I guess this week, it’s yoga that’s bad for us.
Last week it was vitamins, supplements, fruits and vegetables. The week before, organic foods were dangerous and organic co-ops were being raided by authorities. The week before that, it became illegal in Europe to claim that drinking water could prevent dehydration. It seems like all things healthy are under attack these days. Who knows, maybe exercise, or any physical activity will be bad for us soon. What are we going to do when walking becomes the next dangerous thing. It’s not looking good…
So now, it’s yoga that’s under attack. The New York Times recently ran this article: How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body. I thought initially it would be a clever, tongue in cheek kind of article, but it’s definitely not. It’s a long article and if you don’t want to read it, essentially the author tries to scare the bejesus out of you. I can summarize the article in 3 words: yoga is dangerous. My last post bestowed the virtues of yoga and I even used phrases like, “yoga is one of the best things you could ever do for yourself.” Then there’s an article like this in the New York Times. I guess we need to look at both sides of the argument.
I’ll be honest, I’ve hurt myself doing yoga, probably several times. I’ve treated numerous patients who hurt themselves doing yoga. I’ve been in a yoga class where the teacher actually screamed, grabbed his low-back and collapsed. But I’ll still go on record saying yoga is one of the best things you can do for yourself. Problems arise when we don’t listen to our bodies. We try to do too much and push ourselves too far. There’s no rush when it comes to yoga and your own yoga practice. If yoga is something we should be doing the rest of our days, we need to pace ourselves. Our instant gratification society has made us very impatient.
So how do you practice yoga safely?
- Find a certified yoga instructor who you trust. Obviously, if they’re barking something like: “Push it! You in the blue shirt, what’s wrong with you?!? Push it!”, that’s a pretty bad sign.
- If a yoga pose (asana) hurts – don’t do it! Your body is trying to tell you something. Stretching sensation in the muscles – good. Pain, of any kind, especially in the joints – bad.
- Leave your ego at the door. As tempting as it may be – DO NOT compete with anyone, not even yourself. There will always days when you’re doing yoga poses and you’re struggling, where it feels like you’re moving through molasses. But there will also be days where it’s effortless. And there will always be someone stronger, or more flexible than you. You just have to let it go.
Even if you are practicing yoga safely, under the watchful eye of an experienced instructor, there will be times where you probably overdo it. As long as you’re following the advice above, if you do sustain and injury, hopefully, it will just be a mild one. Be sure to tell the yoga instructor and a health professional with biomechanical expertise, deal with the injury and get back on the yoga mat as soon as possible. Your body will thank you for it.
Yoga, like anything caries some degree of risk. But, if you’re practicing mindfully and with common sense – I believe the health benefits far outweigh the risks. When I was practicing in Northern Ireland, I used to treat a lot of injured, elderly lawn bowlers. Instead of telling them to stop this obviously dangerous, extreme sport, we corrected the underlying problem and they enjoyed this pastime for years to come.
If we let fear and journalistic sensationalism stop us from doing things that we know are inherently good for us and our well-being, I worry our future could look something like this: