“How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body”: A Response

The New York Times recently ran an article, “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body,”that has a rather sensational and silly title and a fairly simple point: doing yoga can cause injuries.  The article, citing the musings of yoga teacher Glenn Black, references the medley of yoga injuries that have been developing through the West over the last ten years.  The article whispers to us in horror: ‘Black has come to believe that “the vast majority of people” should give up yoga altogether. It’s simply too likely to cause harm.’

The response to this: Well, duh.

Of course it can cause injuries.

Hatha Yoga (which includes power, flow, Anusara, “hatha”, and every other physical form of yoga) is a physical, bio-mechanical practice.  Ask any yoga teacher and – if they’re over 30 and being honest – you’re likely to find some sort of medical history.  To share my personal trophies, I’ve torn my hamstring in Prasarita Padottanasana, damaged the meniscus in my knee from too many lotus attempts, and dislocated a rib facet falling out of handstand.  And these days, with the emphasis on “getting” handstand in the middle of the room to be a “real yogi” or pushing through thirty chaturangas in a class to “test your edge”, it’s no wonder that we are limping to the physio and crying to our RMT’s.  But before you gasp in shock and tremble because yoga is supposed to be a cure all, listen up.  Injury and stress is the nature of any repetitive physical endeavor done passionately over time.  I’ve also tweaked my hamstring playing touch football on the beach, damaged my wrist skiing, and hurt my back in Cross Fit.  Golf causes injuries.  Martial Arts causes injuries.  I may be going out on a limb, but I bet you can develop repetitive stress injuries in swimming too.

Anyone who expects yoga to be a panacea for all ills isn’t paying attention.  The author of the article, William Broad, describes his experience: “While doing the extended-side-angle pose, a posture hailed as a cure for many diseases, my back gave way. With it went my belief, naïve in retrospect, that yoga was a source only of healing and never harm.”  William, thank you for the wake up call.  We should all set our naivete aside.  Living on this plane of existence with muscles, bones, tendons, and blood, we are subject to the forces of time and aging.  We move in a world of form and limitation.  Expecting yoga to transcend the nature of this Universe is like expecting dinner to cook itself or time to move backwards.

Does this mean you shouldn’t do yoga?

Absolutely not.

Yoga is revelatory for self-connection.  Yoga wakes you up and asks you to breathe.  Yoga cultivates strength, suppleness, and fluidity. Yoga asks you to commit to your deepest and most passionate self and cultivate a deep inquiry into your life and your place in this world.  Yoga is a tool for helping you to become more fully yourself.   And – when done mindfully and with kick ass alignment – yoga heals.  So yes, do your freakin’ yoga.

But here are some tips:

  • Set aside your naivete that yoga will fix everything.  Physically, it won’t.
  • Listen to your body.  For reals this time.
  • Practice the style of yoga that you need, not just that you like.  If you need more strength and less flexibility, get your ass out of yin.
  • Please, focus on your alignment.  Do less, and do it better.
  • Complement your yoga practice with other sensible physical fare.  You’re not invalidating your yoga by doing your physio exercises, taking a jog, or going to the gym.
  • When you do these other physical activities, leave your Ipod at home.  Really pay attention to what you’re doing, and these activities can be yoga too.
  • Go to yoga class to work on your mind, not just your body.  Take the pressure off your yoga practice to be your workout, and you’ll find that you can actually move move deeply, find more ease, and (crazily enough) your practice will actually advance faster.

Yoga is one of the best things that has happened in my life.  If you’re reading this, my bet is that it’s transformed you, too.  But let’s remember what our yoga is really about: self-revelation, compassion, and a deep connection with the world.   Yoga is a tool for co-creating with the Universe; for nourishing our bodies, minds, and hearts and exploring the wonder of our own expression while we live on this marvelous world.

Do your yoga.

Just do your yoga smart.

40 comments to “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body”: A Response

  • Hell yeah! You nailed it.

  • Allison

    Sing it! This is so well put.

