurtured a deeper understanding of the philosophy of Iyengar yoga, which values love and giving."

"When yoga instructors learn to be caring and loving, and know how to protect students and themselves in addition to teaching them the asanas, China will truly be ready for yoga culture to blossom," she said.

Yoga instructor Zhang Can, also in Hangzhou, said the culture of yoga resonates with traditional Chinese culture, which stresses compassion.

Hopefully, the popularity of yoga will not only help people keep fit, but also make them more joyful and peaceful, she said.

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