Yes, you CAN do yourself a mischief with yoga

The New York Times has managed to upset yoga teachers and practitioners all over America.

In its magazine, an article entitled ‘How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body’ details a number of physical ailments which can occur if people do not perform yoga properly. Some of these can be debilitating without medical treatment and can require hospitalisation.

Yoga can adversely affect balance, eyesight, joints, muscles, the nervous system and the spine. Even Western yoga teachers can seriously injure themselves after many years of putting their bodies in postures unintended for most people.

Some years ago, I worked with an Englishman who extolled the virtues of yoga and recommended it to all of his colleagues.  It never appealed to me and still doesn’t.  Of course, one of the ways he promoted it was by saying that it can cure so many ills.

And this is exactly what the article counters. It’s well worth a read, even if, like me, you never intend on doing any yoga.

As I write, 600 comments follow the article, almost all of them from outraged yoga practitioners and teachers.  Yet, even the instructor profiled at the beginning of the article, Glenn Black, got in touch with the author to say that he, too, suffered a severe injury.

Black had been teaching yoga for more than 40 years when he developed spinal stenosis, which required surgery. He had felt some discomfort for the previous two decades until he could no longer handle the pain.  Without the five-hour operation requiring the fusing of several lumbar vertebrae, he would no longer have been able to walk.  Black said that recovery is a long and painful process.

William J Broad, science writer for the NYT and author of a forthcoming book on yoga, writes:

Black is one of the most careful yoga practitioners I know. When I first spoke to him, he said he had never injured himself doing yoga or, as far as he knew, been responsible for harming any of his students. I asked him if his recent injury could have been congenital or related to aging. No, he said. It was yoga. “You have to get a different perspective to see if what you’re doing is going to eventually be bad for you.”

So, yoga as a relaxation method or a cure for back problems might not be the answer.

Yoga is a Hindu practice and requires knowledge of religious disciplines associated with the faith. It isn’t an exercise plan, endurance test or means of reducing stress.

Westerners could find that yoga does them more harm than good.

2 comments for “Yes, you CAN do yourself a mischief with yoga

  1. January 9, 2012 at 6:38 pm

    I’m glad I never tried it then. I’ve never been bendy enough.
    I find westerners make poor ninjas too

    • January 9, 2012 at 8:58 pm

      Me, too / neither (respectively).

      The article and the comments were revealing. Near the end of the latter, a number of people wrote in to say that their yoga instructors jammed knees in their backs or made them feel worthless for not being able to do certain postures.

      Bottom line — no pun intended — if it hurts, don’t do it. That said, some walked out of lessons in pain only after the event.

      My father, who had a bad back as it was, said he was relieved that he never engaged in further sport or exercise after secondary school. (He was still slim.) He saw friends and colleagues injured from same. Yoga, had it been in fashion then, would have been another example of ‘things not to do’. 😉

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