Yoga will wreck you, roundup

[Update: I am updating this post as I come across new fave responses.]

I’d be amiss in my duties as yoga blogger if I didn’t weigh in again on the recent NY Times article How yoga can wreck your body. The article, an excerpt from Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and NYT science writer William J. Broad‘s upcoming book, The Science of Yoga: The Risks and the Rewards, has received a lot of coverage from the interwebs, yogic and otherwise, because it says that “the yoga community long remained silent about [yoga’s] potential to inflict blinding pain…a growing body of medical evidence supports [the] contention that, for many people, a number of commonly taught yoga poses are inherently risky. ”

I wrote a response (“whatevs”) a few days ago. Also, dudes looking for pictures of girls in yoga pants–the most frequent visitors to this site–likely don’t care if said girls need spinal surgery when they’re 50. Still, in the interest of jumping on the bandwagon, I am doing a round up of my fave responses. Continue reading

YOGA WILL KILL YOU

Happy new year yoga lovers. I would like to ring in 2012 with this expose on yoga asana from the NYT: How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body. The article talks about 28 year olds having strokes, emergency room visits, spinal surgery and vertebrae getting fused. It says “…surveys by the Consumer Product Safety Commission showed that the number of emergency-room admissions related to yoga, after years of slow increases, was rising quickly. They went from 13 in 2000 to 20 in 2001. Then they more than doubled to 46 in 2002.”

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I’m all, “That sucks, but I’ll take my chances.” Odds of trauma seem small; evidence in article is anecdotal. I’ll continue to study with the best teachers I can find; focus on my alignment; avoid shoulderstand until I figure out what I’m doing; and close my eyes and try to refocus during class when my ego goes into overdrive (“I will get this backbend, damn that twinge that is probably nothing at all”).

If yoga does kill me, whatevs. I will die doing something I love.

8 tips for beginning yogis

I taught my third group yoga class last week, and boy do I have a lot to learn about teaching. At one point a dude in class asked loudly, in frustration, “What leg should I use?” A few minutes later he said again, “I don’t understand what to do!” I guess I wasn’t providing clear enough instructions. At the same time, an older, overweight woman who was taking yoga for the first time started to walk around fanning herself and saying, “Wooh, I need to rest.”

The rest of the class proceeded without interruption, but I realized how much I take for granted as a seasoned yoga class goer, how much I better I could communicate as a teacher, and how strange the yoga world must seem to an outsider. This is the advice I’d give to a yoga newbie:

1) Find a basics or beginners class. Even if you are an athletic person, and can do demanding things with your body, you don’t know the alignment, or the sequence, or the poses. Find a class for beginners. You’ll benefit so much more, because the teacher will slow the sequence down, explain things more, and create an environment in which you’re less likely to injure yourself. You’d be cocky to go to an advanced level flute class having never played the instrument before even if you were already a maestro on the piano. You’d probably pick up the flute quickly, if you tried, but you still need to learn the basics: how to purse your lips, regulate your breath, and the physical configuration of the notes on the flute itself. Yoga asanas need time and space for learning. Basics doesn’t have to mean “easy” though. Basics classes can be physically challenging, and can even be more so than an “advanced” class–because when you hold poses for a while and with proper alignment, you are using muscles you normally don’t use. This is hard. Which brings me to my next point.

Continue reading

What is yoga? Iyengar.

If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough. –attributed to Albert Einstein via the internet.

I don’t know if Einstein said this for reals, but it speaks to me. I can’t explain yoga, or the importance of asana in yoga, simply. Sad, and not for lack of effort. Therefore, in addition to looking within, I look to masters for their wisdom. In the below clip from 1976, BKS Iyengar drops some knowledge relevant to these two questions: What is yoga?, and Why Asana? I’ve transcribed the quotes below.

Based on my limited study of the Yoga Sutras, Iyengar’s definition of yoga is familiar. I get it intellectually, but I don’t get it in my bones. This is not his fault. His style isn’t simple, exactly, but it is clear and dramatic. His style also includes an amazing pair of tiny and bad-ass plaid yoga “pants”.

What is yoga? In order to experience…total freedom [in body, in mind, in the self itself], Indian sages and saints introduced…yoga. Yoga is a union with the body and the mind, mind with the soul so that man…lives in a state of peace and poise…Yoga is a means for freedom, and yoga is the end of freedom itself. Yoga means complete… sublimation of the ways of thought which move in various directions. …Man…when he stills the wandering mind…experiences the self which has no color, no form, no shape. In order to experience that self, yoga has various steps for physical, moral, intellectual, and spiritual discipline…

Why asana? In order to… conquer this inner oscillation of the self with the mind, we have to come to the concrete: the body, which is the temple… the vehicle of the spirit…As long as the body…is not kept healthy, clean, pure and holy, the mind is not released from the bondage…If this body is abused or negleted, we are neglecting the self, so we are neglecting our freedom…The body…has to be conquered so that the mind is completely freed from the attachment of the body and get itself attached to the self….The subtle body, which is the mind, cannot be known, cannot be seen, cannot be understood, so these asana are meant to conquer the known, so that the known dissolves in the unknown.