This article should be required reading for all yogis: How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body – NYTimes.com.
I have been lucky in that I’ve never been injured from doing yoga since I started practicing in 1982. I’ve only had muscle soreness, but never severe or lasting more than a day. Doing yoga from a book was risky, but it taught me to pay attention to my own experience.
I’ve been lucky to have had good teachers. Eleanor Harris would never have students do shoulder stand with the neck bent ninety degrees to the torso, as described in this article.
Instead, we would fold blankets and our mat to create an elevated cushioned ledge for the shoulders to rest on with the head resting on the floor a couple of inches below. Afterwards, we would rest on our backs with support under our necks. We also did prep poses before attempting sarvangasana.
Let your awareness of your body’s limits be your primary guide, and beware of any teacher who would override you.
Some people naturally have very flexible bodies. It seems that a lot of these people, to whom yoga comes easily, become yoga teachers and end up setting the bar for the rest of us.
I am fairly flexible but am unable to do lotus pose, arm balances, and several other advanced poses. I’m okay with that. I don’t feel like I have to prove anything by doing advanced poses. Still, after working toward it for an hour (or a lifetime), it is a thrill to finally do hanumanasana. I understand the desire to deepen one’s yoga practice.
I’m happy with the yoga I can do, happy to make small increments of progress, which these days has as much to do with my own body awareness as it does with achieving an external form.
Most of my yoga studies for the past few years have been with Iyengar-certified and Anusara-inspired teachers, who tend to focus on anatomy and form.
I like how yoga keeps me flexible enough, how the poses open up my meridians so that my energy flows with more ease. I simply feel better during my off-mat life because of yoga, and if the day ever comes that I don’t, that’s the day I stop doing it.
Besides reading this article, I also recommend that yoga students and teachers watch the video Anatomy for Yoga with Paul Grilley, which clearly shows the range of flexibility in the bodies of yogis. It will make you feel better if you can’t get your arms straight in wheel pose.
An excerpt is available on YouTube: