Sunday, December 23, 2012

Yoga Practice Tips for the Holidays, Part 3: YouTube Videos

Another idea for practicing yoga during the holidays or at any time is to follow along with these Iyengar Yoga YouTube videos.

There aren't many YouTube videos of Iyengar Yoga sequences that I'd recommend for practicing to, but there are a few that I think are good.

This first video is a simple 30 minute sequence taught by Iyengar Yoga teacher, David McLaughlan. While I don't recommend this for those of you in my Gentle Yoga classes, it will be a nice, basic sequence for the rest of you.

Some of the instructions will be very familiar to those of you who come to my classes, although some are a little different. It's good to see / hear how other people teach (I stand behind my instructions, though!)

Work to your own ability and use props to maintain good alignment in your postures.

Those of you who don't practice Iyengar Yoga -- no, this is not a sequence for getting a good "work out".  These poses are done in a deliberate manner, working toward optimal alignment. 

There are also a number of videos of Senior Iyengar Yoga teacher, John Schumacher, teaching one pose per video. On YouTube, search:
 John Schumacher teaches yoga
(or click on the link) for the selection of videos.

The poses included many of the standing poses you're familiar with (those of you who practice Iyengar Yoga), and also Adho mukha svanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose), and the inversions Sarvangasana and Sirsasana (shoulderstand, head stand). His instructions are excellent and his poses are superb!

I highly encourage you all to view these videos!

 I've also pulled together 7 of these videos on the page Seven Basic Standing Yoga Poses.

For those of you who are more adventurous,  I just discovered a few short videos by a student of Iyengar Yoga teacher, Carrie Owerko.  This student shows a recap of class sequences.  I'm intrigued by these!   Many of these sequences I've never seen before.   If you practice any of them, let me know how it goes!

Iyengar Class Sequence 9/20/12 - Interesting use of the wall for Ardha chandrasana, Virabhadrasana I, and more.
Chair Salabhasana  -- Hands on chair for Salabhasana (I have practiced this, but haven't taught it recently).
Iyengar Yoga Class Sequence 11/24/12 Part 1 -- Adho mukha svanasana, eka pada adho mukha svanasana, and a very unusual variation that I've never tried.
Iyengar Yoga Class Sequence 11/24/12 Part 2 -- Supta padangustasana with some unusual variations (moving into Anantasana, and a prone Padangustasana)
Restorative Class Recap, 11/29/12 -- 13 minutes

Friday, December 21, 2012

Yoga Practice Tips for the Holidays, Part 2: DVDs

 In Yoga Practice Tips for the Holidays, Part 1, I gave you a link for viewing and downloading a series of Iyengar Yoga practice sequences.   These sequences may be all you need for your own home practice. 

Another suggestion for practicing that you might enjoy is to follow along with a yoga DVD.   The benefits from a good yoga DVD is that you'll be given instructions for doing the poses, sometimes with suggestions for modifications and the use of props. 

There aren't many Iyengar Yoga DVDs unfortunately, but you might enjoy trying out DVDs that present different styles of yoga.

Check out your local library for yoga DVDs.   My local library, the Ann Arbor District Library has a number of yoga DVDs to choose from.  

Here is a sampling of DVDs to take a look at (the "More info" takes you to each DVD's Amazon page):

The first one, Yoga for Beginners with Patricia Walden is a nice, slow-paced beginning level Iyengar Yoga DVD.  
Yoga for Inflexible People includes poses taught in the Iyengar Yoga style with suggestions for props for modifications for stiff people. It also includes some flow yoga routines.
The Rodney Yee Power Yoga DVD is for those of you who really want a "work-out". Rodney Yee isn't an Iyengar Yoga teacher, although he started as one.
The last DVD, Yoga for the Rest of Us, is one of a series of Gentle Yoga DVD's by Peggy Cappy.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Yoga Practice Tips for the Holidays, Part 1: Practice Sequence Sheets

What do you do when your yoga class isn't taught for a week or two, such as during the holiday season?   Many of my students come back after the holidays (or after vacation or illness) saying how much they missed their yoga classes, and how stiff they are now, and how glad they are that their yoga class is back in session again.

I'm glad that people miss their yoga classes, and are eager to get back again!   But I also hope that people will take some time to practice on their own in between classes, especially if there's a break of a week or more.   Some of you do practice, but I know that many don't.

