So I have been resisting wading into writing on the article How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body for the last few days. As a teacher I’ve seen quite a few posts and responses to this article on Facebook and over email.
It took me a few days to really get my mind around why I didn’t want to write about it.
Somehow I find the New York Times article written by the “Tiger Mom” comes too easily to mind. The formula for exposure for your about to be published book: Take the most sensational elements of what otherwise might be a good book and publish it in a well known newspaper, use fear/sensationalism and everyone will start talking and or arguing about your article and perhaps buy your book. It remains to be seen whether this guy’s book will make the bestseller list. From that perspective even registering an opinion on this fellow’s article positive or negative seemed somehow to be allowing myself to be drawn into the guy’s manipulation, and I have been reluctant.
Of note: They have already published two corrections, one from a chiropractor and one from a PT, that I believe significantly change the impact of the article. If you scroll down through the original article link you can see the updates/corrections.
Everyone else has argued with this guy on many small points, the accuracy of his statements, the truth and or science of his statements. They have written many excellent expositions on what yoga really is and what it isn’t. I have listed the links to some of these responses and a few quotes at the bottom of this response that you can peruse if you feel so moved.
What I would to add to the general discussion is about fear. If you grew up like me in this culture you grew up with the message that if something hurts, stop. If you don’t feel well, go to bed. And while that has its time and place, carrying this (or anything) to an extreme creates something far worse.
If you are starting the practice the way I did you might have some trepidation about what you are getting into and you probably have some concerns about hurting yourself. This yoga is intense. It hurts sometimes. Is this really safe, and is this really good for us?
In reflecting on the last 15 years of practice and the myriad of tweaks, sprains, and injuries I’ve been through, by my own admitted account about 1/4 or a 1/3 have happened from yoga, and the other 2/3 to 3/4 have come from life. Car accidents, tripping while walking the dog, and having a kid all add up to something Betty Strain, YIY’s oldest yoga teacher had to say on the subject: S**t happens. We can’t control that. We trip, we fall, if we are alive and breathing things will happen and we will get hurt. But for me thanks to yoga and moving through these things I can still move my body in a so many ways and continue to do what I love to do. I’ve also lived with and accepted a lot of practices where whatever the physical posture/asana was I just couldn’t do it that day. And that’s something that benefits my mind as well as my body: To be able to be with more equanimity through the life experiences and s**t that happens.
Pattabhi Jois for me was the catalyst to say, Hey, all this fear: Why? You take it (the posture). You go. You do. Or slowly slowly. Fears that help you avoid future pain and suffering are good fears to have. But Guruji wasn’t getting at whether yoga will hurt you or not, he was getting at a different way, a transformed way of looking at the yoga practice itself and looking at life. Life is going to happen anyways. Use your common sense, but go forth and live. You Take Practice.
I would like to think if he were alive and giving an old style conference today, and someone were to ask him about all this, he’d probably look up from his newspaper long enough to say, “Why Fearing?” Then he’d grunt, laugh, and go back to reading his Indian Newspaper.
Happy Reading, and Happy Practicing.
Eddie Stern’s blog at ayny.org
and an article from the Huffington Post on how to safely practice yoga.
David Keil’s article.
Leslie Kaminoff’s video.
From a yogi named Pamela Hollander from Encinitas:
“The practices of yoga are a gift designed to balance conditions that are out of balance and, especially asana, should not be practiced as if one were conquering Mount Everest, become a performance or build the ego. This way of practice may actually create Karmas, perpetuating the repetitive rebirth cycle of Samsara. More respect for the powerful nature of the practices is needed. The practices teach us how to have a healthy relationship to our Selves, our Mother Earth, our families, and our communities. Practicing Yama, Niyama, Asana & Mediation as a lifestyle is recommended, but the focus needs to be on health, balance and Spiritual upliftment of all mankind. If the Drishti toward the Self is through loving eyes and the motivation for practicing from a loving heart, then suffering will be minimized. In recent years many Souls gratefully have come to recognize the practices as valuable, however, some are creating a less than loving relationship to the Self through abuse of the practices, including practicing advanced hatha vinyasa asana, the traditional Ashtanga sequences and pranayamas way before they are physically or emotionally ready. Classical hatha yoga asana is the first therapeutic level to be mastered before launching into advanced asana (and especially if done in non-traditional sequences). Before a yogi teaches, one must have been practicing for many years. It does not take a 2 year certification to make a yogi. It takes many years and many lifetimes of practice. The old tradition of apprenticeship for yoga teachers is still the best one, and respect for the old way of developing a strong relationship to only one teacher (Guru) remains the most important tool for training a teacher (and I don’t have enough room here to go into the traditional reasons for this here). Professor Shri. K. Pattahbi Jois is quoted as saying “slow going is good.” This is perhaps in some peoples’ minds too simplistic a direction to take to heart, however this teaching has been handed down from teacher to student for centuries and while it appears a passing saying, in my experience it is still good advice.”
And finally an article that is almost as cynical as I am about the whole affair.