Hi All! A couple of weeks ago an article was published in The New York Times. Written by William J. Broad it was titled How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body. The article is pretty long but I encourage you to read it. Since the article came out there has been a lot of backlash. The yoga community has reacted and the rest of the world including the Boston Globe and Huffington Post.
Basically the article is citing numerous injuries among yogis and yoginis claiming that yoga should not be practiced by the masses. Glenn Black, a yoga instructor of almost four decades, was interviewed for the article. He studied with B.K.S. Iyengar and in India and lives in Rhinebeck, NY. He teaches in Manhattan and at the Omega Institute. The article talks about how people come to yoga as a gentle alternative to rehabilitate after injury and rigorous physical activity. They come to yoga and experience pulled muscles, popped ribs, torn Achilles tendons, degenerated hips and more. He also claims that shoulder stands and head stands are too rough on the neck. He cites that neck issues, back pain, nerve damage and even stroke can be tied back to yoga. He also cites that the number of emergency room visits related to yoga has slowly increased. His reasoning for all of this is that Americans are practicing yoga in larger numbers.
-the number of Americans doing yoga has risen from about 4 million in 2001 to what some estimate to be as many as 20 million in 2011-
He claims that Americans sit at desks all day and walk into yoga studios a few times a week and expect to do advanced yoga poses. Yogis historically have sat crossed legged or in lotus poses for hours each day and poses and asanas are grown out of them. They also discuss how we let our egos get in the way of our practice and yoga instructors let their egos come into the practice and it forces people into deeper poses than their body can handle. The article is rather long and detailed and I encourage you to read it but that’s a short summary of it.
The backlash has been strong. This statement was made in an article written in the Huffington Post.
It’s almost as if the rug has been ripped out of a blissful state of yoga perfection.
And the Boston Globe published a story yesterday talking about how non-yogis are rejoicing over the article.
Now that the unspoken commandment – Thou Shall Not Speak Ill of Yoga – has been broken, the yoga-free say, the shame of never having done the child’s pose has been eliminated.
Gone, too, is the need to splurge on lululemon yoga pants, to buy Groupons for yoga classes that will never be taken, the pressure to resolve, New Year after New Year, to do a downward-facing dog.
And a simple Google search, “how yoga wrecks your body” turns up 28 news articles from yesterday alone. Obviously the reaction is big. I received an email from South Boston Yoga Wednesday. South Boston Yoga is the studio where I regularly practice and plan to attend my yoga teacher training. David Vendetti is one of the owners and my favorite instructor. He views yoga as an evolution. He teaches in parts, so maybe if your new you will only do part 1 of a pose. If you have been practicing for a year or so you may move to part 2 or 3 of a pose. And only after years of practice would you move to part 4 or 5. He encourages you to celebrate the little victories. Maybe it’s just learning your hip position when doing headstands, or bringing your forearms to the floor. He never pushes you to a deeper pose if you aren’t ready. In fact, he often tells people they aren’t ready for a pose or will back them out of a pose if necessary. Here is just a snippet of his email:
I have been practicing yoga for over 20 years now and I know that the benefits far far exceed the risks. In a field where athletes, cancer patients, special needs kids+adults, pregnant women and people struggling with addiction and health can all find something miraculous. We need to ask ourselves, do we let something like this article squash our belief and enthusiasm, or do we rise up and represent what we know to be true? I
South Boston Yoga also posted a 5 part lecture on YouTube. They discussed the article in teacher training. I think you should all watch them. They discuss each of the allegations technically and the different responses from the likes of B.K.S. Iyengar.
So your probably wondering what is my response and the response of LiveRunLoveYoga to all of this?
I am not a certified yoga teacher and I think it is important that I start by saying that. I’m not trained yet to know how each pose can really affect your body. All I can reflect on is my 3 years of practice and what I have learned from my own yoga practice and from the wonderful yoga teachers I’ve learned from.
I think the attacks on yoga teachers in the article are intense. The claims that instructors bring their ego into the practice is not something I have ever experienced. I’ve taken many yoga classes and there have been teachers along the way I haven’t particular liked. I have never met a yoga teacher who encouraged me to try a pose because “I should be ready” or “I am flexible enough”. If I haven’t wanted to go into a pose, or it doesn’t feel good for some reason they work with me to modify the pose so I am comfortable and it is helpful not harmful to my body. My feeling is that it is the responsibility of a yogi or yogini to research yoga certification programs. They should only chose programs that are Yoga Alliance Certified and have a minimum of 200 hours of training. They should look to find a program that will teach them yoga in-depth and the intricacies of each poses. If they seek to teach yoga but do not understand yoga and the poses they are doing a disservice to themselves and the community.
Yoga, like any other sport or physical activity, requires you to have an understanding of your body. I’ve been an athlete for years and years. From high-school to college to present day. I’ve learned to understand my body. I know that I have a tight lower back, my hips and periformis are always tight because I run, and I know that my hamstrings are tight which causes my quads to be tight. I know this about my body, it is why I like yoga. I’ve found poses and flows that help to strengthen those weak areas and stretch them. I do not do a pose that is uncomfortable, painful or anything in between or surrounding those two words. I think of it like this, if it hurt every time you put your foot on the ground would you do it? Likely not, you’d stop and rest it and go to the doctor. Why should yoga be any different? If a pose hurts you should stop and rest it. And if it continually hurts you should see a doctor. Yoga is not a cure-all. Yoga can help you but you need to help yourself first. It is the practitioners responsibility to listen to your body and do what is best for your own body.
I do agree with the article. I honestly believe that ego gets in the way. I’ve been class after class where we move into an advanced pose, like headstand or crow or wheel and you see the girl 3 mats away look around at everyone and then decide what to do. She’s letting her ego get in the way. She is not listening to her inner self. You need to leave your ego at the door when you practice yoga. Yoga is not about ego. Yoga is about you, your body, your journey. If your going to practice, accept that and keep your eyes and practice on your own mat. Trust me, it’s not a competition.
The article talks about the different styles of yoga. If you’re seeking a restorative yoga because you have shoulder injuries you should not be taking a power yoga class. It does not make sense for your body. Understand the different yoga classes. If the class description doesn’t help you, call and ask the studio. Find the correct class for your needs. I wrote an article
a week ago about the different styles if you need some simple clarification.
Lastly, I’m thankful for this article. Yoga is relatively young. It is less than 100 years old. And nothing is ever perfect. If it is flawed then we should take a look at it and understand our flaws so we can grow from them and become better and stronger. It’s been interesting reading the original article and the follow-up articles by the likes of B.K.S. Iyengar and others. It’s preached again and again that yoga is a journey, so I think it is good we are looking at yoga, yoga instructors and practitioners and ensuring we are evolving. This article did not change yoga for me, it just further solidified it as the practice I knew it was. Yoga is a journey, for my body and not any one else’s. And it doesn’t matter what is happening two mats down or if I fall out of a pose or if I can do a forearm stand. It matters that I listen to my body and do what is best for me and my own personal practice. And it matters that I treat my body as a temple and if a pose, or a food or a drug harms me in any way, I will not subject myself to it.
What are your thoughts on this article? Have you seen this in the news? Have you reflected back on it and your own yoga practice? Do you choose the correct class for you and treat your body well while practicing? Does this article ruin yoga for you?