Over the next few days, I plan to post a few suggestions for practicing on your own during the holiday season, or for any time you can't attend classes for awhile.   I hope that these ideas will spur you on to practicing at home in between your regular classes as well, and not just during holiday breaks.

Those of you who get the Harmony Yoga of Ann Arbor eNewsletter will have already seen this suggestion:

On the IYNAUS (Iyengar Yoga National Association of the United States) site, there are links to practice sequences that you can print out or save to your computer:

Sequences for Yoga Practice (These are pdf files.)

There are four Level 1 sequences, and four Level 2 sequences.    Use these as guidelines for your own practice.   You may not do all of the poses on a sequence, and you might not be able to do the poses as shown.   If you've been taking classes from me for awhile, you'll probably remember how to modify these poses so they are appropriate for your own practice.  Use props as necessary, as we do in class.  For the Gentle Yoga group, use walls and chairs for support.   Ask me before or after class if you're not sure how to modify these poses.

On the sequences there are suggested timings for holding the poses.  You might hold for much shorter times, or you might decide to hold for longer if you're working on stamina.  Don't hold so long that you feel strain in the poses.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Day After Thanksgiving Class Nearly Full

Since I can't currently post successfully to Harmony Yoga's Facebook page, I'm hoping a few of you see this here instead:

The Day After Thanksgiving Yoga Class is nearly full, and may not be able to fit in drop-ins.  If you're interested in attending and haven't already registered, please contact me.

 In any case, have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Interview / YouTube video of Senior Iyengar Yoga Teacher Dean Lerner

This video of an interview with Senior Iyengar Yoga teacher, Dean Lerner, is well worth watching and listening to a number of times.

A few of the comments that Dean makes that especially resonate with me include:
  • When Dean first started reading Light on Yoga by B.K.S. Iyengar, he said he was like a thirsty man in the desert, and reading Light on Yoga was like drinking water for his soul.
  • When Dean Lerner wrote to Guruji (B.K.S. Iyengar) with questions about the poses in Light on Yoga, Dean said he can't do the poses like Guruji does in the book -- that they're uncomfortable.  Iyengar wrote back saying, "I’m not concerned with your comfort but with the precision in which you do the poses."   This made an impression on Dean.  Comfort is not the point in the poses, but how we're moving in the poses, and how our consciousness is moving, so we face the difficulties properly.
  • The postures are used to affect the mind.  When we learn to quiet the mind, we're on the road to bliss.  We start to find that unity within ourselves.
  • If we're not alert to how we practice, we lean toward practicing what is easy for us, and avoiding that which is difficult.    We need to develop an even state of mind for all poses, easy and difficult.   We need to find where the difficulties lie so we can overcome them.
  • Practicing and observing our consciousness leads us inward to the core of our being.
  • Long, uninterrupted, and intelligent practice is how we progress in our study of yoga.   At first the practice of yoga is a discipline, but with continued long, uninterrupted, intelligent practice, it becomes a passion.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Can We Achieve the Perfect Pose?

Can we achieve the perfect asana, or yoga pose?   What is the perfect yoga pose?  Is it important to work toward the perfect pose?  

The "ideal" classical form of any pose, as shown by high level yoga practitioners, won't be accessible in that same form by most people, especially those who are older and stiffer, or who have various health and mobility issues.  They'd injure themselves if they forced their bodies to conform to what we might consider "the perfect pose"!   But that doesn't mean they should stop working toward the ideal pose for their own body, even though the shape or emphasis of that ideal pose will change over time.

That makes sense, of course.   Consider the poses you see on the cover of Yoga Journal, or in the YJ calendar.  These are beautiful poses done by young, fit people.   But as we age, our body obviously changes, and our strength and flexibility will diminish.  But our awareness of our bodies grows as we continue our practice, and we can work more intelligently in the poses even though we might not be as strong or flexible as we once were.

In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, two sutras especially speak to this:
II: 46 Sthira sukham asanam
Or as translated by B.K.S. Iyengar in Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, "Asana is perfect firmness of body, steadiness of intelligence, and benevolence of spirit."  He comments that, "whatever asana is performed, it should be done with a feeling of firmness, steadiness and endurance in the body, goodwill in the intelligence of the head, and awareness and delight in the intelligence of the heart." and "in any asana, the body has to be toned and the mind tuned so that one can stay longer with a firm body and a serene mind."

