It is disheartening to see the New York Times come out with yet another article that seems to completely miss the point of Yoga. I think this one is worse than the last, which described a woman going to Yoga and eventually realising that cross training would lead to smaller sized clothing than if inflatable water park she only did Yoga. I can only imagine how these NYT articles are put together and why. Picking quotes and statistics that fit the agenda of the author perhaps? What is the point exactly of this article, to warn people to not try or practice Yoga? Is it to break up certain myths surrounding Yoga?
A couple of students have asked me to weigh in on this, so here we go.
The first thing that I noticed was that Yoga was simply reduced to an exercise method. They might as well have been talking about aerobics, spinning, or just a general fitness class. This part by itself is not surprising, and slightly less concerning than the rest of the article. But, if you’re going to reduce it to the context of exercise, then please compare the injuries, their percentages, rates etc… along with those of what you, the author of the article, has reduced it to. I wonder what the stats are for injuries in other sports? After just five minutes of searching I found this list rather quickly on the web. I’m sure with a bit more effort we could get even more in depth numbers that would actually have meaning and put things in perspective.
The following table of injuries is based on 2006 data compiled by the US Consumer Product Safety Commission’s National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (“NEISS”).
In the NYT article they listed the worst of injuries from a WORLDWIDE study of Yoga in 2009 and found a total of 734 (I added them together) serious injuries. I don’t know what that number would rise to compared to the 2006 numbers above, which were limited to the US and included more than just serious injuries.
There is something else that is underlying all of this in my opinion. It is the perceived purpose of asana. Is it exercise? Is it therapy? Is it a spiritual practice? The worldwide winner seems to be that it is therapeutic exercise. The idea being that you can do Yoga to heal your injuries. This certainly isn’t false. In fact, practising Yoga asana may very well get rid of a number of injuries or physical issues that you have. I wonder why there weren’t any statistics or interviews with people who have actually gotten better from doing Yoga? Probably too many people who have received benefit to interview.
However, the exercise therapy side has been exploited and sold to the masses. Creating the idea that if one feels any sensation when practising asana, it’s “wrong”. If an injury occurs while practising asana, you’re an “ego-maniac” and you must not understand the first thing about “ahimsa”. Such stories go around. At the end of the day, it is a spiritual path that uses a physical practice (body), and has a side benefit of being therapeutic.
Isn’t the real purpose of asana to prepare the body and mind for meditation? We could take this one aspect much deeper, perhaps in a different article. If you start off with the mindset that yoga’s purpose is therapeutic than it is ridiculous if someone says that have injured themselves doing therapy. In this article, they don’t even give Yoga credit as something therapeutic but it seems to be underlying the mindset of the teacher if not the author. There is this sense of “how dare Yoga injure anyone!” “How appalling that injury could or should occur when doing something as therapeutic as Yoga.”
Well… um… it’s kind of an intensely physical activity, so the likelihood of physical injury tends to go up if you’re doing intensely physical things. This is true whether it’s Yoga or not.
Can you get injured while doing Yoga? Yes of course you can, why does everyone pretend that you can’t. Do we try to injure ourselves in practice? Of course not! Does it happen? unfortunately the answer is yes. Hopefully it doesn’t happen regularly and if it does, check yourself or find a new teacher!
I really enjoyed the teacher’s remedy for people getting injured… make the class ridiculously hard! Really? I guess I understand his intention, to get people to take responsibility for their own actions in their practice. This was another observation I made. All of the injuries were a result of the person doing the asana. Yet the person is never blamed, only the asana or method. In this case, Yoga in general is blamed as the culprit. Not the individual’s physical history, their age, weight, general health. None of that is ever mentioned to put the individual and their injury in perspective relative to the asana that is blamed for their injury.
The truth is that the asana, the method, the system, is completely neutral. It is us who colours all of these things with our understandings, misunderstandings, physical limitations, attitude etc… The asana doesn’t exist until WE do it. WE are ultimately responsible for what we choose to do with our body.
I think students often do WANT too much too quickly. This is an important part of why people are getting injured practising Yoga. Not to mention that there are just simply more people doing Yoga! It is also the responsibility of the teacher to teach students according to their individuality and lifestyle and stop people from doing things that they and their body are not ready to do safely.
Ah, I said it, the safe word. Safety, safely, safe. It’s an illusion. No one can predict what’s going to happen to someone, either in a good way or a bad way. The same pose that can heal you can also harm you! The difference is YOU! Sometimes injuries happen unexpectedly, accidently, and all we can do is make up stories about how it happened and why.
If you want to know how to do asana and Yoga in general as safely as possible than maybe this list will help
First, as the scriptures say… find the most qualified teacher in your area. This is not necessarily the one who can do the most tricks, sound the most spiritual, and be the most popular one on YouTube. These individuals might also be good teachers.
Second, study and practise with them as deeply as possible.
Third, also go to their teacher.
Fourth, stay as present as you can with what you’re doing.
Fifth, see and understand that it’s you that creates everything, including the asana.
Sixth, practise consistently, and don’t make Yoga an exercise regime that you do once or twice a week.
This NYT article simply went too far. It went so far that I would actually call it ridiculous. Don’t let it shake your faith and dedication to your practice. There is nothing here except for exceptions to the norm, and the norm is that Yoga when practised consistently leads to personal evolution. If you’re stuck worrying about the physical, then there you are, stuck worrying about the physical. So says the anatomy guy! HA!