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Debate Over Yoga Injuries Is Anything But Relaxing

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Is yoga dangerous for you?

A recent article in the New York Times and a newly released book, "The Science of Yoga," have sparked intense debate about the dangers of yoga and have shaken the normally Zen yoga community to its core.

William Broad started the vexing discussion. He's been practicing yoga for 30 years. He's also a science writer for the New York Times.

So, when he decided to study the science of what he loves and write an article about it, the reaction was explosive.

"It was sort of like you lit a fuse and a bomb went off," Broad tells CBS 2's Kate Sullivan.

Twenty million Americans turn to their mats for relaxation and a great workout. But after five years of research, Broad is convinced there are issues. He says that yoga instructors, not surprisingly, have denounced the idea.

"Asking a yoga teacher whether this discipline is likely to cause injuries is sort of like asking Philip Morris whether cigarettes might cause cancer," he says.

Broad says yoga can dislocate hips, puncture lungs and trigger a stroke. His research also suggests that certain postures, such as the head stand, shoulder stand and "Plow," are particularly risky.

"There are arteries that go through vertebrae. You start scrunching around with them, and you start getting clots and those clots start go in to your brain -- presto change-o, you've got a stroke," Broad says.

Dr. Haemi Choi of Chicago has never seen an injury like that but suggests other problems can occur.

The physician says she strained her back while doing an "Upward Facing Dog" pose. It happened when she took a class too advanced for her. New students may push themselves too hard, she says.

Yoga instructor Suddha Weixler says yoga should not be a painful experience.

"Listen to your own body, listen to your own sensations," Weixler says.

The bigger problem, Weixler says, is that there are too many inexperienced instructors out there.

Students and instructors say the benefits outweigh potential risks.

"What I learn in the quietness of a yoga practice, it's how that influences my marriage, it's how it influences me raising my children. It's precious to me," student Carly Carney says.

Yoga can relieve back pain, reduce stress and improve strength and flexibility. It can even reduce falls in the elderly.

Yoga Author William Broad
William Broad, author of "The Science of Yoga." (CBS)

It also helps your body repair itself, which actually can make you younger.

William Broad himself also talks extensively about the benefits of yoga, including anti-aging and a better sex life.

"Done correctly, yoga is a wonderful friend," he says.

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