Sunday, January 8, 2012

"How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body" NY Times Article

A recent article in the NY Times entitled "How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body" is churning up some good conversation in the yoga community these days. The topic is striking some nerves, but it is healthy to have the debate out in the open.

Yoga is not a cure-all. Yoga does NOT exercise every muscle in the body. I was stunned when I first learned this. Many yoga masters have claimed that it does (even Mr. Iyengar in Light on Yoga) and as teachers we are taught this and accept it. This is a misunderstanding.  Certain muscles get over-developed (e.g. triceps) and others get overstretched (e.g. hamstrings). If yoga is your only form of exercise then you can create musculo-skeletal imbalances in the body which over time can lead to injuries.

I heard from a teacher of mine that in some sports clubs there are certain stretches that are banned for personal trainers (because they are deemed too risky) but yoga teachers can teach them because they have less restrictions. In general, I feel that the standards are quite low for who can qualify as a yoga teacher. Some certifications claim that you can be certified in a weekend.

I feel like I can never learn enough and it is precisely why I took it upon myself to take an in depth 108-hour anatomy course. Even after taking it I still don't think it's enough, but it gave me knowledge that is essential for any movement professional. I don't think yoga teachers should be exempt from this level of understanding. Why are they anyway?

I am taking a Zenyasa Yoga certification that does promote musculo-skeletal balance. Jason Brown who created this method felt that after studying anatomy and western exercise science that yoga was not enough to foster strength and flexibility throughout the body. So he includes other exercises such as pulling exercises for the arms in order to strengthen the biceps, rear delts and rhomboids (which are hard to strengthen in yoga). He also includes a warm up for every class so your muscles are warm before you start strengthening them. And you strengthen before you stretch. This is something that I have felt is missing in my Iyengar classes as of late. There is no warm up and you start stretching to the max right away. Ouch! I have come close to injuring myself many times this way.

But then there is also the responsibility of the student - to do what feels appropriate for their bodies and not be forced into any pose by a teacher or get caught up in the obsession of "getting" a pose for the sake of satisfying their ego (while sacrificing stability in their joints).

I could go on and it is a topic that requires more attention than I am giving it here. What do you think?