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.”

Savage Chickens - Fantastic!

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.

Why I thought Anusara® yoga was force for evil

I took my first Anusara yoga class recently (see here for my review of the pleasant experience), and despite initial doubts (see below), I decided that Anusara was harmless.

As background, from wikipedia: “Anusara yoga is a modern school of hatha yoga grounded in a Tantric philosophy of intrinsic goodness, that was started by John Friend in 1997…The emphasis of the school is on a set of “Universal Principles of Alignment” which underlie all postures, “heart opening” postures and the spiritual/meditative benefits of hatha yoga.”

Now, as a public service, I will explain why I harbored suspicions about Anusara, in hopes that Yoga Inc can improve its PR strategy with the outside world. To be clear, below are my ex-ante impressions, Anusara as it appeared to an outsider.

1) Yoga styles are proliferating like rabbits. In this mess, does the world need another type of yoga? Yoga is supposed to help simplify, not distract.

2) The motivation for establishing a new style like Anusara is unclear. One suspects the style is formed not because a superior path to enlightenment has been developed, but as a way for a charismatic yoga teacher to cash in on his popularity. For example, see Bikram.

Bikram Choudhury with two students. Btw, Indian people are not born this hairless. I know.

3) Anusara seems to be a cult of John Friend. For example, the Anusara webpage makes clear that John Friend runs the show—links to his blog and twitter feed are at the bottom of every page; his travel schedule is separated from other Anusara events; “About John Friend” is the first link in the “About Anusara” section; and to be certified, and stay certified, you must study with Friend directly. To the casual observer, Anusara=John Friend, not Anusara=enduring body of knowledge.

John Friend

4) Smells like a business, not a school. It takes some chutzpah, and commercial mindedness, to take an ancient discipline, rebrand it, trademark it, and then charge dues to practice it. The words themselves are proprietary, and teachers—who pay annual fees of nearly $100—must annotate the words to signal that “Anusara” is someone else’s intellectual property: Anusara-Inspired™ or Anusara®.

Anusara yoga greeting cards at 10 for $25.

5) The style seems derivative, not revolutionary–more marketing than innovation. Anusara appears to be repackaged Iyengar with some Hinduism on the side.

6) The words are incomprehensible to the layman. For example, from the website: Anusara yoga’s “highest intention…is to align with the Divine… awaken to the truth that this Divine flow is our essential nature.” I think I can spot the Tantric message here—but other stuff is, uh, harder to follow: “Everything manifests as a result of the dance of Divine polarities, the mystical marriage between Shiva and Shakti that is auspicious consciousness vibrating with Freedom and is full of the highest Bliss…”

7) The not-so-flattering profile of John Friend in the New York Times last year (“The Yoga Mogul”) didn’t help. At best Friend comes off as earnest but cheesy. The article ends with a story of Friend reciting “an ode to creativity” at a private “happening” in an LA loft, while a young woman in tiger face paint “danced and writhed on the floor.”

We ride the tiger. . . .
I taste her hunger
In the burning of my desire
There is no hotter fire.

Ouch.

(See his response to the NYT article here. He says: “…hav[ing] such an extensive article published in the New York Times on yoga, particularly Anusara yoga…is another clear sign that Grace supports Anusara.”)

The end. Please use this information for good, not evil.

Tara Stiles @ Strala Yoga (NYC)

Tara Stiles, NYC-based model turned yoga teacher, was recently featured in a New York Times article about being a rebel in the yoga world. The article saddened me, not due to this apostate’s threat to the happy yoga community, but because I realized how out of the gossip loop I was. I had no idea that a controversy had been percolating.

So, last week I headed to her studio to see what the fuss was all about. After careful research of attending one class, I’ve decided that Tara is no rebel (as I had earlier suspected). I enjoyed her class.

Tara had a nice calm energy, stressing the breath, and often reminding us to “take it easy” if we lost our breath. It was like an extended version of her YouTube videos. There were no oms, she didn’t use Sanskrit names for poses, music was more indie rock than yoga, and there was no dharma talk. But these seemed like superficial differences from most other (asana) yoga classes I’ve attended. Same poses, same emphasis on breath, same sitting quietly at the beginning and end of class to focus inward. She started class with alternate nostril breathing and ended class with three long sighs, inhaling through the nose and exhaling softly through the mouth—which gave me the feeling of soundless oms.

Most everything else about the studio was great (save the changing/storage area which seemed inadequate and insecure). Front desk was very friendly. Space is a large and clean modern loft. The price can’t be beat. $10 for a class in the middle of NYC! Class was not packed but full. There was a decent number of dudes. I like to see dudes in yoga class because these skittish creatures are rarely glimpsed in the yoga wilds.

I appreciate Ms Stiles’ appeal. No dogma, accessible pricing ranging from free YouTube videos to $10 classes (which I repeat is a steal in NYC, where studios charge drop-in rates of $20/class), and I left feeling good. Oh, and she’s hot.

That said, I dig my yoga teachers a little more hippie dippie, or, if not that, seriously alignment focused–someone who can throw in a dash of philosophy, lead class in a little singing, or give guidance towards a more subtle body awareness. The NYT describes it thusly: “Ms. Stiles is not trying to appeal to the yoga elite or to the purist. She is going for the firefighter from Long Island who feels intimidated by “oms” and New Age music.” Does this make me part of the yoga elite? I hope so! elite, elite, elite, it just rolls off the tongue.

NYT manufactures a controversy about Tara Stiles

Yoga? Ms. Stiles in an american apparel ad.

Tara Stiles is a young, NYC-based yoga instructor. She is Deepak Chopra’s “personal instructor”, author of “Slim Calm Sexy Yoga,” and apparently great at getting press (with features in Elle, Lucky, InStyle, Esquire, and Men’s Health, according to her bio.)

Her most recent press coup is this article in the NY Times, which calls Ms. Stiles a “rebel” yoga instructor. It paints Ms. Stiles as a rebel in the yoga world because she teaches in a more physical, less philosophical style. She calls the sacrum the lower back. (Is being imprecise rebellious?) She refuses to name the studio where she trained because it was “not useful”. (Wouldn’t a 200 hour teacher training have had some sort of influence, good or bad?)

I find article silly because Ms. Stiles is hardly controversial–most yoga-ers in America learn yoga from teachers that ignore the philosophy and have had generic training. Ms Stiles is pretty and has an enormous number of free videos on youtube–all of which help her attract more Americans, especially dudes, to yoga. And some of these people, once attracted, may then decide to go deeper into the practice. This is good.

And, how to make this sound less callous than I mean it, I don’t think many yoga-ers beyond the hard core few expend much energy thinking about her, because: 1) she’s not a rebel, 2)  she’s not a strong presence in the yoga scene (how many have taken her class or read her book?), and 3) yoga people are too groovy to get judgmental in public. Indeed, when Yoga Journal blogged about the NYT article and asked if there was a controversy, most responses were a variation of “no, no controversy, to each her own.” (There has been much discussion of the article in the yogablogosphere. For example, here, here, here, here. I found NY-instructor Sadie Nardini’s post about the background machinations of Creative Artists Agency quite interesting). But still, I believe that the article misses its mark, because Ms Stiles is but a symptom of yoga’s growing pains as it becomes more mainstream in the U.S.

I commend the NYT on its attempt to root out the seedy underbelly of yoga–who doesn’t love a good controversy?–but the NYT needs to try harder. Perhaps more articles on cults or maybe something on inappropriate adjustments?

UPDATE: I went to her class. I enjoyed it.