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The dos and don'ts of yoga assume greater importance as the ancient Indian system gains in popularity throughout health-conscious Vietnam

 
People attend a yoga class in Ho Chi Minh City.

Every time she sits, her back hurts.

N.T.T.T, a 48-year-old woman from Ho Chi Minh City's Tan Binh District, had been taking yoga classes for a year at an up-market center in District 1. She did not realize that the yogic exercises that are popularly believed to cure backaches and sprains can actually worsen existing conditions unless highly expert guidance is available.

Tests showed that T. had a spondylolisthesis where one of her one vertebra slips forward on the adjacent vertebrae.

The woman, who is now receiving treatment, including physical therapy, said: "When I told my doctor about twist exercises at my yoga class, he said they are very dangerous for people who already have spinal problems."

T. isn't the only one who is practicing yoga poses without considering existing health conditions.

Dr. Truong Cong Dung of the Sports Medicine Department under HCMC-based People's Hospital No.115 said it's a common belief among people with pains in the back and joints that yoga will help them.

And many others practice yoga without knowing that they have back or joint problems, he added.

"They try to practice poses that are out of their capacity, and finally make them suffer from problems or make their problems worse, especially those related to the back," the doctor said.

Agreeing with Dung, Dr. Tang Ha Nam Anh, chief of the Orthopedic Trauma Department at Nguyen Tri Phuong Hospital, said they have recently admitted many people with local trauma incurred after practicing yoga for a certain period of time.

Most of them were office workers who suffered from pain in the back, shoulders and ankles. After the first few weeks of practicing, they strained themselves too much and worsened their condition, Anh said.

People over 40 who are no longer as fit and flexible as young people usually suffer as well, he added.

A similar situation prevails at the People's Hospital No.115, Dung said.

A Thanh Nien investigation found that people begin practicing yoga for different reasons, but many classes offer the same exercises irrespective of the learner's age or physical condition.

A District 1 official said yoga was a new trend in Vietnam, and there were regulations dealing with training programs at yoga centers.

THE DOCTOR WEIGHS IN

* "Yoga, or any sport, is good for the health. However, you need to choose exercises depending on your body, age and other conditions so that the exercises don't harm your health. Specifically, those who suffer from spinal osteoarthritis shouldn't practice bending, twisting their back, sitting cross-legged, or stretching their hands too much.

They need to let their bodies gradually get familiar with the postures and do some warm-up exercises before."

Dr. Tran Thanh My,
director of HCMC Orthopedic Trauma Hospital

* "People with problems like spondylolisthesis or pains in the back, neck and knee joints, or those who are middle-aged need to get a medical examination beforehand to be instructed on suitable practices. They have to be careful about heavy exercises. Do them gradually and stop whenever you feel pain."

Dr. Truong Cong Dung
 Sports Medicine Department, HCMC-based People's Hospital No.115

* "Yoga practice is based on three main factors: breathing; practicing postures; and practicing in accordance with one's capacity. Absolutely no excessive practicing. Practice with right instructions, or it'll do you more harm than good."

Herbalist Vu Quoc Trung in HCMC

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