    And on swimming? most of the women i swam with in high school have had serious shoulder injuries. A large number have had one or more shoulder surgeries. And swimming is another sport often recommended for injury rehab.

  • Amen, sister! I love your response.

    Love this line in particular, “Yoga is revelatory for self-connection. Yoga wakes you up and asks you to breathe.”

  • Catherine

    You go girl! Well said.

  • gilgunn

    hell yeah, too.

  • Marc Hart

    As westerners we have become so much into the yang (force/active) aspect of life that we even injure ourselves doing yoga, a practice meant for healing and inner evolution! Guilty as charged. We have been so conditioned to always wanting more, never being satisfied and pushing ourselves to the max that we frequently injure ourselves (mentally/physically) because we fail to what our bodies are telling us. Our mind body connection has become so disconnected this is why we are getting sicker than ever.

    Yoga is meant to be a healing practice for inner evaluation and to reconnect our minds to our bodies as they are one. Think of yoga as more of a practice for the mind while using the body to facilitate your progress. “Use the posses to get into the body” not the other way around. If you are doing yoga for buns of steel you are going to cause injury. Yoga should be used as the healing practice to your more passionate work e.g. professional dancer or desk jockey.

    As westerners we need yoga so badly to practice patients, compassion for ourselves and how to let go of what others think. My advice is if you can’t concentrate on your inner self or close your eyes during a practice, ease-up regardless of what the instructor is telling you. This is good training to keep the ego flexible.

    Thanks for the article, love it!

    Mr. Hart
    Yoga Instructor

  • Rob Tubajon

    Great article Rachel!

  • Netta Malloy

    Phew I was feeling like I better end my practice! Still saying many of the same things as the NYT Magazine piece, but without the dramz surrounding the issue. Thank you for your good sense!

  • Leslie

    Perfectly written..yoga has definitely changed my life for the better….

  • John Niesyn

    I too read the Times’s article and felt that as presented it’s pretty much a hack job: superficial, poorly substantiated, and mostly self-promoting and self-serving for the author’s upcoming book. Given the popularity of Yogas in the U.S., the Times’s should not have run it; frankly, it’s a bit of embarassment for them, and makes one wonder what has happened to their jourmalistic standards.

    However, in defense of the author’s main point: it does raise the issue of danger in Yogas as taught here, and it raises (but doesn not qualify or adequately substantiate) the risks. Let’s be clear: Yoga can aggravate and make worse underlying weaknesses in the body; it can cause damage to joints, tendons, ligaments, and spinal disks–and do it in such a manner that the only recourse is surgery. Naiveté? Come on. A good personal trainer (and I am not one) carefully analyzes and evaluates each client before recommending any fitness plan. Yogis should do the same. One size does not fit all; given the rigors of yoga, a lenghty phyical analysis should be performed on all beginners.

    I’m a tri-athlete (male, 53) and have been for over twenty years. I know where the problems lie with my body and avoid actions and postures that may give me trouble (a car accident 30 years ago herniated a lower disk in my lumbar spine). I can run, swim, and cycle with no problems (and other than a broken pinky in a bike fall, I’ve never been injured in any of these activities–and I push myself hard). The stretching I do comes ONLY after significant warming up, and I’m very flexible.

    However, based on a friend’s years of persuasion, I finally took two Yoga classes last month: one with well regarded instructor (one on one) and another a beginner’s class at a recommended studio. First, I was stunned that no warm up was done before either session. First rule of stretching: never do so unless you body is warmed up and the blood properly oxygenated. Second, I found many of the postures ill-advised and dangerous. Did I do them all? Like a fool, yes. I figured: she must know what she’s teaching. Big mistake. Back problems were aggaravated and worsened. It’s taken several sessions of Alexander Technique and Rolfing to correct the damage, but the pain (while now lessened) remains.

    Upshot: caveat emptor. Yoga has a long way to go in respecting the bodies of those it teaches. And one other piece of advice: loose the spiritual hokem/mumbo jumbo. It’s nonsense. You want to do good in the world and connect with the universe: volunteer your time and money to those who cannot help themselves.

