My 2 Cents about "How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body"

As I say at the end of this video response to the New York Times article, “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body,” I’m too lazy, too dyslexic and too slow a typist to write out my opinion. Instead I was able to tape this piece at the end of my Yoga Anatomy class last Wednesday night.  In it, I reference my friend Eddie Stern’s marvelous blog piece “How the NYT Can Wreck Yoga,” with great comments by Marshall Hagins, P.T. and Rick Bartz, D.C.  I highly recommend reading it.

I’ll probably have more to say once the book is released next month and I’ve had a chance to read it. As always, your comments are welcome.

29 comments on “My 2 Cents about "How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body"

  1. Bravo, Leslie! It’s so great to see you and hear you speak your extraordinary wisdom about what yoga really is, and what it means to those of us who strive to live and study it from a personal and deep perspective. As one of our adored teachers once said, “the hardest posture to practice is standing on your own two feet.”

    You are refreshing and brilliant, and a plearsure to watch and listen to….and I miss you very much. Living in Chicago now, I’m a bit closer to you, and hoping to connect with you soon.

    Love, Bija

  2. How about “being born is dangerous – it could lead to death” – New research has demonstrated that birth is a leading indicator of death. Sex needs to be re-examined and possibly banned….

  3. I wouldn’t compare yoga with skydiving because the former is supposed to be beneficial whereas the latter is dangerous, but – other than amusement – does not bring any health benefits (physically or mentally). So, we are told to do yoga because it’s good for us and we are warned that football/soccer/skydiving are fun but dangerous. Two very different goals.

  4. I appreciate your insight. The fact that “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body” was written by an award-winning science writer gives it a pedigree it doesn’t deserve. Science has been for sale for awhile. Mr. Broad doesn’t seem to understand the subject matter of his book at all. Furthermore, he just out and out lied about Mr. Iyengar’s “instructions” regarding shoulderstand and cobra. It has always been my understanding that Mr. Iyengar is the one who introduced props, including the use of blankets for shoulderstand. I hope that NYT will publish some of the responses from “real” yoga people and that Mr. Broad will be forced to acknowledge his errors and explain how he got it so wrong. There no question book sales is part of it.

  5. Thank you Leslie for your response. Having worked with a wide range of individuals from developmentally disabled to clients working with PTSD, I have seen firsthand how amazing a proper “yoga” practice can be. I started out as a massage therapist turned medically based personal trainer to a yoga practitioner with a focus on theraputics. I too hope that they talk about the many benefits in their upcoming book and that the individuals that can benefit from a well balanced mindful practice do not get scared away based on this work.

    Thank you again!
    Sincerely,
    Amy Orrell-Branco

  6. Leslie,
    Thank you for taking the time to have this captured on film and sharing it. The Rochester community has been collecting comments from local yoga teachers and I will pass this one on as well. Great to hear your voice – cheers, Carrie

  7. Leslie, thank you for bringing public light to the orthopedic inaccuracies that also left me scratching my head in disbelief. Such ‘factoids’ only dis-serve a public that generally look to the press for accuracy in reporting. But even more importantly, thank you for pointing out that Yoga and asana practice are not one and the same, a fact that is often overlooked.

  8. I agree with these criticisms of the article, and with the premise that the risk of injury is a welcome topic for a balanced, objective discussion.

    What I also hope gets talked about is what is happening to yoga. Eddie Stern’s blog post talks about it, but in an admittedly cynical way. Asana practice has become mainstream, and we should talk about the benefits as well as the risks to the yoga tradition itself.

  9. When many years ago I was beginning my Yoga studies with Sri T.K.V. Desikachar, i presented him with an outline of postures I intended to practice in order to be able to perform some of the most extreme asanas. He just looked at me and said, “William, I don’t measure my progress in Yoga by how far I can bend or twist, but by how I treat my wife and children”. And that was that.

    • We need to hear so much more of that… thanks for sharing such a wonderful story. And it’s so true… it’s all about taking what we learn on the mat into the rest of our life.

  10. Thanks, Leslie! I completely agree with you. The article seemd to assume that everyone practicing or teaching asana yoga are only practicing rigorous and/ or vinyasa yoga. It did not even acknowldge or consider the many yoga teachers and centers who offer Gentle, Therapeutic, Chair Yoga, meditative yoga, individualized breath-centered yoga, etc. I also agree that it was a great marketing ploy for the upcoming book, rather than serious journalism.

  11. I am a scientist. A neuroscientist to be precise. I practice yoga. And I teach once a week. Love your anatomy book. And I also appreciated the conversation the article started. Yes, the NY Times is being opportunistic by highlighting this issue right around the time that the book is about to be published and yes, I will pick up the book and read it. The title of the article was a bit unfortunate, but hey, they are a newspaper and they have to sell. That being said, I think one of the points of the article is being missed by many:

    The article was not saying that yoga is dangerous, by itself. Or that other things in comparison are safer. That’s just what people want to take away from it because their livelihood is being threatened.

    The article was saying however, that Yoga, in comparison to other activities, has an unfair advantage because it is packaged as a rejuvenation type exercise. In other words, no one would dare to question the potential risks associated with yoga because it is held up as this thing that can do no harm, only good. You are right, that there is an assumption of risk that people take in everyday ordinary behavior. But the way yoga is currently packaged and sold leads people to believe that there is no risk in the practice (or ignore it). THAT is the point of the article.

