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Anyone who is paying attention in the world of yoga, has by now, read or heard people talking about the New York Times article, “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body” . And as a yoga teacher and journalist, I feel almost required to chime in with my reaction. So here it is:

I think the topic of injury and yoga is one that needs more attention, and the author clearly did research to support his thesis, but therein lies the problem. It’s an alarmist article that was likely written in the manner it was to get a reaction–in which case it succeeded. But as well-rounded discussion about yoga, or a balanced piece of journalism, it failed.

The entire stance of the piece seems to be centered around yoga teacher Glenn Black’s assertion that  “the vast majority of people should give up yoga altogether. It’s simply too likely to cause harm.”  The article and Black both then go on to give extreme examples of students sitting in vajrasana for hours a day and deadening their sciatic nerve, or getting strokes and spinal damage from head and neck trauma in inversions.

It  just seems like such a cop-out for a yoga teacher to say people should just stop practicing yoga.It’s a cop-out for the teacher, deciding that it’s too difficult to guide students through poses safely, giving variations, finding out about limitations, and encouraging patience and moderation. And it’s giving up on students to think that they lack self-control to accept the guidance and advice of their teachers and limitations of their bodies.

Black cites  seeing students strain so much in down dog that they tear their Achilles tendons. Where were their teachers?  “It’s ego,” he says, “The whole point of yoga is to get rid of ego.” On that I agree with him completely, it’s so anti-yoga, but it happens so much in yoga classes and even whole studios, people obsessed with what they look like contorted in show off poses with expensive clothes and accessories and perfectly toned bodies. Yoga is reportedly a $6 billion a year industry in the U.S. and probably $5 billion of those dollars are ego driven. A good discussion of that topic in response to the article is here.

But I don’t think that’s the majority of people who practice yoga and I don’t think it means that even those people should stop practicing yoga. I think the cases of injuries that the article mentions aren’t the norm, I don’t think most people who practice yoga hurt themselves, and I don’t think yoga is bad for your body–in fact I believe that everybody can and should do yoga (as I’ve mentioned before I’m trying to get my 85-year-old grandmother into yoga).

I think that people need good yoga teachers. He mentions yoga teachers with such bad backs that they have to lie down to teach. Who is going to these teachers and what are they hoping to learn? I don’t agree with the ascertain that most people shouldn’t do yoga, I do believe that some people shouldn’t teach yoga. If you push your body to the point where you can’t stand up, let alone demo poses, you are not a safe yoga teacher, you should not teach. I’ve been practicing yoga for over six years, I’ve been teaching for 6 months. I’m no guru, I know my limitations, and I’m totally fine with them. I’ve had yoga teachers who have said “I can’t do this pose, but if it’s in your practice, I can help guide you into it.”  That’s the mark of a good teacher–not one that can balance her weight on her index finger with her legs wrapped around her neck.

The onus isn’t just on the teachers though–students need to know that there’s risk with any physical activity (and lots of risk in inactivity)–after all most accidents happen in the home–you can throw your back out cleaning the tub if you do it wrong, but that doesn’t mean we should live in filth. They need to know that nothing happens quickly (like I said I’ve been practicing yoga regularly for six years and I can’t stand on my head), and that all bodies are built differently with different limitations (maybe I never will do the splits), and that human bodies aren’t designed do any movement or posture in excess (sitting in hero’s pose for 8 hours a day–or sitting in an office chair for 8 hours a day without moving will damage your body).

So no, yoga can’t wreck your body, you can wreck your body. And like so much of life, in order to “be successful” at yoga, you let go of your ego and expectations, and pay attention. Kind of  sounds like the most basic yoga teaching, doesn’t it.

 

 

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I read a quote the other day:

“Habit is overcome by habit.”

 Thomas a Kempis

I’ve been doing a lot of yoga lately, and trying to write everyday. I’ve been trying to form new habits, but today in the pre-hurricane preparedness everything (from my normal Saturday morning yoga class to the entire MTA system) has shut down. But, even though so far everything is the same at home (it’s just a little dreary and rainy outside, but we still have power and everything), I have let this change of events serve as an excuse to take a “snow day” from all my progress and good habit building. Part of me feels guilty and lazy, another part of me feels like it’s good to let yourself take a break sometimes and just lay on the couch reading listing to the rain outside.

What do you think? What good and bad habits do you notice yourself building?