  • Shanti Barclay

    As a dire hard yogi, if only I had a dime for all the people who brought this dumb article to my attention…

    why they be hatin on yogis? don’t know.

    new policy: don’t discuss yoga with non-yogis (i’m beginning to sound like a Johavah Witness on Saturday morning) and no talking about being a vegan (equally offensive to most people)

    thanks for the sound reply, I think I’ll just refer all future anti yogi comments to it.

  • peter gilgunn

    From myths to risks

    When William Broad’s book was announced it was “… Myths and Rewards”, now it’s “… Risks and Rewards” – see links below. The subtle but significant subtitle change and the provocativeness of the article Rachel is responding to make it smell like a publicity stunt to sell books. However, it’s at the expense of a practice that can help a lot of people when it’s done correctly, i.e. with care, attention and respect. It makes me sad to think of the many people who will read Broad’s sensational article title, browse its contents and decide yoga is too dangerous to try. It’s a disservice to the Times readership and a cheap stunt given the article’s argument and its decontextualized statistics are threadbare at best. I wish Rachel’s response could reach those people, but I’m afraid it will just be the yoga community who get the benefit of it.

    http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-1-4516-4142-4

    http://books.simonandschuster.ca/Science-of-Yoga/William-J-Broad/9781451641424

  • Laura

    Rachel,

    I appreciate your response and your passion for yoga. And I agree that the article was not the most well researched article nor the most balanced – but what news article these days is? But I must agree with John above. I was a trained dancer who for most of my career was always balancing an old back injury. I actually came to dance to rehabilitate my injury and, due to some very good training full of insight, training in body mechanics and the science of kinesiology (not just form), and strict rules of good alignment, I not only became a professional dancer – I also never hurt myself from dance even though I would spend hours in the studio in very intense jumping and strength moves.

    When I was reaching the end of my career, I went looking for something more gentle to keep my body moving and tried yoga at very reputable places in NYC with teachers of the highest regard. I told every teacher I took from that I knew my body well and that I didn’t want to be pushed. Yet, everyone of them came along and pushed me further into deep stretches even though we were not properly warmed up. And while they were pushing, they were never saying anything of balance or alignment – they were just thrilled to have a flexible, strong person in their class and wanted to see how far I could go. All of this without them knowing anything about me or my body or abilities. I was also struck by how many of the poses put your joints seriously out of alignment. It seems that every rule – particularly of knee and ankle alignment that dancers hold in high regard to avoid injury, is broken in yoga. I guess you don’t do much jumping in yoga and I’m very thankful for that because the poses are harmful. In most stretches on the floor, (ex. pigeon) your ankle is overstretched on the outside. In dance, you would put your foot up “in the walk” or with the weight resting on the side of the front of the foot (little toe) and lift your ankle off the floor so that the ankle is not supinated. Yet yoga poses seem to love supination and pronation of the joints. This causes overstretching on one side and eventual weakness. Don’t even get me started on the warrior pose and the undue stress on the back knee due to it not being in alignment from the hip to the ankle. Again, overstretching and undue stress on one side. My result? Two months of yoga and my knee (which I never had problems with through all the dance training) starts to get twingy. It’s then that I realized that these instructors knew hardly anything of kinesiology, feldenkrais, alexander technique, etc. and only were schooled in the poses and how they worked on their own bodies. It’s then that I also realized that I held knowledge that most of the others in the room did not and I became saddened by the injuries they were making themselves susceptible too all the while trusting their instructors and the theory of yoga.