    Yes, Leslie, you are right that downdog does not exist on its own. But with all due respect, I would say you are being optimistic when you state in the video: “It [the NYT article] didn’t say when certain people do it who have certain things going on in their body, in a certain way it can be dangerous. That’s a big fat duh, I mean who didn’t know that?” Well, a lot of teachers out there do not know that. I think this is a great opportunity for folks like yourself to start integrating more fully into training programs anatomy modules that help teachers understand the potential risks. We know enough about the benefits.

    • “…Well, a lot of teachers out there do not know that. I think this is a great opportunity for folks like yourself to start integrating more fully into training programs anatomy modules that help teachers understand the potential risks. We know enough about the benefits.”

      I agree completely. That is why we do what we do at The Breathing Project, and why we have been putting our material online, so the worldwide yoga community can understand the full context of practice.

      • There is no reason to be defensive (which is much that I read in response to the NYTimes article) and much reason to embrace the questions that are raised. Do what you do better yoga community. Better attention to the individual bodies and souls in classes can come as a result of this conversation. There is so much substance that can be generated from the conversation. Make that our yoga!

  12. Thx for clarifying one of the main flaws of that NYT article: not to equate yoga with asana practice. Eddie Stern’s blog article is great too.

    I can’t help it but I’m actually grateful for that NYT article because it clearly caused a stir amongst the yoga community, giving us teachers a great opportunity to dispel a few misconceptions about yoga and to interact with students to give them a chance to better understand yoga anatomy and the body-mind connection. Yoga students will surely benefit from these kind of discussions, and as a result, become more aware of their own body-mind – and its limits!! For me, finding the right balance is the key to success in yoga, especially asana practice. If we try to force our body-mind too much, it goes too far and we risk injury and confusion. And if we don’t try hard enough we don’t get anywhere. Either extreme misses the point of balance. It’s the middle path that is most healthy and productive.

    These two extremes are clearly evident in the online comments too (on the NYT site): praise and criticism. The former is pleasing and blissful, the latter bitter and painful. Or to put it in yogi-speak: be aware of inner demons. 🙂

    Please keep us posted Leslie when you’ve read the book. Always good to hear your wisdom.

  13. At the end of the day we all have to find our own personal asana and yoga practice. All else is possibly just intellectual surrogate discussions. With Meta.

  14. This article just reminded of what, IMHO, I did not leave my initial 200 hr. training with: an adequate, or what should be beyond adequate-education in anatomy and what can go wrong. I feel we barely skimmed the surface in the full weekend of the anatomy unit we had. It was merely a drop in the bucket. This is why I have enrolled in Leslie’s course, and plan to take the second. Thank you for designing these courses.

  15. Thanks for your discussion. I had read the article and spent several minutes in a class that I teach, discussing it with my students. There really isn’t anything new to me in the article as I have been teaching my students to explore their range of motion, stop at the edge and above all, listen to what’s going on in their body. Check their ego at the door as well. The article really gives yoga teachers a fine opportunity to get a dialogue going with their students. Thanks so much for your discussion and will see you soon in Austin.

  16. Thanks Leslie, you were the first person I thought of when I read this article, really wanted to hear your thoughts. Those spinal movement angles definitely seemed off to me! I personally agree with the idea that “Yoga” can be dangerous and lead to injuries and people should be very careful when practicing. I used quotes because what people think of as Yoga, I don’t really consider Yoga. Most of what’s done is really exercise in the form of Yoga asana poses. They are extreme acts of athleticism that weren’t necessarily intended for everyone to do, just like most sports. Add the fact that people walk into a Yoga class and think that they’re safe because Yoga is considered a healing practice. People then let down their guard and allow themselves to attempt things they probably wouldn’t dream of doing otherwise, just because a Yoga instructor is telling them to do it. The instructor may or may not have anatomical training and even if they did, probably doesn’t have enough time to give much individual attention to each practitioner. I always warn people when starting yoga to take it easy and avoid competitive athletic based classes like Bikram. To me, by definition, it’s very hard to get hurt if you’re truly practicing Yoga. I feel Yoga is any action done skillfully, with full attention, that joins your mind and body together in a way that brings (self) awareness. So basically, very few people are practicing Yoga in your average NYC Yoga class (including me!).

  17. SO glad Leslie posted this. Piedmont Yoga out here in Bay Area (Berkeley) discovered Leslie’s discussion on the article, and it brought to them, a new perspective on the entire thing: https://mail.google.com/mail/?tab=wm#inbox/134fca39106a3f55 They stumbled upon Leslie, so I am glad they now have access to more knowledge.
    It all just drives home, to me, to read between the lines, research who wrote the article and why (what kind of intention or motive was behind motive), and explore the issue or topic in an intelligent manner.
    Thank you!

  18. Leslie, Thank you so much for this EXCELLENT analysis of Mr. Broad’s fear-mongering articles! You basically echoed my own thoughts and gave me the courage to post my own response, although it has not been well-received by my fellow yoga teachers: http://blog.lothlorienyoga.com/2013/11/11/the-dangers-of-yoga-revisited.aspx
    BTW, I have worked in mainstream medicine for over 20 years and am currently studying ICD-10 coding for the upgrade coming to the U.S. in 2014.

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