II:47 Prayatna saithilya ananta samapattibhyam
or "Perfection in an asana is achieved when the effort to perform it becomes effortless and the infinite being within is reached."   He goes on to say, "perfection must be attained through perseverance, alertness and insight. Without these we remain dull and make no progress."    But the struggle to perform the asana is gone, while we maintain our firmness of body, intelligence of mind and benevolence of spirit.  There's a balance between effort and relaxation (such that it is) in the pose.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

How to Be a Good Yoga Student

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali IFor awhile I've been mulling over what I think the characteristics are that define a good yoga student.   Being a good yoga student doesn't necessarily mean being able to do all of the yoga poses well, but it's more of an attitude of respect and a willingness to keep an open mind and to try your best in class that's important to me.

Here's a page I recently wrote on this:

Most of it is very practical advice.  Read through it and see which guidelines you follow and which you could do better with.

Some of these guidelines and ideas may not be as important in some yoga classes as in others, but they'll give you a good starting point for how to be a good yoga student in the classes you take.

Are there other guidelines for being a good yoga student that make sense to you?
Yoga / Meditation Poster

Monday, July 23, 2012

Yoga Practice Sequences

It's a great idea to find time for your own yoga practice in between the classes you take. 

It's an even better idea when your yoga classes aren't taught for awhile.

I'm on vacation this week, and I know many of you miss your yoga classes.  I'm glad you do!  But do consider practicing on your own this week, even if you don't normally do so.

Most of you who've taken classes with me for awhile have seen these practice sequence sheets that you can print out, but here's the link again:
Yoga Sequences for Practicing.

Have a good week, have a good practice (practice more than once!), and I look forward to seeing you all next week.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Standing Pose Class

As a way to bring a few more people into my Wednesday evening yoga classes this summer (since it had been woefully small most of this past spring), I'm trying something new and offering it as a Focus on Standing Poses class.

The response so far has been very good!   A few people are strongly urging that I continue this class in the fall.

The minimum suggested requirement for this class is at least a full session (7 - 8 weeks) of a Level 1 Iyengar Yoga class so the basics of these poses are already familiar.  There's a little less talk and demonstrating on my part (there is still some though!), and more doing.    For each  1-1/2 hour class there's 50 - 60 minutes of standing poses with a few other poses to round out the sequence, including inversions (headstand, shoulderstand) according to one's own capabilities.

We start to learn standing poses as beginning yoga students, and we continue to come back to them, refining them and adding a few more difficult ones as we become more experienced.

When we're new to yoga, learning and practicing the standing poses helps us to learn how our arms and legs work to bring the body into the general shapes of different positions.  As we become more accustomed to these shapes, we can fine-tune, or go deeper, into these poses, both physically and mentally.

Practicing the standing poses gives us a good foundation for practicing other categories of yoga poses.  They include all spinal movements - forward and backward, sideways, and twisting.   The standing poses also make us more active.  As Geeta Iyengar says in Basic Guidelines for Teachers of Yoga:
"The standing asanas break the tamasic, inert, lazy nature of the body and bring activeness in the practitioner.  The practitioner becomes accustomed to various movements otherwise unknown to him/her.  The standing asanas correct the structure and the posture of the person and develop the sense of balance and proper weight distribution."
Our standing pose class continues to meet on these Wednesdays -  July 30, Aug. 1, and Aug. 8 (2012), 6:00 -- 7:30pm.   If you enjoy standing poses, come join us then!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Musings and ramblings -- yoga classes aren't often "one-size-fits-all"

One of the beauties of Iyengar Yoga is that it can be adapted for specific needs so that most people can practice and benefit from it.  Under the right circumstances, and with the right skilled teacher, I believe that anyone who is interested can safely practice this system of yoga. 

That's not to say that any particular Iyengar yoga class will be able to accommodate anyone who comes to that class.   Certain classes will focus more on general beginning level skills, while others are geared toward experienced practitioners of Iyengar Yoga.    Some classes may be structured for yoga students who need a more gentle and supported approach to the practice of yoga poses, while other classes may be very vigorous and difficult.

