How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body

January 10, 2012

Photo by tarotastic

Before anyone hits send on a hate email, let me clarify that I’m in no way bashing yoga. I have done it myself in the past, and really enjoyed it. It can be healing, relaxing, and wonderful in many ways. I just question what passes for “yoga” nowadays. And this article in the New York Times on How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body was a refreshing take on its potential dangers. It’s not every day that you hear the following from a well-respected and sought-after yoga teacher:

“Black has come to believe that “the vast majority of people” should give up yoga altogether. It’s simply too likely to cause harm.“

How many times have you heard anyone utter anything negative about yoga? On the contrary, if you’ve ever had any sort of physical ailment, how many people practically shoved a yoga mat at you, saying that yoga will surely cure all your ails. If only that were true. As Black explains, there’s been a drastic shift in the demographics of yoga practitioners:

“Indian practitioners of yoga typically squatted and sat cross-legged in daily life, and yoga poses, or asanas, 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.”

That statement echoes what we’ve been saying in the paleo community about exercise, or lack thereof. We sit in our office chairs all day, and then become weekend warriors, wanting to conquer the world. This inevitably leads to injury.

“Not just students but celebrated teachers too, Black said, injure themselves in droves because most have underlying physical weaknesses or problems that make serious injury all but inevitable. Instead of doing yoga, “they 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.”

Sounds like pretty primal/paleo advice, eh?

The problem is compounded when you throw ego into the mix. The yoga practice can turn into pushing yourself, or being pushed by others, to extremes that are unnecessary and potentially harmful.

Combining yoga with heat as done in Birkam Yoga can further increase the risk of injury via overstretching, and can often result in dizziness.

I think the gentle stretching and meditative practice of traditional yoga can be very restorative to both body and mind. But I’m glad that there is awareness being brought to yoga’s potential dangers. Injury from various forms of physical exercise is nothing new, and isn’t necessarily a deterrent. The difference with yoga is that the average person doesn’t consider it a risky activity, as it’s generally regarded as a safe, alternative, and gentle form of stretching/exercise. I personally know a couple of people who have sustained yoga injuries – one got a hernia and the other began having serious hip issues. They were both shocked that yoga caused them harm. People should know what they’re getting into so that they can make informed decisions.

Thankfully, as all Vancouverites know, you don’t have to actually be an active Yogi to sport Lululemon gear everywhere you go…. :P

What do you think? Have you had any yoga injuries or know anyone that has?

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