Follow-ups to NYT article about yoga injuries

I wanted to post links to several follow-up articles relating to my recent post The dark side of yoga about last week’s New York Times article about yoga and injuries, How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body so that if you are following this controversy through my blog, you can keep up.

Ashtanga Yoga New York posted an article, How the NYT Can Wreck Yoga. This article cites two reasons for the increase in yoga injuries: overzealousness on the part of students and the yoga industry.

The article states that too much zeal is a trait of a particular type of person “no matter what a teacher may caution.” (I just wonder if some of the people with this trait become bad yoga teachers themselves.)

The second reason is about the $5 billion per year yoga products and services industry and a value system that is based on economic incentive. The author argues that quality declines when the potential for making money is great, resulting in yoga becoming “McDonafied”. Therefore, more injuries occur because teachers and studios are more into making money than teaching quality yoga that prevents injuries.

Some good data are included, and the writer brings up injury rates in other physical activities, like basketball or football.

A balanced, serious, and accurate scientific report on the risks of yoga would have, at a minimum, explicitly stated that no one actually knows the injury rates for yoga, as is actually the case.

Click the link above to read the whole thing and all the comments.

Another article was published on Yogadork’s excellent blog. Is the New York Times Wrecking Yoga? The Community Responds includes the response mentioned above as well as a letter by Roger Cole, senior Iyengar teacher and Ph.D., to the New York Times, setting the record straight:

‘The article incorrectly states that yoga master B.K.S. Iyengar “insisted” that students practice shoulder stand in a manner that dangerously hyperflexes the neck. In fact, he insists on exactly the opposite. Mr. Broad cites a Yoga Journal column I wrote describing a method of “reducing neck bending in a shoulder stand by lifting the shoulders on a stack of folded blankets…” This safer method was invented by B.K.S. Iyengar and he has long been adamant that all of his certified teachers must teach the pose this way. Mr. Iyengar, who recently celebrated his 93rd birthday, still maintains a vigorous yoga practice that includes long holds in headstand (without support) and shoulder stand with his shoulders lifted on a prop.

The column describing Mr. Iyengar’s safer shoulder stand technique, entitled “Keep the Neck Healthy in Shoulderstand,” is at The original version of Mr. Broad’s article supplied an incorrect link.

This is the way I was taught to do and teach shoulder stand by my teacher and trainer Eleanor Harris, as I mentioned in my previous post on this topic.

The third (so far) article was posted by Charlotte Bell on the blog of Huggermugger, a company that sells yoga supplies. In Youch! Yoga Injuries: How Not to Wreck Your Body, this 30-year yoga practitioner says matter of factly that any time you take your body out of its normal range of motion, there’s the potential for injury.

She wishes the NYT had examined modern versus traditional yoga teacher training. Me too. The traditional way has a teacher training students individually.

This is the model I chose. I was one of two students in my seven-month-long teacher training by Eleanor, who trained in the Iyengar tradition as well as other styles and who has over 20 years of experience. The other student, Kandice, and I had both been in Eleanor’s yoga classes for a good period of time before beginning her teacher training. She was aware of our practices and could address our needs individually.

The modern way of teacher training is often one-size-fits-all, for up to 40 students at a time, sometimes in a short amount of time.

Which do you think is going to produce better yoga teachers and reduced injury rates?

Bell also makes the point that yoga is not just poses:

We all know that yoga is not just poses, but asana remains the centerpiece of most Western practice. I wonder if the rise of yoga-related injuries might also be related to the fact that asana has been taken out of its original context. When the physical practice for its own sake becomes the be-all, end-all, it is much easier to become forceful and competitive, which IMO is the source of many yoga injuries. Consider how practicing the eight limbs tempers asana practice:

  • Yama:  The yamas teach us to approach practice with honesty, generosity and the spirit of non-harming.
  • Niyama:  The niyamas teach us about contentment, self-study (so that we know how poses affect us), and that our practice is not just about ourselves, that our practice is for the benefit of all beings.
  • Pranayama:  Giving our breath primacy in asana practice, as Donna Farhi teaches, shows us how to practice with the continuity of our breath in mind, so that we don’t move beyond the limits of our body’s ability to breathe freely.
  • Pratyahara:  Pratyahara teaches us to not become attached to the pleasant—or unpleasant—sensations we feel in practice.
  • Dharana:  Dharana steadies the mind so that we can see more clearly what is happening in our bodies as we practice.
  • Dhyana:  Dhyana refines our awareness of the experiences of each passing moment.
  • Samadhi:  Gives us a taste of the settling of the mind into silence—the true definition of yoga.

Well said, Charlotte Bell.

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