    Now, to defend how yoga has changed yours and countless of others lives, I have no argument with. I’m very sure that it has been a positive influence on many. Yet, you do yourself a disservice to not acknowledge the inherent limitations and flaws in its ‘science’. While not well written, the article was trying to point out the true fact that yoga is not being taught well in its current fashion, it’s instructors are not well schooled in the science of the body nor in how to assess the myriads of different types of bodies, hip openings, short achilles tendons, injuries, etc. that fill their classes. Let me give you an example – last week my friend came to me to help her stretch out her lower back because yoga wasn’t working. I started by doing simple range of motion work on her and realized that she couldn’t even sit on the floor with her legs straight out without bending her knees… yet in the last two years of yoga, in the first five minutes with no warm-up, someone was telling her to do a downward dog and putting who knows how much strain on her achilles, knees and the rest of her body – which no doubt was overcompensating. I’m pretty sure that is exactly the situation the article was trying to address. Then when you then think of all the other trusting souls in those classes who don’t understand their bodies and how they work and put all their faith in the instructors….well, I must agree with the alarming nature of the article – no matter how badly written and researched.

    Thank you for letting me share my viewpoint and I wish you much health and wellness.

  • Hi Laura, great response! Your point is very well taken.
    Just because yoga has a psycho-spiritual aspect does not let teachers off the hook for careless alignment and dysfunctional cuing. The body houses the soul after all. I hope that over the next ten or fifteen years we see increasing bio-mechanical integrity in the practice. Thanks for sharing.
    R

  • Tova

    Hi Rachel,

    Thanks for this. As a person who has suffered injuries, from yoga and otherwise, I can speak to the fact that it can happen anywhere. That’s why I love the idea of listing to your own body (something many yoga teachers emphasize) and playing your own edge (not the edge of the person beside you, or anyone else in the room). It does take a lot of courage though to do this, especially in a group environment. I think this message from teachers is very important, as well as moving into and out of poses in a way that allows you to notice what you are doing. Injuries can, and do happen anywhere. It’s simple a fact of moving in life. And as I’m sure most people who have done yoga can attest to, yoga does generally help you to move a lot more freely in many different ways (or strengthen, if that’s what you need), as well as potentially heal injuries. For myself, it’s helped a lot to alleviate the pain from my injuries, when done properly, without as much ego, and for the pure enjoyment of yoga. Thanks very much for your response!

    Tova

  • If you open the yoga sutras of Patanjali the very first thing you read is “Now begins the study of yoga” Followed immediately by “Yoga is quieting the fluctuations of the mind field” Asana isn’t even mentioned until the second chapter. Yoga is not how open your hips are or how perfect your hand stand is. The west is guilty of turning yoga into a PE class.

  • Ben

    I disagree that the article was not well-written, or that it was somehow making an obvious point that was already common knowledge. For those of us who are not in the elite echelons of the yoga (or from other comments, the general athletic) hierarchy, it was a good article. Not all of us are elite dancers, triathletes or yoga instructors. William Broad’s sharing of information for the non-expert is useful. Furthermore, the interviewing of experts like Glenn Black is certainly a technique that would suggest diligent research. In fact, interviewing experts and quoting case studies generally trumps anecdotal evidence. So I don’t understand what Laura and John’s disparaging remarks about the article’s research or writing technique are specifically questioning.

    The main point of the article is that the practitioners of yoga tend to talk your ear off about why yoga is so good, but rarely point out the dangers. For the layperson, and probably many yoga instructors, this information is good to know.

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  • Dean Smith

    Hi Rachel
    Really well put! I am both a Physio and a yogi. Yes I see yoga injuries. I also see injuries from every other form of activity and probably more so from doing nothing. As yoga people, we know that yoga is both wonderful and risky. We need to play that edge with playfulness, a sense of exploration and respect. We know that what we do is amazing! As a community we can handle a bit of questioning and criticism.

  • Fiona J

    I think the point is that when the ego takes over and you want to show how good you are at a pose you have lost the real yoga. I belong to a gym where one of the ultra-flexible teachers never walks around the room and makes sure people aren’t injuring themselves. This isn’t yoga. It is aerobics. Another teacher at a local studio encourages us to cheat to make it doable for us without injury and encourages us to not be competitive.

    Just as in any other field there are good and bad teachers.

    The thing to take away from this article is that the once the ego takes over you’re more likely to injur yourself. It is very important that this be taught in yoga classes but I find that it rarely is. I’ve been practicing for 20 years and there are still many poses I can’t do or even do well, but it is a life changing practice. Self-acceptance is one thing I learned from yoga.

