First, let me say that yoga kinda saved my butt. When I was in my early 40s, going through a mid-life crisis, dark night of the soul, depression, and an eating disorder, I was suffering, somewhat disembodied or ungrounded, rather desperate and seriously lost.

I’ll never forget my first yoga experience. It was Integral yoga, with a teacher who had a very soothing voice. Just like that, I felt safe, relaxed and grounded. I am very thankful for yoga.

As far as safety is concerned, well, as Helen Keller said, “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.” Being on Earth is unsafe. Being human is unsafe. Life is not safe; you may have noticed.

Still, we want to be pragmatic and as safe and smart as possible. So let’s look at yoga from a perspective of physical safety, mental and psychological safety but also spiritual safety.

There are some slippery slopes in yoga, as in all life. Of course there is a risk of physical injury. There is the unavoidable ego. There are money issues, whether it be the teacher or studio, or our own financial concerns. There is sex and the issue of lust, either by the teacher or students. There can be excess body focus, doing yoga to look better or sexy. And there are even concerns around bowing to or honoring false gods or demons, let alone teachers.

Let’s start with the physical. As many teachers have said, if you can breathe, you can do yoga. It was Pattabhi Jois who said, “Man who is sick, he can practice. Man who doesn’t have strength can practice.  Except lazy people;    lazy people can’t practice.”

Yoga invites us to just do it. And yoga is not just handstands and hamstrings. It’s breath and meditation for example.

I have a friend who just turned 80. He does incredibly strong yoga poses. He does not believe in aging, or so he says. But I feel that maybe he is actually quite afraid of aging, so he pushes himself, and then hurts himself.

He recently told me he has to give up yoga because he keeps getting hurt. I honored him for ignoring age, and not being lazy, but gently mentioned that he does seem to push himself, and may not be doing yoga correctly. If it hurts, you are doing something wrong. By that I mean, yoga should stretch us, challenge us, make us aware of our muscles and body, but if we keep hurting ourself, it is probably our fault, not “yoga.”

I have mixed feelings. I think it is great to defy age and do what some would say is impossible, as age is at least to some degree in the mind. But bodies do age. At a workshop in Portland, the late T.K.V. Desikachar told me, “By the time you are past 50 or 60, you should be doing only 20% asana, 40% meditation and 40% pranayama.” (To be honest, I forget if he said 50, or 60, but you get the point).

Yoga is not all or nothing. Either temporarily, or permanently, sometimes we have to simplify our practice. Less is more, I often say, in yoga and in life.

The style of yoga I was trained in, Viniyoga, focuses on functionality over form. We get ourselves in trouble when we follow a “one size fits all” practice, when clearly we all have different body types, histories, etc.

Yin Yoga teacher Paul Grilley has a similar perspective. He says there are basically two types of asana practice. One he calls “aesthetic” where we do poses to make them look a certain way based on ideals. This style tends to get us into trouble if we have a different history or skeletal structure that won’t physically allow us to do certain poses and we try to persist in doing them. The other he calls “functional,” and this is basically doing what is appropriate for our body. He highly recommends doing this style of yoga.

Famous yoga teacher Dharma Mitra said, “I don’t encourage people to do fancy poses. They are not that important. The goal of yoga is Self-realization: to find out who you are, why you’re here, who God is …”

My yoga teacher was very good. She had neck and other issues, and could not do headstand and many other poses. So what? She is still a good person and a very good teacher. She is a real person teaching yoga for people with real bodies!

This brings me to my next point. Choosing a teacher and yoga style. As mentioned, I teach a style of yoga, Viniyoga, that is very safety oriented. For one thing, it connects movement with breath, so there is good breath awareness, and when there is breath awareness, there is presence, and when we are present, we tend to avoid ego and hurting ourself.

So, when you take a yoga class, pay attention to how you feel. How does your body and mind respond? Does the teacher and style feel safe and good to you? If not, shop around.

It’s important to not just follow orders. If a pose does not feel right, do not do it. Take back your appropriate authority and power. You don’t have to make a scene or do a completely different practice, but never do what feels wrong. Many students get hurt that way. The teacher might not be competent, or maybe they are. We are all unique. There are days when your body is simply not up for a certain pose, in which case, just say no.

Now, let’s switch gears and get into some darker, controversial, but important aspects. One is sexual safety. There have been too many stories of teachers, usually men, preying on or sleeping with their students. I feel this is a big no no.

