Happy New Year!!! Yoga Article, My Response… Take That!!!

Melindas Yoga Teaching Schedule (as of January 16th, 2012):  All at Equinox Fitness clubs in Manhattan

Vinyasa Yoga Level 2:  Columbus Circle, Tuesdays, 6:30-7:45 pm

Vinyasa Yoga Level 2/3: Soho, Wednesdays 7:30-8:30 pm

Power Vinyasa: Columbus Circle, Sundays 9:30-10:30am

Come to class!  You will be glad you did 🙂 This past week has had many a yogi in quite the uproar  due to one very prickly article published in the NY Times Magazine.   This article discusses some very tragic and unfortunate injuries suffered by various yoga practitioners, as a way of showcasing what is claimed to be the inherent dangers of yoga, especially the way yoga is taught and practiced here in the west, perhaps even as specifically as here in NYC, where a plethora of yoga studios, gurus, styles, variations, levels and deviations of yoga can be found.

We do have a tremendous amount of variety here in NYC when it comes to which kind of Yoga we practice, under whose guidance we receive our teaching, and to what extent we incorporate any traditional yogic philosophy.  This is all reflective of the demand for yoga and yoga-esque exercise here in this population.  I take issue with many of the assertions presented in the article, the first being from a personal trainer/physiological standpoint.  This perspective, as I have been in the fitness field for over ten years, has taught me that there is almost no injury, aside from a full contact/blunt force trauma that is not precipitated by a series of warning signs issued by several systems in the body.  One such system is the nervous system, which too large to comment on here, serves to deliver messages of pain and discomfort, with symptoms like swelling, inflammation and dysfunction so that we will know to take some time to investigate what might be troubling us.  The problem, as opposed to being an inherent problem with yoga as a discipline, is that most people do not listen to these warning signs until it is too late.  These soft tissue injuries are a result of many years of chronic instability in the joints, or chronic shortening of the muscles and connective tissue, or any imbalance thereof which forces the body to redirect  energy towards establishing balance, often resulting in pain or dysfunction when we try to make these muscles or connective tissue systems perform.  Many soft tissue injuries, when left unchecked, develop into uncomfortable and painful swelling around a joint or joint complex, which then, when placed under undue stress and/or chronic and/or excessive shortening/over-activation, can trigger a series of painful and potentially debilitating consequences.

This leaves me to wonder:  are some people using yoga as a vehicle to understand their own body on a deeper level, but because of unfortunate timing and perhaps misguided ambition, stumbled across an potentially dormant injury and triggered it with an unnecessarily aggressive approach?  When we look at who it is that might be most attracted to yoga and what it claims to achieve:  sense of relaxation and calm, renewed energy and mental focus, connection to a practice designed to facilitate meditation and ultimately bliss – who comes to mind?  The person who already has all that figured out already?  No!  Of course not.  It is the seekers of that peace, those who venture towards something they cannot usually define or articulate in words, but something instead that they feel on a intangibly yet deeply experienced level.

What is missing from this type of yoga practitioner is one of life’s most treasured gifts, yet sometimes most difficult to attain:  patience, humility and above all, honesty.  This type of practitioner so deeply desires to feel better, to transcend fear and self imposed limitation, to stop their pain and finally begin to feel some relief from the constant ruminations of their mind.  The example in the article  – about the yoga teacher involved in a photo shoot who tore a hamstring (I think it was a hamstring) -could she have said no at some point?  Could she have kept her muscles warm and prevented the tear?  How long have those ligaments/muscles/soft tissue been overstretched or made to perform extreme ranges of motion and mobility without proper warm-up protocols?  Perhaps she triggered something that was just about ready to go, and some benign action like bending over to tie her shoe or scoop up a toddler or cute dog might have had the same result.  Well,we were not there but I suspect that as opposed to yoga being the culprit there was some hubris, some pressure to perform and some re-structuring of priorities in that particular context.  How about the young man sitting in virasana for 6 hours for whatever length of time?  Could he possibly be compulsive with his behavior?  Are we to believe that every other part of his life is in complete and total balance and yoga was the one thing that he took to an extreme, because yoga is inherently dangerous?  Nonsense!  And this is not to force judgement upon anyone!  I myself have been injured many times!  But it was not the fault of yoga, marital arts, modern dance, running outside or any of the other activities that I partake in or have explored.  It was a combination of my abnormally loose ligaments making my body structurally prone to certain injuries, and my pride in taking on too much too soon, wanting to please, prioritizing something other than my best interest, like  – oh, I don’t know, someone else’s best interests!  I could discuss this all day!  I wont  -dont worry 🙂

I will leave you with the assurance that I continue to teach with the health, safety and well being of my students at the top of my list.  For anyone who has been injured by yoga, I urge you to examine your approach and see if changes you can make to your own practice can make the difference, rather than a blanket abandonment of what can otherwise be tremendously healing and life changing . Learn to  listen, the body has wisdom and it speaks, sometimes in a whisper, sometimes in a loud shriek.  What is it telling you?

See you in class!

“It is the truth we ourselves speak rather than the treatment we recieve that heals us. ” M. Hobart Mowrer (1966)

“Things do not change.  We change.” Henry David Thoreau, Walden