Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Can Yoga Really Wreck Your Body?

When I initially read the title of the New York Times article, How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body, I was ready to debate, argue and share my point of view. Then I read the article. And sadly, I agreed with most of it.

I started my personal Yoga journey at the age of 26 in 1997. Ashtanga (Power) Yoga was my introduction to a world that was foreign to me.  Nothing during my first year of Yoga remotely related to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras or the Eight Limbs. And I did what I was taught – push, work, challenge beyond limits. I received a “Yoga certification” the next year at a weekend aerobics conference in Baltimore, Maryland. I still recall the instructor asking me to demonstrate a move for the class because I was flexible – and I thought I was the BOMB! As a Yoga teacher, I taught what had been taught to me. Work, push, challenge. All of it was ego-driven and the complete opposite of the actual principles and spirit of Yoga.

Injuries from years of running and high-impact aerobics made me begin a self-study of naturopathic wellness, orthomolecular nutrition, and alternative medicine. I began monthly treatments of acupuncture, reflexology and massage. I studied and practiced different forms of meditation and started a serious practice of Hatha Yoga and Mat Pilates. My approach to Yoga had completely changed. In fact, what I was practicing in 2007 was so vastly different from what I had started in 1997, it felt wrong to call them both Yoga.

In the NYT article, William Broad details the journey of classically trained Yoga instructor Glenn Black. The main points Mr. Black makes that I agree with are:

  • Instead of doing yoga, “they [students] need to be doing a specific range of motions for articulation, for organ condition,” he said, to strengthen weak parts of the body. “Yoga is for people in good physical condition. Or it can be used therapeutically. It’s controversial to say, but it really shouldn’t be used for a general class.”

  • A number of factors have converged to heighten the risk of practicing yoga. The biggest is the demographic shift in those who study it. Indian practitioners of yoga typically squatted and sat cross-legged in daily life, and yoga poses were an outgrowth of these postures. Now urbanites who sit in chairs all day walk into a studio a couple of times a week and strain to twist themselves into ever-more-difficult postures despite their lack of flexibility and other physical problems.

  • There is now an abundance of studios where many teachers lack the deeper training necessary to recognize when students are headed toward injury. “Today many schools of yoga are just about pushing people,” Black said. “You can’t believe what’s going on — teachers jumping on people, pushing and pulling and saying, ‘You should be able to do this by now.’ It has to do with their egos.”

I disagree with the article in that I don’t believe Yoga will wreck your body – a poor Yoga instructor can wreck your body. Instead of avoiding Yoga, aspiring students should visit studios, observe a class before taking it, and ask the following questions:

  • Is the instructor teaching only on the mat or is he or she watching, moving, touching and aware of each student in the class? A teacher that treats the class like his or her personal workout or opportunity to shine will not be able to provide safe correction and alternatives for students in need.

  • Is the teacher pushing or pulling on students or gently guiding individuals into natural, safe and comfortable positions?

  • Are there props like chairs, blocks, blankets, belts, or pillows available? If so, does the instructor use them or share techniques about their use in assisting poses?

  • Does the class leader explain poses and offer alternate moves? A well-educated instructor will be able to discuss a pose from the perspective of anatomy and kinesiology as well as from an internal and organic point of view.

Like snowflakes, no two Yoga instructors are alike. Choose yours as carefully as your choose your physician or hair stylist. A bad perm can ruin your day, but a bad pose can ruin your body.

1 comment:

  1. Hello,
    I have read your interesting blog related to aerobic mats. These are very interesting facts covered on this blog.
    You can also find some more facts about aerobic mats in this site:-