The classes aren't "one-size-fits-all" classes.   They can't be.   Beginners need to learn basic elements of this practice before moving on to higher level classes, and more developed students need the opportunity to go deeper into their practice, under the watchful eye of a good teacher.  Students with physical difficulties, disabilities, or chronic health conditions do better with a more careful approach to the practice of yoga.

A teacher can't do justice to all of her or his students if the range of abilities and needs within a class is too wide.  Of course it wouldn't be fair to a new beginner with mobility issues to be expected to keep up in a class of a vigorous sequence of jumpings, arm balances, and long inversions.  But it also wouldn't be fair to more experienced students to have a new student who's not experienced in a particular style of yoga, such as Iyengar Yoga, expect to join them in an advanced class while not knowing the basic elements of that system.

If you're new to yoga and want to take a class, check the requirements for the different classes.   If you have yoga experience, but want to try a different style of yoga, also check the class requirements.     You may be very skilled, strong, and flexible in a certain yoga practice, but you may not know enough to do well in a higher level class of another yoga system (and you might not know enough to realize you're not doing well...).  Yes, a good teacher can handle a wide range of abilities, but you'd be doing the rest of the class a disservice if the teacher has to focus most of her attention on helping you because you don't have the required background for that class.   You might even look a little foolish if you're in over your head and don't know it.  Ask the teacher if you're not sure if a certain class is appropriate for you and your experience level.  Don't feel insulted if the teacher wants you to take a lower level class at first.  Ultimately you will be more grounded in the basics of that yoga system, rather than superficially trying to practice at a more advanced level.

Different styles of yoga have different expectations in classes.  Do your homework to get a good sense of these expectations, especially if you're thinking of trying a style that is new to you.  Be humble and don't expect to jump into the highest level class, even if you are very skilled in another method.  You will ultimately learn more this way.

Think of it this way -- a fiddle player will have very different skills from a symphony violinist.  They both may be excellent in their area of practice, but they wouldn't expect to be able to switch venues without going back to a more basic practice first.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

How well do you know your yoga pose names?  Do you remember their English names?  Do you know them in Sanskrit?

Some time ago I created an online page, Quiz Yourself on Yoga Pose Names, with three short Yoga Pose Quizzes.   Each quiz is only 8 questions.

  • The first quiz is English Names of Yoga Standing Poses
  • The second quiz is on the English names of 8 more poses
  • The third quiz is on the Sanskrit names for 8 poses.
The first quiz is the easiest, while the second and third quizzes are a little more difficult.  Test yourself to see how well you know your yoga poses!

As I mentioned on the page, they can be "open book" quizzes.

You can search the web for different sites that show yoga poses and their names, such as .

Or you might have your own yoga books that you can check for the English and Sanskrit names for yoga poses.

My suggestions for good books for learning more about yoga poses, including their English and Sanskrit names are any of these excellent Iyengar Yoga books:

Monday, April 30, 2012

Head forward position causes strain on body
One of my Facebook friends posted this image last week, and I figured that I needed to show this to all my yoga classes.   Some of you saw it, and it made quite an impression on a number of you!

This image shows that the further forward we keep our heads, the more it feels like it weighs.  This puts strain on the rest of the body.

This common condition is given its own name, Forward Head Position (FHP).    I'm sure you've seen many people with this condition, and there's a good chance that many of you exhibit this condition too.   It's very common in our society -- many of us sit hunched at a desk in front of computers for hours at a time, or slouched while driving or walking.   We're not taught to stand up straight like many people were taught to 50 - 60 years ago.

The article Forward Head Posture and the Pain it Causes tells us the effects of FHP on the whole body.  The human head weighs between 8 and 12 pounds.  When it's balanced well on top of the rest of our body, it doesn't feel like it weighs too much, but for each inch forward it comes, the "relative weight of the head over the body doubles" due to the effect of gravity.

When the head stays forward of the shoulders, the rest of the body has to compensate:  The upper back rounds out more and the hips tilt forward.   All of this puts stress and strain on the body, and results in all sorts of problems.

