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Yoga—Good or Bad for the Body?

commentary on New York Times article, "How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body"

Last week, I received an email from my husband, with the subject line: "How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body."

Now, my husband is an avid New York Times reader, and loves to forward me articles.  I am never sure if he actually reads the articles, or if he just sees something that seems "yoga-ish" and sends it off to me.  When I opened the link, I had to laugh at the three "yogis" at the top of the article, especially George Salzar's expression as he comically attempted to unravel himself into extended-hand-to-big-toe pose Utthita Hasta Padagustasana. Just loved their retro yoga clothes, too.

As I read the article, I was brought into the world of Glenn Black, a yoga teacher of nearly four decades. A fountain of knowledge and dry wit, he has taught celebrities, superstar gurus and common folk in Manhattan and Omega Institute. His approach to teaching is to hold a few simple poses, to omit inversions like headstand and shoulder stands, and to create an awareness of each posture instead of pushing through as many as possible in a class.  As I continued to read the article, it wasn't the emphasis on yoga's  potential to inflict blinding pain or the gruesome details of the injuries experienced by some people that drew my attention.  It was Black's belief, a celebrated and legendary yogi, in people that now practice yoga:

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

A smile spread across my face as I read this line. Black is a true yogi.  Despite all the marketing, superstar yogis, new clothing lines and products that have created the yogi culture, Black is bringing it all to screeching halt. Look at the statistics:  In 2001, 4 million Americans were doing yoga.  The estimate in 2011 was 20 million.

So in ten years, 10 million more people are "doing" yoga. Does that mean that suddenly, yogis have crawled out of their ashrams and opened their practice to the public?  Not really - everyone is "doing" yoga. This doesn't mean they are necessarily practicing yoga in their everyday lives, letting go of their egos, and connecting with themselves on and off the mat. It just means there are a lot of people that are now doing yoga, for various reasons - to help them, because its the new "trend" as a friend of mine mentioned, or because everyone else is doing it.

I am not saying yoga is bad.  I am living proof that there are proven benefits with yoga, and I passionately agree that it can help others - to become more calm, to energize, to strengthen and even cure some ailments.  It can lower your blood pressure, help with depression, create a safe place in a world that constantly moving.

It's cool to do yoga.

There are an abundance of studios where many teachers lack the deeper training necessary to recognize when students are headed toward injury.

But it's cool to do yoga in a safe space. Where there are experienced teachers who have been practicing and teaching for decades, like Kate Graham at Hudson Yoga  She is a certified Iyengar yoga instructor with training in yoga and anatomy, and continues to study at the Iyengar Institute in New York City. Other teachers at the studio-Chris Glover, Suzanna Johnson, Andrea Naitove are deep into their practice, reflected when you first meet them by their graceful postures, compassion, manner of communicating with every person they meet, and teaching styles.

Read this article. When you read it, put aside all judgement. Before your mind starts to whisper to you,"I knew yoga was bad for you, look at what happen to these people." Just read the article and ask questions.  How did these people approach each posture? Did they go into the posture being aware of how their body felt that day? Every day your body will feel different, depending on what you ate, how you slept and what is going on in your life.  Maybe today your body wasn't asking for a backbend and you should of opted for doing bridge, resting in Savasana, or meditating.

Or, did they look around the room and let their ego decide?

The article concludes with Black's message that he took to a recent conference at the Omega Institute:

Asana (yoga postures)  is not a panacea or a cure-all. In fact, if you do it with ego or obsession, you’ll end up causing problems.  A lot of people don’t like to hear that.

Kudos to you Black. And thank you.

My husband continues to send me articles.  The next one I found in my inbox was about Kira Willey's new kids yoga music release Kings and Queens of the Forest-composed to enlighten your little ones to play yoga.

Namaste

Elisha Fernandes Simpson CKYT, RYT, aka laughing hearts yoga  teaches family, mommy and me, kids (ages 7 -18) yoga and organizes free bi-weekly yoga classes for people with breast cancer. Become a friend on Facebook's laughing hearts yoga page.

New classes for tweens and teens begin this week. New class for 7 – 12 years begins on Jan 18th at Josie’s dance.  Contact her at info@laughingheartsyoga.com or 914 319 4010 for suggestions about her blog

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Cindy Wager January 10, 2012 at 11:48 PM
Great perceptive Elisha, when I read the article the first thing that came to my mind was exactly that, if you don't do it right you will get hurt, the same can be said for anything we do in life that involves activity - tennis, spin classes, swimming, gymnastics, crossing the street, getting into a car, playing ping pong (hey that ball could hit your eye) - you have to be aware of the correct way to do each pose (loose the ego is the hardest and people like to approaching yoga like a cardio workout.) and yes, there maybe not great teachers out there who give other amazing teachers a bad rap. Like anything else you have to read it and take it as yet one more point of , and of course there are always extreme cases in everything we do.
John Q. Public January 11, 2012 at 01:39 AM
Exercise is essential. Yoga practiced well is good. Resistance training too. Yoga is a fancy way to stretch. Then there is the mental aspect. Read Pema Chodron's "When Things Fall Apart." http://www.amazon.com/When-Things-Fall-Apart-Difficult/dp/1570623449
Flat Iron Gallery, Inc. January 11, 2012 at 05:36 PM
I believe having the right yoga teacher is essential for a positive, safe, and rewarding experience. I am presently studying yoga with Meredith Laubin who has been immersed in the world of yoga for several decades. She teaches at the Holistic Women's Center at 97 Locust Ave. in Cortlandt Manor. Call the director of the center, holistic chiropracter, Marianne Messina, 914-309-4741 for more information.
Yoga unhealthy. Just crazy talk. Everyone needs to understand their limitations but an activity such as Yoga should not cause injury if properly practiced with a good instructor. If you are sedimentary they you should probably get a checkup with your doctor before starting any new physical activity.

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