My response to NYT article

Warrior II

A little more than a week ago the New York Times ran an article in their Sunday magazine titled How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body.

There has been a lot of talk in the yoga world about this article, or at least in my yoga world. We have been discussing in classes, some of my teachers have written about it. I have done a lot of thinking about the points made and the things my teachers have discussed. This past week I have been thinking about it and taking notes in preparation for this post. Now to actually put my notes together and make some sense.

The article is very one sided. The statistics seem to disprove the idea that yoga injuries are going up. Yes, more yoga injuries in numbers. But the number of people practicing yoga is so much more higher. And, there are extremes to everything. I am not really sure if the woman in the article had a stroke caused by doing Wheel Pose or if that was just the last straw. Maybe she would have had a stroke had she been lifting weights. I don’t know. And I in no way mean to light take to take her having a stroke.

The title of the article should be changed to Yes, Yoga CAN Wreck Your Body … but so can any other physical activity, especially if you don’t do it right or aren’t prepared for it. But that title is way too long and not nearly as sexy, right?

The article mentions a naive thought that yoga should be a source only of healing and never harm.  And I say yoga should be a source only of healing and never harm.

If you do a pose incorrectly, do certain poses while not warmed up, attempt an advanced pose when you are not warmed up, prepared or ready these can all cause harm.

I see beginners in class attempting poses they should not be doing. I have been doing yoga pretty regularly for four years and there are many poses I am not ready for. I see beginners attempt handstand or headstand and I know that I am not ready for that. In fact, I am scared. I don’t let my ego tell me differently.

The thing I am almost always taught in yoga pretty much every single class is find your edge and take a step back. Many exercises and workouts are about no pain no gain. Yoga is the complete opposite.

One of my teachers, Baxter, usually won’t let us go up into shoulder stand until he checks that we are in the correct start position. Once we get the OK we are able to go up into the pose.

The guy who wrote the article asked the instructor after class why they didn’t do any inversions or many of the classic poses. His response:  That awareness is more important than rushing through a series of postures just to say you’d done them. And I completely agree with this. I go to different classes and instructors for different reasons. Some classes are more aggreesive and quick paced. Others are slower and more gentle.

The instructor, Glenn Black, mentioned throughout the article has come to believe that “the vast majority of people” should give up yoga altogether. He thinks that it i simply too likely to cause harm.

I know which poses I can do, which are difficult for me and which ones I simply can’t do or shouldn’t do. Finding your edge and taking a step back. I am not a competitive person. And I rarely find myself competing with others in yoga or even with myself. Something I could do in yesterday’s class may not be possible today for a variety or reasons. I may be more tired today, just not feeling it, slept badly, had a bad day, etc.

Most of my instructors ask new students if they have anything going on with their bodies or any injuries they need to know about. Experienced yogis already know how to modify, other times we need suggestions and are willing to take them.

I have a funky left shoulder, Kyphosis and weak wrists. Over the years I have practiced I have learned how to deal with these issues and I modify when I need to.

Lily, another one of my yoga instructors, said: … Here’s the beauty and optimism of yoga and of any healing system of movement:  We learn in baby steps and we keep practicing.

I am careful with my yoga practice and the only yoga injury I have had was a pulled muscle in one of my legs. And what I was taught was to not overwork it and to baby it until it was healed.

In Vickie’s class last week she also mentioned the article and agreed there were some good points. She talked about self-responsibility. We are the only ones who know if something hurts. She asked us to start sitting in Hero’s Pose and asked us to use whatever props we needed because she in no way whatsoever wanted us to hurt ourselves or be in pain.

There is a difference between pain and sensation.

The article does mention serious injuries people have encountered. They are rare situations and the one example where the man was doing spinal twists and rotating his head too far and then putting his body into shoulder stand without a blanket or even a yoga mat on a hardwood floor. Could he not figure out the difference between pain and sensation?

You can definitely injure yourself while doing yoga. But you also can while in a weights class or running. If you feel pain you should stop. I can’t emphasize the idea of yoga enough: Find your edge and take a step back.

Years ago when I thought I needed to run (I hate running) I started off with walking for the first month at least three times a week. The next month I would walk for two minutes and run for one. Probably Day 3 or 4 I hurt my knee. I was able to rehab myself. And after that I decided running was not for me and didn’t go back to it. In other words, I listened to my body.

Baxter, one of my yoga instructors, wrote a blog post on the Yoga Journal web site and he said this: I’m interested in sharing the benefits of yoga with my patients and students, while realistically cautioning them on yoga’s risks for certain injuries, such as the risk of wrist strain with arm balancing poses if one is not properly prepared.

The NYT article ended with a quote by Glenn Black, a yoga teacher for nearly four decades, saying: In fact, if you do it (yoga) with ego or obsession, you’ll end up causing problems. A lot of people don’t like to hear that.

I couldn’t agree more.

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3 Comments

  1. I read this article when it came out, too, but my “online community” is made up more of people who’ve hurt themselves when practicing yoga.

    Let me preface this with: some of the best yoga advice I’ve gotten, I’ve gotten right here on this blog. I loved the guest blog from Hilda and tried to take her advice to heart (go at your own pace and don’t have an ego about it). I’ve also guest blogged about how much yoga has helped me! 🙂

    That said, not all yoga teachers are like that — very sadly. I’ve been in several classes where the teachers actually RECOMMEND working through the pain and advise that “western medicine” is the wrong thing to cure your ailments. For those of us who feel like western medicine *has* failed us, this can seem like a welcome philosophy. But I think it also can be dangerous.

    For me, my problem is actually that I’m too flexible — so postures can be dangerous if I just fall into them instead of supporting myself with muscle strength. I know that now, but I didn’t for a long time — and it was actually a physical therapist that taught me that, not a yoga teacher.

    I worry that with all the Groupon-driven exercise classes that people are not choosing yoga studios or exercise classes based on where the best teachers are, but based on cost and proximity. If folks follow all the advice you mention in this post, that would be *fabulous*, but I worry that not enough instructors are disseminating that information.

    • I appreciate your comments. Especially the compliments directed to Hilda and me. 🙂
      I realize that is something I didn’t mention: inexperienced or bad yoga teachers.
      I feel really lucky to go to a yoga studio where the teachers are good, knowledgeable and experienced. I do pay a pretty penny for my membership. But I definitely feel that it is worth it.
      Please tell everyone you know to read my post. Pretty please.
      I am too flexible as well and I hyperextend my elbows and knees. So I have to be careful with a lot of poses.
      There are so many conversations, advice, etc. that can come out of this article. I hope it brings awareness and it gets people to ask questions and to practice self-responsibility.
      Got any more guest posts in you?
      Thanks, Jen.

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