Of course there's much more stress on the neck, shoulders, and back from FHP.  The article mentioned above lists a number of health conditions that can be caused or made worse from Forward Head Position including:
  • Headaches, migraines
  • Tempero-mandibular joint pain (TMJ)
  • Asthma and allergies
  • Poor sleep
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Reduces lung capacity and blood flow
  • Spinal degeneration
If all you get out of your yoga classes is improved posture with the head balanced evenly on top of your body, you'll be ahead of the game!

Many of our yoga poses require an upright posture to do the poses well.   We learn a good upright posture first in tadasana (mountain pose).   Chest up, shoulders and head back, shoulder blades in, buttocks down so the low back doesn't over curve. 

See you in class!

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Yoga Home Practice Ideas for You

While Harmony Yoga of Ann Arbor is on break next week, April 2 - 7, 2012, that doesn't mean that you need to go without yoga.

Yes, you know I'm going to tell you to practice at home!

Some of you already do -- wonderful!  Keep it up!   If you don't have a home practice, consider starting one now, even if it's for just 10 - 15 minutes a day, a couple times a week.   

Many of you commented that the classes I taught this past week were difficult -- some backbending work with an emphasis on arms, shoulders, and upper backs.

Backbending poses are often difficult for most people, and they don't get any easier if we don't practice them, or practice the elements that will lead to more open shoulders, stronger arms, and more flexible upper backs.

Consider practicing a few Adho mukha svanasanas (downward facing dog pose) and also stretch your arms overhead with a few of the different arm positions we practiced this past week.  Remember Gomukhasana arms?  (clasping hands behind you, one arm up and back, one arm reaches down and back)    Lie over a rolled blanket or rolled towels to help you open your chest and create more mobility in your upper back.   Then practice Salabhasana (locust pose) and Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (upward facing dog pose).   Do you remember the leg work we did with these poses?   (roll thighs in, tailbone down, to stabilize the low back)   Those of you who can, do Urdhva dhanurasana (upward bow pose...the backbend where you push up from the floor).

Other practice ideas:
IYNAUS (Iyengar Yoga National Association of the United States) has practice sequences available for you to print out, courtesy of The Iyengar Yoga Institute of New York.   There are four Level I sequences and four Level II sequences in pdf form.
IYAGNY Sequences for Practice

For inspiration, and for ideas for starting your own home yoga practice, read The Importance of a Yoga Home Practice.

Books I recommend:
If you're serious about your own practice, these following books are useful resources.   I have most of these at the studio -- you can take a look at them there.

You might be able to find these books at Crazy Wisdom, Nicola's Books, or Barnes and Nobles in Ann Arbor.  Also, of course, on Amazon.

Yoga: The Iyengar Way by Silva, Mira, and Shyam Mehta
How to Use Yoga: A Step by Step Guide to the Iyengar Method by Mira Mehta
Light on Yoga by B.K.S. Iyengar
Yoga: A Gem for Women by Geeta Iyengar
The Tree of Yoga by B.K.S. Iyengar

The first two, in my opinion, are the most accessible for beginning students, and will be useful as you progress. The second two, Light on Yoga (B.K.S. Iyengar), and Yoga: A Gem for Women (Geeta Iyengar), are invaluable for the serious Iyengar Yoga student, and The Tree of Yoga, by B.K.S. Iyengar, will give you an easy-to-read overview of the philosophy of yoga

Yoga DVDs
I really wish there'd be more Iyengar Yoga DVDs, but there aren't that many that are strictly Iyengar Yoga.      Here are a few DVDs to consider:

Yoga for Beginners with Barbara Benagh
A.M. Yoga for Your Week with Rodney Yee
Flexibility Yoga with Patricia Walden
Yoga for Inflexible People
Yoga for the Rest of Us with Peggy Cappy

Barbara Benagh (first DVD) has a background in Iyengar Yoga, but also from other styles of yoga.  Same with Rodney Yee (second DVD).   Patricia Walden is one of the top two certified Iyengar Yoga teachers in the U.S.  Yoga for Inflexible People has three disks.  The first disk shows poses taught and modified in the Iyengar Yoga style.  Yoga for the Rest of Us is accessible to the "average" person who may be older, stiffer, and a little weaker :-)

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Virabhadrasana II -- Warrior 2 Pose

Virabhadrasana II (from

Last week most of our classes were practicing Virabhadrasana II, or Warrior Pose 2 (shown left), with an emphasis on keeping the trunk upright and the sides evenly extended.  

