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This Yoga Will Destroy Us All

A few days ago, an article was published in The New York Times Magazine about yoga. Surprising, right? Actually, for many people it’s been a total shock, and judging by the posts in my Facebook feed, the world of yoga as we know it may be coming to an end. Yes, dear friends, we’ve hit the yogapocalypse. The yopocalypse? No, I think the first one works better.

Titled “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body,” it’s clear from the get-go that this article is out for blood. Yoga has been bad, and now it’s going to pay.  Here’s what it boils down to (other than a rather uninteresting laundry list of injuries sustained while practicing or because of practicing yoga): some people are overzealous and do a lot of yoga, like this one guy who decided he would hold a certain pose for hours at a time while chanting for world peace. You know, like you do. Except yoga betrayed him! And many others! And people ended up getting hurt! Yoga is bad, people, because you can’t do it super intensely and not get hurt! Everything we’ve been taught about it is wrong! Everything is so terrible and the world is full of lies!

Except that it’s not, obviously. As usual, what we really have here is a case of the New York Times getting it wrong (there should be a branch of media dedicated entirely to reporting on how often this happens). For one thing, I’m not sure about y’all, but in my many years of practicing yoga I’ve never had anyone tell me that I should hold any pose for hours or push myself to a point where it feels uncomfortable. In fact, I’ve heard many instructors very clearly point out that if you are making it hard, you’re doing it wrong. For another, while it may be true that the number of yoga-related injuries being reported has increased in the past ten years, the number of practitioners has increased as well. Any increase in the number of people doing something is going to lead to a corresponding increase in the number of people getting hurt while doing it. What the article fails to tells us is how the proportion of injuries to practitioners has changed in the past decade.

Finally, what does any of this really have to do with yoga, anyway? The fact of the matter is that most things, when pushed to an extreme point, are going to end up being harmful in some way. Instead of pointing the finger at yoga, maybe we should just try taking it easy, and doing yoga the way we’re supposed to. I don’t know, though, that might require some kind of weird effort that no one wants to put forth. Because obviously it’s a lot easier to spend a good part of your day in shoulder stand than it is to vary your practice, take the time to listen to your body, and maybe not try rotating your head 360 degrees. This isn’t the Exorcist, after all.

Yoga is not the problem here, commonsense (or a lack thereof) is. Indeed, Glenn Black, whose interview for the article makes up most of its content, even admits to the fact that the problem is ego, not something that has to do with yoga. So why pin the blame where it doesn’t belong?

By Emilie

Runner, yogini, knitter, Manhattanite in spite of myself. Also blogging at http://www.icametorun.com.

14 replies on “This Yoga Will Destroy Us All”

I completely agree about common sense and paying attention to what your body is telling you. I can kind of see why the original article picks on yoga in particular though.

While all exercise is broadly marketed as being healthy, yoga in particular has this surrounding myth of unparalleled healthiness and wholesomeness. I’ve been to yoga classes before where it got recommended by the teacher as an alternative to mainstream medicine for a whole host of ailments, and there seemed to be a sort of belief that more yoga is always better, and will always make you healthier.

I love yoga, and it’s not an objection to the activity itself, but I haven’t encountered that sort of “this is THE way to be healthy” when trying other sports/exercise, at least not in the same way. So I wonder if that’s what the original author might have been trying to pick at, if inexpertly.

 

I know that modern yoga is often practiced without an understanding of the mindsets that are supposed to be cultivated by it, but still, I don’t understand how people could possibly think that yoga is supposed to be a “no pain, no gain” activity. I remember reading an interview with some famous yoga teachers and they said that one of the things that surprised them is how many people who had only been practicing for a year or so wanted to know how soon they could become yoga teachers.

I suspect that these hard chargers are over-represented among those who sustain the most serious injuries.

I do think there is some kind of misunderstanding of what constitutes natural, healthy pain and what makes for unhealthy, potential injury-inducing pain. There is definitely a difference and not knowing that difference can lead to either practice weak yoga that has no challenge, or injuring yourself.

When I practice yoga, I like to push myself. I like to stretch deeper and hold poses for longer than I did before, but I never push myself past the point where you feel genuine pain. I know my body well enough to discern when I’m trying to hard (key indicators for me are sharper pains and tightening of my breath). This actually holds true for most sports/physical activities. To say that sprinting doesn’t involve some pain is just false. Yoga too involves pain, but the healthy kind.

There is a lot of fear of normal pain, the pain you experience when you are working hard, so when people don’t experience it they either assume it’s bad, evil pain or they don’t recognize when the pain is actually going to hurt them. And that’s how people get hurt. Or really bored of yoga.

All that being said, each body is different and thinking that everyone should be able to hold a certain pose or they are “cheating” is such enormous bullshit.

Blah. I hope that’s clear. I’m in a bit of a rambly mood tonight.

That makes sense to me. Expressions like “no pain, no gain” don’t help: some people take it too far and injure themselves. I don’t practice yoga, but I grew up playing hockey, and I definitely have seen people train themselves into injury because they can’t tell good pain from bad. I would imagine that injuries are probably most common in people who try to do too much too fast, or who have instructors who don’t know when to tell someone to ease up (or who have bad instructors period).

I used to swim competitively and I saw many MANY shoulder injuries while I was with my team. People didn’t realize that the repetitive motions were causing tendinitis and a few team-mates had to get major surgery to repair the damage. I think part of it may have been a lack of respect and love for their bodies. Feeling frustrated when their bodies failed them and so punishing their bodies by working harder. Childhood/teen sports can be so intense, it’s not surprising many children/teens feel that their bodies are not meeting their standards of perfection.

I completely agree! There is pain that’s right, and there’s pain that’s wrong. I kind of think of it in terms of sore muscles vs. pulled muscles. In yoga, I keep in mind the idea of not pushing past your edge. Find it, stay there (if you want, back off if you don’t), but don’t go jumping off.

“I’ve never had anyone tell me that I should hold any pose for hours or push myself to a point where it feels uncomfortable.”  I actually got into an argument with a Bikram Yoga instructor after a class for this.  In fact, she repeatedly called me out in class as a “cheater” for not holding a pose that was painful to me.  Oh, she made me mad.  I no longer practice Bikram Yoga because of repeated problems like this.

I agree completely that common sense is important, here.  One should listen to their body, and when something is painful, back off.  Most yoga instructors and practitioners are pretty good about this, but the whole ego-driven, push-yourself-to-injury instruction and practice does exist.

 

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