Yoga classes are offered everywhere from traditional studios to health clubs to community centers. Unfortunately, “there’s more demand for yoga than there are qualified teachers,” says Barbara Benagh, a nationally recognized yoga teacher and director of the Yoga Studio in Boston.

Students should be aware of the potential hazards of yoga, and carefully assess whether yoga is right for them.

Trusting Your Teacher

“Almost anyone can get a ‘weekend certificate’ to teach yoga,” says Mara Carrico, a San Diego-based yoga instructor, author of Yoga Journal’s Yoga Basics, and spokesperson for the American Council on Exercise. “That’s just not enough.”

Do not be afraid to ask yoga instructors about their training, how long they have been teaching, and how long they have been practicing. You should also ask the studio or health club about their teacher requirements and screening methods. Unqualified teachers may increase your risk for doing a posture incorrectly, pushing beyond your abilities, or performing poses inappropriate for your health and fitness level.

Safety First

Yoga classes come in many forms and many levels. Start with a beginner class instead of rushing into advanced power yoga. Shop around for the class that is right for you.

Once in class, the standard mantra holds true: listen to your own body and do what feels right.

All students should be cautious and pay attention to any joint pain, but if you have had any injuries, surgery, or have a history of pain, let your instructor know. A good instructor should ask students about joint problems and suggest alternative postures if necessary. Proper alignment is key to protecting your joints in many postures. Allow your instructor to adjust you, and if something feels wrong, ask for help.

If you are pregnant or have hypertension, a heart condition, or any other pertinent medical history, inform your instructor at the beginning of class and ask if you should take any precautions. Make sure your doctor knows what activities you are involved in including yoga.

The Hot Zone

Many yoga classes are conducted in rooms heated to 100 degrees or more. Hot yoga can be a wonderful, sweaty, challenging experience. But it can also pose risks beyond those of regular yoga.

Pregnant women and people with hypertension or heart disease should avoid hot yoga—it is too intense. But even if you are perfectly healthy (and not pregnant), be wary. You get so warm in a heated room that you can have what Benagh calls a “false sense of flexibility.” This can lead to muscle injury if you push yourself too far. And you will be sweating quite a bit, so drink plenty of water before and after class to avoid dehydration.

Make sure that the room in which you practice is clean and well-kept. “So much heat and sweat in a room that’s not well ventilated can create a breeding ground for bacteria,” Benagh says.

Even in non-heated rooms, shared mats—especially those that are not cleaned and replaced regularly—could have festering bacteria. Consider purchasing a mat of your own.

Yoga provides a great workout, as well as a means for relaxation. It also offers therapeutic value for many disorders. It is a good workout for most everyone, just be sure you take the necessary precautions before heading into lotus.