I do not feel that teachers should date their students. I was pretty good at never doing this, although one time a certain woman invited me out. We had a bit of a connection, but I told her I do not date my students. We later talked and decided that if she discontinued taking my class, we could perhaps go out on a date! That’s what we did, but it still felt a bit weird and we gave up on the idea.

I know of one teacher friend of mine, who also had a student ask her out. She said the same thing, “No, but if you were to stop taking my class ….” She did, they dated, and are now happily married.

Now, mostly here we are talking about group classes and having a teacher. Once we know enough about yoga and our body and our tendencies and our limits, when we are in touch with our own body and needs, we do not really need a teacher. It’s kinda like getting hooked on thinking we need a priest or go between, rather than talking straight with God or Source, which is really the goal or ideal. Or sorta like our dependency on doctors, since we are so out of touch with our own body. There really is nothing like doing our own practice, just the way we need, which may change every day.

Now, let’s get into the most touchy part of this topic of safety. This might make some of us roll our eyes, or even get disgusted with this kind of talk, but I feel it is important.

What has become very apparent these past few years is that we are at war. It is largely a spiritual war, but it seeps down into the physical, psychological and energetic realms.

The problem is, when one does not know he is being warred upon, under attack, this creates a tremendous disadvantage for you, and great advantage for the enemy! There is an enemy, and while we do not want to be afraid of this enemy, we are very wise to be aware of him, her, it.

In truth, many yogis and New Agers are programmed not to see this enemy. We are taught “oneness,” which may be the ultimate reality. But this belief may also hinder our pragmatic ability to see this spiritual and physical reality where we are being warred upon.

I don’t want to get too deep into this, but let me say this. Most or all religions or cultures warned of an evil one. Buddha dealt with Mara. Islam talks of Iblīs (Devil) or Shayān (“the Demon”) and ʿAduw Allah (“Enemy of God”). Zulus speak of Tikolosh, Japanese demons are the oni and the tengu. Mayans talk of Cizin, the Maori Whiro. The Bible has over 30 names for Satan.

So, we have to ask, are all these cultures crazy or paranoid, or is there an enemy to be aware of? I have my answer, and I’ll just say this: once we crack through the programing not to see this enemy—and there is a lot of this programing–you will never go back. It becomes very obvious that a) there is an enemy, and b) we are being warred upon in a plethora of ways.

Now, why do I mention this in regards to yoga and safety?? Well, there are some Christians who say that we cannot do yoga, especially if we are Christians or God lovers. They say that the poses are tributes to Hindu gods or demons, for example. Some say that there are curses on certain poses that when done, invite demonic beings to interfere in our life.

Again, I have become so aware of this enemy, even got to know this evil very personally, and I have come to see how clever this enemy is, that I can’t put anything past him. So, is it possible that yoga rose to such popularity because this enemy was luring us into these poses that unwittingly suck our energy or sell our soul? Well, anything is possible.

But here is my take. Yoga helped me, and I have seen it help countless people. I see the enemy, I am not discounting him, but I think we may be too afraid and cautious and perhaps giving too much power and ground away to him.

It is like we are saying, no one can ever hold their arms like this, or move our body like this, or get into this position, because Satan has authority over those poses. Really?

I am not saying I know the answer here. We are talking about safety, and we have to be aware. We do have to see the war we are in, and see the enemy that is clever and cunning. As mentioned, there is tremendous programing not to see this evil, and even in the yoga world, there is incredible resistance to talking about or acknowledging evil and demons.

This is not about fear, but seeing with clear eyes. We have to stay vigilant of our body and our ego and our lusts and our mind and our desires and true needs.

We can ask, why do I do yoga? How do I do yoga? Am I glorifying my body or God? Am I being programmed in certain ways, either on or off the mat?

In John 8:31–32, Jesus said: “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free”.

Whether or not you are a follower of Jesus, we need to pursue truth and genuine freedom at all costs. The yoga terms most relevant to this discussion are ahimsa (nonviolence) and satya (truth).

We are wise to make these two “yamas” guidelines for life: Am I being nonviolent and truthful to myself and others? Am I aligned with Divine intelligence and truth?

My advice is to meditate or pray that you be shown and led to truth, that you choose for yourself if yoga is appropriate for you and if so, what kind of yoga and teacher is ideal for your deepest goals of truth and freedom.