  • Padma Wine

    Hi Rachel,
    Thank you for sharing. I am 41 and have hyper-mobile shoulders and hips. (The bone heads slide right out of the shallow hip and shoulder socket.) I was teaching asana practice in a way that caused alot of problems in my body over time. I was frustrated and sad that I could no longer do an asana practice let alone teach one. Instead of giving up I decided to LEARN. I’m now finishing my second 200 hr certification and have been receiving private lessons from some of the top teachers in the business. My body and my practice have been completely transformed. My body has no pain and is the strongest it’s ever been. Proper alignment is critical. Doing asana with the breath(one movement to one breath) and with proper alignment is far more challenging than popping in and out of poses with crappy alignment and panting as if running a marathon. If you’ll notice I haven’t used the word Yoga once. We should remember that the word “Yoga” translates “To Yoke”. Yoga is the process of “yoking” or joining our consciousnesses to one greater than our own. Their are 8 limbs on the Yoga tree and Asana (physical poses) and Vinyasa (a series of poses) encompass only one limb.
    My contribution is this: Take personal responsibly for your practice. Respond with ability to your body, your pain , your fears. They belong to you and you have the power to transform them.

  • Great response, Rachel!

    I found myself getting annoyed by the NYT article, particularly that most people shouldn’t do yoga because some people injure themselves. It’s like saying most people shouldn’t celebrate xmas because on that day more people suffer heart attacks than on any other day of the year. Just because some people hurt themselves by not listening to themselves, doesn’t mean yoga is bad for most people.

    Everything is a risk with dangers. Done properly with awareness, of course, yoga is the ultimate antidote to the NYT and other mind-clogging institutions that build the ego, separate ourselves from ourselves, and ultimately separate ourselves from reality!

    Also, after 10 years of yoga, I can’t remember doing 1 inverted pose (because I do mostly Bikram). Those are clearly advanced postures and not for beginners or Western desk jockeys like myself.

    Mr. Black ultimately admits about yoga, “if you do it with ego or obsession, you’ll end up causing problems.” Can’t that be said for just about any exercise, or any activity in life?

  • Brava!

    Thank you for putting into words so well what I could not without becoming spitting mad. Guess I am too much of a learner in this lifetime. The NYT article has left me sad and angry that my beloved yoga is being misrepresented by someone who had a poor experience of it at the hands of an unskilled teacher.

    Thank you again for being a calm rational voice in the fray.

  • John Niesyn

    Laura’s comments above summarize concisely, elegantly, and–most of all–knowledgably the probelm with Yogas as taught today. (Rachel’s response that “I hope that over the next ten or fifteen years we see increasing bio-mechanical integrity in the practice” only further proves the point. Really? What about those whose bodies you damage before this happens? Shouldn’t it be a prerequisite that you understand kinesiology before contorting, and possibly damaging, your student’s bodies?)

    Second: I, too, have a dance background. Three years as an acting student (from 17 – 19) gave me ample dance and mime instruction, and taught me that form and alignment are absolutely critical to the art, and–moreover–to avoiding injury. (Recently, years of Alexander Technique have only confirmed that.) This has helped me over my years as a tri-athelete to avoid injury, and I log 9 to 12 miles per week of swimming. (Advice to Allsion (above): to avoid shoulder injuries, hit the gym twice a week and strenghthen your upper body and core. I’ve been swimming 30+ years and have never had an injury.)

    Lastly, to those who think that only the Yoga “community” (i.e., the “initiated” or the “annointed”) will get Rachel’s message, you’ve just indicated your main problem: you’re so narrowly focused on, and within, your practice that you don’t understand the harm you’re doing. You’re blindered, uninformed, uncurious, and frankly smug in your beliefs. I think much of this stems from the spiritual enlightment you believe you’ve achieved–whatever higher state you’ve convinced yourselves to have reached. I see it in the glazed eyes of the yoga students disgorging from the everpresent yoga studios in Fairfield County (more numerous than Starbucks). Later day Moonies, anyone?

