Here we go again – another NYT article about how yoga will mess you up. Forget base jumping, climbing, rugby… YOGA apparently is the thing that inevitably will wreak havoc:
“Today many schools of yoga are just about pushing people [...]. “You can’t believe what’s going on — teachers jumping on people, pushing and pulling and saying, ‘You should be able to do this by now.’ It has to do with their egos.”
The guy who’s saying this is Glenn Black, a “yoga teacher of nearly four decades, whose devoted clientele includes a number of celebrities and prominent gurus”, as we learn. But hey, it doesn’t stop here: He “has come to believe that ‘the vast majority of people’ should give up yoga altogether. It’s simply too likely to cause harm”.
WOW. Hang on. The “vast majority of people”? Ouch!
It’s not that he’s totally wrong. More people show up at the surgery with yoga related injuries now than a decade ago. But if we look at the statistics, it all somehow makes sense: In 2001 there were about 4 million American yogis – compared to an estimated 20 million in 2011. So, more practitioners, more injuries. But of course that’s just a tiny part of the explanation. And ideally there’d be no injuries at all, right? So why do people get injured?
First of all, there’s the approach one takes to the practice. Just as we cannot make our bodies fit into size 6 if we’re a size 10, we cannot seriously attempt to force ourselves into postures just because someone on the mat next to us does it with ease. There’s no “one fits all” type of yoga.
We cannot adapt our bodies to the practice. We need to adapt the practice to our bodies.
I know, this sounds terribly obvious. But – is it? Look around next time you take a class. All these squeezed, tensed facial muscles, as if they’ve just bitten into a lemon…all that shouldn’t be there. No forcing. No strain. No pain. Pain is a huge, billboard sized sign of the body: STOP it. Now.
But well, we’re not able to read our bodies anymore. We’re not able to listen to the voice within. We rather listen to the teacher, who might see us for the first time showing up in their class, or we try to follow the example of the person on the mat next to ours. But contrary to popular belief, the teacher doesn’t know best what’s good for us. A good teacher keeps asking. How does it feel? Very tensed? Open? Relaxed? A good teacher encourages students to listen to their bodies, to push further if they feel good with the posture, to back out and choose another option if it hurts.
Yoga is a way of living, not of twisting on the sticky mat. Yoga will reshape our lives. Yoga will liberate. Yoga is awesome.
Yoga isn’t dangerous. What’s dangerous is the combination of vanity and lack of body awareness.
Happy new year – and happy practice!