Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Can Yoga Cause Hernias? Probably.

A few types of hernias
Do you remember to (or are you able to) breathe in every pose? Especially the poses that engage your core to lift your body weight? If not, you’re straining, and creating pressure in your body. If you have any weak spots in the tissues of your abdominal cavity, then you could end up with a hernia. Here’s what you need to know to make sure that doesn’t happen, or to work around a hernia you might already know you have.

 1) What is a hernia and how do you get one? 

A hernia occurs when the outer tissue of an organ, or the organ itself, pushes through an opening or weak area in the muscle and tissue of the abdominal wall. Hernias can affect various parts of the body, but most occur in the abdominal area. Some can be painful and are often visible as a lump that forms where the protrusion occurs.

Some people are born with hernias and weak spots in their abdominal wall, but age and lifestyle choices, like smoking and over-eating, can increase the risk of developing one. Women who have had a child and people who have had abdominal surgery can be more likely to develop hernias since their abdominal tissue has been stretched or otherwise compromised, potentially leaving it weakened in some areas. Any activity that increases pressure inside the abdomen – like lifting heavy objects, straining in the bathroom – could lead to a hernia in the spot where the tissue has weakened.

2) Kinds of Hernias

There are several kinds of hernias, all occurring around the body's core. The two most common types are hiatal hernia and inguinal hernia.

One type of hiatal hernia
Hiatal Hernia: Hiatal hernia occurs when part of the stomach pushes upward through the diaphragm muscle. The result is chest pain, heartburn from acid reflux, and difficulty swallowing.

Inguinal Hernia: Inguinal hernia occurs when part of the intestines pushes through the abdominal cavity and down into the groin area. These are most common in men. (see diagram at start of article)

3) Modifying your Yoga Practice

If you already have a hernia, or have been treated for one in the past, then approach your yoga practice with caution. Look at the diagram above and it's clear that any pose requiring you to lie flat on your stomach (Bow, Cobra, Locust, etc.) could aggravate the hernia or cause pain from direct pressure. Avoid these poses.

A second concern is constricting the hernia which can reduce or restrict blood flow to the protrusion. Twisting the abdomen or extension of the affected area (think Backbends for abdomen and Cobbler's (Baddha Konasana) for the groin) can cut off blood flow to the hernia and should be avoided.

Can you breathe?
If you don't already have a hernia, but fall into one of the risk groups, the best thing to do is to avoid extremely strenuous types of yoga and pay extra attention to your breathing. If you've recently given birth or had abdominal surgery, use caution or avoid poses that may lead to straining in the core - such as Crow, Boat, Side Plank and Crane. A good rule of thumb is to avoid poses in which you are not able to take full, deep breaths because breathing and relaxing your core are what relieves the pressure. 

Remember, even when you go to a yoga class at a studio or gym, it's your practice. The teacher and the students around you can't feel what's going on in your body, only you can, so listen to it and respond accordingly. Never feel embarrassed or judged for using a prop or an aid or skipping an asana altogether, if that's what you need to do. At the end of the day, you are responsible for your own yoga safety. Take care of yourself.


Victoria McColm is a consultant, connector and entrepreneur with a passion for yoga - and making it safer. She founded Prevent Yoga Injury and serves as Editor. She is the author of The Contraindication Index for Yoga Asanas - an essential reference guide to injuries, ailments, and medical conditions that can be exacerbated by certain yoga postures. 
Victoria entered teacher training with a consultant's mindset and immediately saw gaps in available yoga resources, as well as disconnects in the yoga community and industry at large. A problem solver by nature, she set out to fill these gaps and facilitate a needed dialogue on the issues of yoga safety. Her vision is to build Prevent Yoga Injury into a one-stop-shop for reliable and pragmatic information on best practice, yoga safety, injury prevention and contraindications. She is a registered yoga teacher with 200 hours of training and is a member of the Yoga Alliance Standards Committee Advisory Group.



  1. Great article! It's spot on to emphasize breathing constantly. With your listing specific asanas and your general advice, I now have the information I need to modify my practice. Thank you!

  2. Interesting! The article caught my eye right away because I have two hernias. My epigastric hernia is can be seen in beach photos because it is protuding a fair bit. The femoral hernia is smaller. Neither one hurts or seems to disrupt my practice, although I do have trouble breathing in backbends. It doesn't feel related, but maybe I'm wrong.

  3. It is a true thing that a few of yoga poses can worsen our hernia condition. Six months before, I had my hernia repair from Toronto. Am I fit to start my yoga procedures? If yes, which all poses can I start with?Thanks for sharing your findings with us.. that was a good read for me.