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?


namaste said...

First and foremost I view myself as a novice, a beginner in Yoga. However while I was a very late starter (to asanas and pranayama) my past had taught me there was a Great Deal More to Yoga than what it has become in the West. These recent discussion of how Yoga can wreck your body reinforces the view of my Teachers in India, which is that for the West Yog ( they do not refer to it as Yoga) has come to mean stretching exercises and if one is lucky some breathing exercises. My male teacher once remarked, 'you have fat-ass yoga, you have skinny-ass yoga, you have cat-walk yoga, and you now you have hot yoga. BUT where's your Yoga?' In October of 2010 I was fortunate to be a student in Prashant Ji's classes in Pune. He too noted this 'western view' of Yoga referring to it as 'Gym or gymnastic Yoga'. Now this NY Times article, which for me just further reinforces the consequences of those who would be teachers and yet lack some elementary knowledge about the Life Style they would teach to others. And yes Asanas just like Pranayama can harm the body, especially so when taught by those who lack both the skill and the experience, even more so when its to students who carry their ego into the Yoga hall with them. Having followed an assortment of threads resulting from this specific NYT article, the above is one of the few I've read which suggests an 'open approach', though I would disagree with the statement that Yoga is 'not a cure-all'. I believe it is as it were, 'a cure-all', but not with the current 2-prong approach which is the trend in the West. Perhaps we need to start incorporating the other 5 steps of Yoga into our daily life. This will certainly not be easy, perhaps the West is not yet ready, as many Yoga Teachers will be faced with empty Yoga Hall's if they dare begin to introduce something other than asanas to students with anything less than 5-10 years of practice.

Indeed there is much more to say, but let's make a beginning as the life style we know as Yoga is well worth the time we give it.

Krishna said...

Dear Friend

I have given my own feedback to the NYT article in my blog
in post No: 21) The importance of BioMechanics for Yoga Practitioners and Teachers.

My post is of 2 parts .The first is my own feeling about the NYT article and the second is a letter by Shmuel Tatz (one of the best known movement specialist ) .This letter by Shamuel Tatz is in response to the original NYT article and you will find answers to where actually the problem is .

kaney said...

Yoga is the only methodology available with the humanity which has anatomized the human existence without opening a human body. It is the oldest and the deepest psychology of the human existence.

ceralin forte metagenics

prairiediva said...

I've been practicing Iyengar yoga for 4 years now and I feel great. Friends have noticed big changes in me but do not follow me into yoga. Some of my friends do not understand yoga and will read articles like NYT and give me lectures on yoga safety. I listen to my teacher and do not push my ability beyond what my body allows any given day. I have had a pulled hamstring from letting my ego get in the way so lesson learned. Listen to your teacher and do not let your ego get in the way.

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