A Response to “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body”

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.

Yoga

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
say represent 😉
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.
Part 1.
Part 2.
Part  3.
Part 4.
Part 5.
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.

Camel Pose

     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?

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26 thoughts on “A Response to “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body”

  1. irunonpbandk says:

    great post! i saw this article and a lot of backlash articles as well…i, too have not experienced any “egoistic” teachers, or teachers who push me to places i am not able to go to just yet. On the contrary, my teachers make sure i am pushing comfortably enough not to hurt myself, but pushing hard enough to challenge. i think injury comes into play a lot when the person practicing can’t find that right balance of pushing too hard or pushing just enough, and they push themselves over board, resulting in injury. anyways, i thought the article was interesting, but not quite my experience of yoga. its good to see another side, but i really hope that people don’t “judge” yoga on this article or that it deters people from the wonderful practice, because i honestly believe that the benefits far outweigh any of the negatives highlighted int his article!

    Like

    • liverunloveyoga says:

      Thanks! I’m with you on the injuries. Yoga is a lot about balance in so many different ways. I hope people don’t judge yoga on it either or use it as an excuse to why they won’t practice it. Like you said, the benefits outweigh any negatives!

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  2. Lexie says:

    You have to wonder why they feel to attack everything they can find…first the internet, now yoga (lets not worry about the GFC or Global Warming or poverty in Africa.) Sorry. That was besides the point. I see their point in the extremely advanced stand-on-your-head-and-twist-your-leg-234-degrees poses are not the most practical for people who do not practice regularly; but lets face it, who of us do those poses? They seem to be warping everything to make their side of the story work. But I have had two friends having knee surgery from the lotus position, so there is defiantly something to be said for poses that aren’t comfortable but we are encouraged to do. Amateur yoga has helped me immensely (I even grew a centimeter, they say your spine finally elongates) and I feel incredibly calm, and I even believe it’s helped with the depression.

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    • liverunloveyoga says:

      I totally agree with you, it seems as if they did warp it to make their point. I think a lot of people don’t realize how intense some of the poses they are talking about are. I’m glad you have found yoga helpful! It definitely can help with depression. Keep practicing and thanks for reading!

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  3. pure2rawtwins says:

    thank you for sharing this and loved hearing your thoughts. I love yoga! My sister and I have done all types of yoga and had different yoga teachers, but like you said there are some you like and others not as much. But no one ever pressured us. I think yoga is great for the body no matter what this article says, because I have seen it done wonders for mine. Especially my mind!!

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  4. Laura says:

    I read the article and have read similar articles in the past. The issue I take with it is the broad statements. Yes, some people get injured in yoga, for whatever reason. That does not mean that it is dangerous and should be stopped. I’ve also pulled a back muscle reaching into the fridge or rolling over in bed, but I don’t think there will be calls to ban those items anytime soon.

    However, I think there is a difference between studio yoga and gym yoga. I have taken studio yoga in the past but now rely on gym yoga. This works for me because I have basic knowledge from taking classes a studio and body awareness after years of dance. In gym classes, I see large groups of people taking yoga for the first time with often little or no guidance. When you combine ego with lack of knowledge and no corrections from the teacher you are bound to get injuries. Cueing headstand and wheel for newbies is a little scary.

    That being said, I am in no way demonizing gym yoga. I think its a great way to introduce people to a great practice that never would have found it otherwise. But we should be wary of the different climates.

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    • liverunloveyoga says:

      Great response, I agree gym yoga and studio yoga are very different. Gym yoga does offer less guidance and corrections most of the time, however I’ve had a few gym yoga teachers who are amazing. It is definitely important to be aware of the differences. I think everyone should take at least one class from an experience yoga instructor and understand the basic poses and body awareness! Thanks for reading and commenting!

      Like

  5. janetha says:

    I haven’t jumped on the yoga train, but I have only heard GOOD things about it. I have tried Bikram but that is the only type of yoga I have ever tried. I want to get into it, though, because I hear there are great poses to aid in digestion and I have colon problemos. Since I am not educated on the matter, I can’t give my two cents.. but I find it hard to believe something like yoga WRECKS your body. I have only heard good things come from practicing it.

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    • liverunloveyoga says:

      Thanks for reading and commenting! Yes you are right, yoga can aid digestion and there is so much good that comes from it. It’s important to only do poses that you feel help you and to always listen to your body!