Of course the legs and arms are important too -- the bent leg at a right angle, the back leg firm and straight, and the arms extended horizontally.  But we were focusing more on keeping the trunk upright and the shoulders and hips squared off with each other.

As many of you experienced, it can be very difficult to keep all aspects of this pose (or any pose!) going.  

I found a couple of photos online that represent two common variances to the upright trunk position (and made them into line drawings, to keep the people anonymous!).

These are reasonable poses -- not bad -- but compare them to the photo at the top.

This first line drawing shows what many of us do -- we don't quite get the full right angle bend for the front leg, and the trunk is leaning a little over the front leg.  
The second line drawing shows a good bend for the front leg, and the shoulders are mostly over the hips, but the right side of the torso (her bend leg is her right leg) is longer than the left side, because her hips are tipping to the right; her right hip is lower than her left.

Still, it's a pretty good pose.   Both drawings show that the hips are a little tight.   This is very common to many of us!

What does your Virabhadrasana II look like?   How can you tell?

This is where a full length mirror can help you.   You might feel that your trunk is upright and your front leg is in a right angle, but the mirror may show differently.  

A point of focus is at the upper outer thigh where it meets the hip socket for the back leg (the straight leg).  It has to hinge inward more than we think.  We rarely use our legs that way, and the hip will be unfamiliar with that action.    Keeping an awareness of the hips directly under the shoulders, and the shoulders directly over the hips as you bend your front knee is also necessary. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Yoga training, 1968 Bombay, from Louis Malle's documentary Bomaby 1969

This is a fascinating video of B.K.S. Iyengar teaching yoga in 1968, in Bombay. Look at the mix of younger and older students (there's at least one child, and at least one rather old man). Look at how they're doing Sirsasana (headstand) in the middle of the room. And look at how the neck is extended in Sirsasana in the man shown at 2:30. He's not going to hurt himself in headstand. (I'm of course thinking of that recent NYT article saying how people will hurt themselves in scary poses such as headstand and shoulderstand -- not if they're taught well!)

Even back in the late 1960's, Iyengar and his students show such wonderful extension through the arms, legs, and trunk, keeping their chests open and well-lifted.

There's a vibrancy to the poses as taught in the Iyengar Yoga method (and as shown in this video) that I don't see in many of the other "styles" of yoga that are commonly taught today.

I can tell when "experienced" yoga students come to Harmony Yoga for the first time, whether or not their experience is in Iyengar Yoga. If their yoga background is from another method, there's rarely the extension and vibrancy that we see in poses from experienced Iyengar Yoga students.

(P.S. Iyengar gets his "right" and "left" instructions confused in this video, while he's "mirroring" Virabhadrasana II -- as many of us yoga instructors also do from time to time!)

Friday, February 3, 2012

Good Explanation of "What is Iyengar Yoga" -- Iyengar Yoga in South Africa

This is a well-done 9 minute video of South African Iyengar Yoga teacher, Judy Farah, explaining what Iyengar Yoga is. She talks about the philosophy, history, and benefits from practicing this style of yoga.

Judy mentions that she has been practicing yoga since she was quite young, but it was when she was about 40 years old that she experienced Iyengar Yoga for the first time, and she knew this was the style that she was meant to continue with.

Her characterization of Iyengar yoga is that the practice of yoga asanas (postures) in this method is more precise than in other methods, and the poses are held for longer.

Judy gives a good overview of why B.K.S. Iyengar introduced the use of props in this method of yoga:
B.K.S. Iyengar was seeing that people were doing the postures incorrectly, and often injuring themselves, but if they were made to use props for support and assistance, people were able to develop better alignment in the poses, with less chance of injury, and with greater benefits.

Judy also reminds us that the practice of yoga is not just physical. This practice affects us on all levels of our being.

If you've been taking Iyengar Yoga classes for awhile, probably none of this is new to you, but it's a nice overview of this powerful method of practicing yoga.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Can Yoga Wreck Your Body? Responses to NYT Article: Part 2

Here are a couple other links to well-written responses to the NYT article, How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body.

One is by Eddie Stern (I think) of Ashtanga Yoga New York, How the NYT Can Wreck Yoga .
He does think that the increasing incidence of yoga-related injuries shouldn't be ignored, but he also agrees that the article is unbalanced and sensationalistic.

