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.