    Practicising the “spiritual” aspects of Yoga no more gets one in touch with the universe than does starring at rubber ducks floating in your bathtub gets you in touch with nature. It’s nonsense. Many of you are brainwashed, and doing nothing more than contemplating your own navels. Remember: India brought the world the caste system, the “untouchables”, infanticide (for female babies), the beief that cows are humans reincarnated, and–let us not forget–bride immolation for inadequate dowries. What Yoga needs is less gurus, and more Gandhi; less smugness and more empiric evidence; less mindless certainty and more hard, verifiable data.

  • peter gilgunn

    For me, the strongest point in Rachel’s response that should circulate beyond the yoga community is “… do your yoga smart”. I took this to mean that a person practicing yoga should be aware of themselves, attentive to themselves and responsible for their own practice. The transmission problem is that being on a yoga teacher’s blog, this message will bounce around a yoga community echo chamber and not penetrate to a sufficient degree into the general population of individuals who might benefit from knowing that rather than going to a random yoga studio and submitting themselves to a supposedly omniscient teacher, they should realize that they are ultimately the arbiters of their own experience, because no teacher is god. Easier said than done when you’re just getting started and you don’t know what’s what, but if people heard that message from an article like William Broad’s, or Rachel’s blog, before starting yoga then they may be more immune to the vagaries of a variable teaching population.

    My beef with Broad’s article, besides the fact that I think it’s a publicity stunt, is that its message is like the “here be dragons” warnings on old timey maps. It’s not helpful or instructive and makes people fearful rather than empowered. I agree that people can hurt themselves doing yoga, I’ve done it myself, but yoga is consequential (if it wasn’t, why do it?) and with that quality comes risk. Where there is risk care is needed, but risk shouldn’t mean stop, or turn back. When I’ve hurt myself I pause and wonder what I did wrong and then experiment with how to get it right next time, bearing in mind that the process is iterative and endless. My injury then becomes instructive to others so they can proceed more efficiently and safely (funny thing is, that’s how science works – by subsequent researchers standing on the shoulders of giants who went down many blind alleys, wasted their time and lives, drove themselves mad, but now and again broke through to a transcendent understanding of the nature of existence).

    People are doing and have been doing the science to figure out what the consequences of yoga are in an objective sense and I was looking forward to, and in a way I’m still looking forward to, Broad’s upcoming book as a digest of that science. But yoga is a human endeavor and as such gets spun, interpreted and applied according to culture, taste and style just like everything else (I’m thinking of how quantum mechanics has been co-opted to explain things like astral travel or how pharmaceutical companies sell billions of dollars of drugs that are effective less than half the time and have nasty-sounding side-effects). I encourage everyone to read his book (but, maybe borrow from the library :) or borrow mine if you are near pittsburgh), follow up on its references, do your own research and make up your own mind. Hone your common sense and wield it like any other sharp instrument.

    Finally, I’d like to comment specifically on John N’s last point about the legacies of cultures: the West brought us mechanized war, nuclear holocaust, high fructose corn syrup and unprecedented pollution, but it also brought many good things too, like the internet with which we’re communicating. Cultures and people are a complex mix of good and bad and their achievements and contributions should be assessed on their individual merits. Yoga is developing like everything else and the western interpretation of yoga will evolve and grow and become its own good thing if we do what Rachel suggests and wake up, commit and do, with the goal of being the best we can be.