Eddie writes, "One reason that injury can occur in yoga is due to overzealousness, or even just plain enthusiasm, on the part of the student – I have of course experienced this myself – it is a natural response for a particular type of person when it comes to any activity that has physicality associated with it – no matter what a teacher may caution."

Injuries can occur anytime we do physical activities.  They are more apt to happen in the practice of yoga asanas when the practitioner isn't paying attention to warning signs in his/her body (s/he may not know the warning signs yet, or perhaps is ignoring them to show how well they can do difficult poses without proper preparation).   They are also more apt to happen under the instruction of unskilled yoga teachers.

What I especially like out of his response is the following:
"[Yoga] has been reduced from a practice that traditionally demanded dedication, discipline, sacrifice, humility, surrender, love, devotion, and self-investigation – and yes, suffering through rigorous practice – to something that one can now learn to teach in a weekend. Or, more popularly, in a mere 200 hours you can become a bonafide, registered yoga instructor. 200 hours is spit. It is a joke."

Those of us in the Iyengar Yoga tradition who've gone through the strenuous teacher certification process whole-heartedly agree!

Eddie also includes responses from a couple other people that point out the errors within the "Wreck Your Body" article.   

Another response is by Senior Iyengar Yoga teacher John Schumacher of Unity Woods Yoga Center:
A Response to "How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body".
As he calmly points out, "we should remind ourselves that the Times is in the business of selling newspapers",  and what better way to grab attention than to say that what millions of us are doing with our bodies in our efforts to become physically and mentally healthier could actually severely damage us.

Schumacher also points out (as did one of my students last week), that the author of this article has a book coming out (The Science of Yoga: The Risks and the Rewards), and what better way to advertise his book than with this attention grabbing article. 

It will be interesting to see if the book is more even-handed than the article, or if it will contain some of the same errors that are in the article.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Can Yoga Wreck Your Body? Responses to NYT Article: Part 1

There's been a lot of discussion about the recent New York Times article How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body, published January 5, 2012.

The article is negative and alarmist in nature, citing anecdotal evidence of yoga students and teachers who have badly injured themselves, and stating that many yoga poses are inherently dangerous for most people.

Well, sure, if you take the average person off the street who has no yoga experience and have him do a headstand or a backbend, of course there'll be problems.  
Of course people can hurt themselves doing yoga poses, just as people will get hurt doing any kind of physical activity.  I've hurt myself practicing yoga poses -- I didn't know there was a problem with how I was doing those particular poses until it was too late (I certainly learned from those injuries!). But there is nothing inherently wrong with doing any of the yoga poses with the right instructions and preparation.  Some people will never do many of the more difficult poses, and they shouldn't try, for various reasons.  Others can practice these poses after they develop the strength, control, and awareness to bring their body into the alignment necessary to keep them safe.  Accidents / injuries can occur, but they can also be reduced. 

It depends on how skillful the teacher is, and how capable the student is, mentally and physically.

The good that has come out of this article is that there is this discussion about what it means to practice yoga, and how to practice the asanas in a safe, intelligent manor.

The bad is that some readers will take this article at face value and be afraid to try a yoga class that could be helpful and appropriate for their own bodies, thinking they'll have to do dangerous poses and risk suffering from severe injuries or stroke.

Luckily there have been many well-reasoned responses to this article from skillful, highly-trained yoga teachers and very experienced yoga students from different lineages pointing out errors and misconceptions in this article.

Read the response from Intermediate Junior III Iyengar Yoga teacher Roger Cole on Facebook --

Roger points out that the article seems to imply that B.K.S. Iyengar teaches  Salamba Sarvangasana (shoulder stand) in an unsafe way, having people over-stretch their neck which could lead to damaging the vertebral arteries.   The NYT article also says that Roger Cole was the innovator of the safer way to do shoulder stand, using a blanket platform under the shoulders so the neck wouldn't over-stretch.

Roger sets the issue straight, correctly stating that B.K.S. Iyengar is the one who developed this blanket platform system, and that Iyengar insists students practice Sarvangasana with this support.

Read Roger Cole's article on,  Keep the Neck Healthy in Shoulderstand to learn how this way of practicing shoulderstand protects the neck.