      Like

  6. Mary @ food and fun on the run says:

    I really enjoy when articles like this are published. It makes people really think about their practice and whether or not it is right for them. I think that pushing the envelope is great, and it sparks some amazing conversations. I think that no matter what you are involved in, it is just important to listen to your body. There are plenty of people out there that tell us how bad running is for your body, with the day after day pounding. I’m listening to my body, and it is telling me to keep running. Listen to yours, and I bet it will be begging for some yoga 🙂

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    • liverunloveyoga says:

      I love how you related that to running. That is so true. There are always going to be people telling us something we love is bad for us but at the end of the day it is all about moderation and listening to our bodies. Thanks for your comment!

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  7. Madeline says:

    I think like with any “sport” doing something incorrectly can obviously cause injuries but to say that yoga as a whole WRECKS your body? Umm what?? I have been doing yoga for years and I love how it makes my body, mind, and self feel. I appreciate your reaction to the article and I think they are both fair and balanced. Thanks for sharing!

    Like

  8. David says:

    Thank you for a very sensible post. The NYT article was sensationalistic, in my opinion, and because of that it misrepresented its subject. I’ve been practicing for twenty years and teaching for seven, and I’ve seen none of the horror stories. I don’t doubt that there are some, but the article makes it seem like the norm. The fact that in this country we sensationalize and commercialize and glamorize just about everything may be the biggest challenge yoga faces here. If we let yoga become about performance and ego, then we will miss the point entirely. Yoga teachers have to fight that fight. We have to do our very best to teach our students that yoga is a personal practice that is essentially about moving away from self-centeredness. The fact that some have that twisted isn’t surprising, that’s just the way we are. That’s fine; we start where we are. Thank you for a very clear-eyed post.

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    • liverunloveyoga says:

      Thank you so much for your comment. This is exactly the conversation I hoped would start! I love how you said yoga teachers will have to fight the fight to keep yoga from being glamorized and sensationalized and become about our egos. You are so spot on!

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  9. Caitlin C. says:

    The article totally doesn’t ruin yoga for me! I think it is just a new perspective that people aren’t used to seeing. No one is used to hearing injuries being associated with yoga. I don’t think the author was trying to say yoga was bad and I also don’t think he thinks yoga is harmful, just that it CAN be. When things like this come out, people tend to interpret opinions in more extreme terms, as good or bad only. I’m sure the author also sees benefits to yoga, but since cons haven’t been brought to light, he was trying to write about yoga from a perspective that hasn’t been done yet. Hey, I can respect him for that and for doing something new, especially as a writer. I’ve read 1,000,000 articles on the benefits of yoga. But none that take this view. I will continue my own practice, which BENEFITS me. I won’t let the article affect my own yoga practice!

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    • liverunloveyoga says:

      It is a completely new perspective to yoga and I appreciate them for pointing out the injuries. It certainly helps yoga to grow, evolve and become better. I should also say alot of the poses they use to cite the injuries are pretty advanced and not many of us would ever do them! Keep on practicing so long as it helps your body! Thanks for your thoughts!

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  10. Jen says:

    I love that you wrote this. I read this article when it was published; however, i’m not one to just “read and believe.” It was food for thought. I also don’t think it would be fair to say I “practice” yoga, I do it every once in a while (working on making it a more consistent part of my routine). But what I got most out of the article, was the ego bit. Not from any instructor I’ve had, but internally. I think some of this could be dissuaded if the instructor took time during the class to remind people (especially Americans with that egotistical competitiveness ingrained in them) *throughout* the class that yoga is not about “keeping up with the joneses.” But keeping in touch with your inner self.

    I’ve found that doing some gentle yoga videos at home, as opposed to class, kind of helps. I have a base knowledge of the simple poses, but I’m not trying to “compete” or “look like I know what I’m doing.” I won’t stop doing yoga, but hopefully i’ll continue to remind myself to look inward, instead of outward, during practice!

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    • liverunloveyoga says:

      Thank you! Yes, I agree with you. I got the ego bit of it out the most as well. I also agree that yoga instructors should remind people to look within and focus on their own practice. It is all about being in touch with your inner self as you said. I think if you find practicing at home to be best for you then keep on doing it! And yes, look inward not outward.

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  11. Tara Burner says:

    I saw mention of it, but avoided reading the article since I don’t believe it wrecks bodies…I have done yoga for years…it helps w/my back big time and so many other benefits..and I don’t put negative nonsense into my brain so I still haven’t read the article…I love yoga, will always love yoga and am working on my certification 🙂

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    • liverunloveyoga says:

      Tara, the benefits are so numerous it’s too hard to count. I’m with you, I love yoga and will always love yoga but I love to learn and as I enter my yoga teacher training I think it is my responsibility to be well-rounded and understand how we can improve the practice. Nothing is perfect!

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