  • Joseph Russell

    Hi everyone,
    What a great topic. This discussion is very valid and timely.
    I have been studying, practicing and instructing Bikrams Beginning Hatha Yoga Method for 8 years so far. Not a long time in comparison, but I would like to share with the discussion what I have learned if I may.
    Pain (physical, mental, emotional, psychological) is a part of life and we all have our own understanding, and threshold, of pain and how it feels on a personal level. In other words, pain is part of stretching and those who take part need to understand this. Pain is the priceless signal notifying the mind, you/me, where to draw the line at any given moment in the posture. In that vein one must understand their own responsabilities.
    Instructors regularly lead classes of 40/50 people, sometimes more sometimes less. Realistically, instructors are not able to reach each person on a one to one manner outside of the classroom to listen to physical or otherwise problems and nor should they as we are not doctors or psychologists. Our job is to articulate clearly the instructions of each posture as well as proper etiquette and contraindications before the class begins. Students must learn to listen and be willing to learn. And part of learning is through experience.
    One of the numerous reasons why I respect Bikram for his method is the structure he created. The instructions are written down and each certified instructors job (more than any other) is to be consistent with every class. By providing a class that doesn’t change it’s structure, a person can develop through time and this is key for the body to become healthy and to maintain its optimal capacity to function accordingly.
    The other reason is the heat. I have come to realise through experience, and simple common sense, that it is irresponsible of any exercise (whether it be a gym or a yoga room) to not incorporate heat as it greatly reduces injuries caused by movement and greatly increases recovery and rehabilitaion especially for the various circulation systems of the body.
    Personally, what this yoga was created for predominantly was for injured, diseased and elderly people and yes PE. Yoga traditionally was taught at early ages because it was believed important as we have to live in a body throughout a lifetime.
    I believe our (that is the western perspective as I have gathered) understanding of yoga is some esoteric opinion of some spiritual netherworld that we all ‘should’ aspire to reach (like a religion). When this could not be further from the reality.
    To get back to point, as we grow through our lives pain is inevitable and yoga is not immune or somehow a place where magically all our pain goes away.
    We all need to be more responsible for our own actions and take control of ourselves whichever room we find ourselves in.
    Thank you for listening.

  • Melissa

    On swimming? After 10 years of competitive swimming (20 years ago) I sometimes have to cradle my right arm with my left because the shoulder pain is so awful and my arm can’t be left to just hang down. The bursa behind my shoulder gets so inflamed I can feel the pressure and can’t move my arm, until I get a cortisone shot. I had to get a headset at work and home for simple 5 minute phone calls because my elbow tendonitis is so bad I can’t hold the phone. And all that’s just on the right side of my body.

    Yet docs will recommend swimming for therapy because it also can heal.

    I think the message is–variation will help everyone avoid injury from repetition. And if it’s too late and you’re already injuried, variation will allow you to stay active without causing further damage and without causing too much pain.

  • Unfortunately, our cultural understanding of “good posture” is a wrong turn, and this structural misalignment is what causes so many people, including yoga teachers (of which I was one for 16 years) to injure themselves doing yoga and many other things. Yoga has become a “sacred cow”, and it can only be good to have an open discussion about why so many people get hurt doing this practice. This video gives a graphic explanation of how this works, and why REAL flexibility comes from aligned bones, not from stretching! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AECYId2n32c

  • Nicole

    Laura, I understand your concerns. However, maybe you should learn more about yoga alignment before you comment. Or maybe you are right in that the teachers who led the classes you attended were not the best fit for you. Pigeon pose should not have a sickled ankle as you describe it. The ankle bone should stay lifted in line with the knee joint, pushing out through the big toe ball-mount of the foot to keep the inner edge lifted. I am unsure why you did not tell the teacher that moment not to touch you. How can a teacher know if you are not clear about your needs? Additionally, students putting their faith in instructors is not yoga, again that is looking for someone to “fix” something. Yoga is about self-exploration. I have been practicing for 10 years due to Rheumatoid Arthritis, and although yoga is not a cure all and my RA still exists, yoga taught me how to sit with the pain and discomfort from a chronic disease. Yoga gave me a sense of control over my disease I thought I would never have. And I practice ashtanga with an aggressive teacher. She knows how to push me, but she also respects my limitations and needs. I tried Bikram once at the request of a friend. The practice and heat made my knees swollen and painful. Case in point- find a teacher and practice that works for you. And do not forget about the traditional 8 limbs, they are the foundation of yoga.

    Additionally (for John who requests data), as a therapist for adolescents with substance use, mood, and eating disorders, I can also see the amazing effects yoga has on them. They spend one hour doing a few simple asanas, meditation, and finally relaxation. We focus on the mind, body, sensations, surrender, being with themselves, even safe touch by others. It’s their favorite group of the week, and they report feeling refreshed after each session. I also wrote my dissertation on mindfulness and yoga incorporated into art therapy with women with substance use disorders, and the research outcomes were remarkable. Women reported decreases in stress, increases in self-esteem, insight, clarity, etc. There is amazing scientific data being released daily about the wonderful outcomes of yoga, as well as what yoga maybe does not effect. This includes brain imagery, psychological testing, stress responses, psychical testing, etc. As a licensed professional, this data is vital for the growth of yoga incorporated into my field. However, I personally view yoga like I view my faith. I practice, I observe, I believe, I watch miracles around me. If I make a mistake, I ask how I can move forward. As stated in the comment above, we all need to be more responsible for our own actions.

    Do not underestimate the power of yoga, this includes all of its aspects and the risk of any physical practice. As I tell my patients, only you can chose to change and grow. No one can make you feel anything. You chose this for yourself. 10% of your life is about what happens to us, 90% is how we respond to it. Yoga is about our response.

    Thank you for sharing your response Rachel. I enjoy your sense of humor on a topic many people are passionate about.

  • I personally injured my back trying to bend it into places it wasn’t ready to go in yoga and put myself out of all sports and activities for about 6 months. However, I did physio, got it corrected and now know what not to do in Yoga. So what Rachel’s said is correct, you have to balance your practice, test your limits and approach them with baby steps to nudge them further and further back. Yoga is a lifetime practice.

  • Sadly, Yoga is already “wrecked.” Divorced from the factual Hindu roots, this “yoga” is another example of exploitation and discrimination against Hindus/Hinduism: the religion of Yoga.

    Swami Param
    Classical Yoga Hindu Academy

  • Rachel,
    This is so beautifully articulated and clear. Especially for anyone who knows you and has conversed with you. Your voice is strong throughout.
    However… the body does not house the soul. Let’s discuss the next time we meet. : )
    Much love and safe asana.
    xx Sima

  • John Niesyn

    For those still reading this blog, an enlightening and useful response from a Yoga and Alexander Technique teacher can be found here:

    http://archive.constantcontact.com/fs026/1101537266010/archive/1109082372225.html

  • [...] “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body”: A Response [...]

  • What I liked least about the original NY Times article was the assertion that the author’s style of yoga teaching was beneficial and “good” and all other “yoga” was nefarious, scary, possibly dangerous. A little cloying, a little self serving, and very manipulative.

    I started running soon after Jim Fixx Book of Running was published. The running fad hit hard, similar to the recent interest in yoga. After a few years people started to discover running wasn’t all good. Dear Me! People get injured running! It’s hard on the knees, shins and hips. In fact, in my case I took up yoga after a traumatic hip injury made simple walking difficult. . . .that doesn’t mean the everyone should give up running – or yoga. Any exercise is better than NO exercise and any exercise has the potential to injure – ’nuff said?

  • [...] let’s also learn from the stories being shared.I liked the responses from Bernadette Birney and Rachel Anne Scott, who both used the word “duh” to describe their reaction to the news that “Yoga Can Wreck [...]

  • [...] liked the responses from Bernadette Birney and Rachel Anne Scott, who both used the word “duh” to describe their reaction to the news that “Yoga Can Wreck [...]

  • John Niesyn

    From the NY Times, February 28th: “Yoga and sex scandals: no surprises here.” So much for yoga promoting intellectual discipline. Gentlemen, grab your johnnsons.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/28/health/nutrition/yoga-fans-sexual-flames-and-predictably-plenty-of-scandal.html?hpw

  • [...] As Rachel Scott mentions in her response to the New York Times articles, so can golf, martial arts, touch football, and anything that you do repetitively. [...]

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