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Is The New York Times Wrecking Yoga? The Community Responds

in YD News

Iyengar’s Roger Cole, Ashtanga’s Eddie Stern, and Others Including Medical Professionals Weigh In

via NYT

With much ado and uproar over the latest Times article entitled ‘How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body‘ (actually an excerpt from a new book by science writer William J. Broad) reactions have ranged from cautionary told-you-so’s to frustration over facts to mixed feelings of head nods and shoulder shrugs.

The yoga community is strong-willed and strongly opinionated, so of course a story like this slapped in the Old Grey Lady with a head-turning title (pun intended) wouldn’t go without a response, including our own. So what happens when you go throwing around anecdotal examples of yoga’s injurious nature to a crowd of yoga practitioners, teachers, and tertiary supporters?

Read on for full responses and perspectives from Iyengar Yoga teacher Roger Cole (who was [mis]quoted in the article), Ph.D., NYC’s legendary Ashtangi Eddie Stern, followed by Physical Therapist Marshall Hagins and chiropractor Rick Bartz. [update: more from Perter Ferko, 

Roger Cole on discrepancies in healthiness of shoulderstand via his facebook page:

The New York Times Magazine published January 5 contains a story by William Broad entitled "How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body." Although yoga injuries do occur, the article contains a lot of misinformation. Certain parts seem to imply that B.K.S. Iyengar teaches shoulder stand in a harmful way and that I am a "reformer" who introduced a better method. I wrote the following letter to the editor to set the record straight:

'The article incorrectly states that yoga master B.K.S. Iyengar “insisted” that students practice shoulder stand in a manner that dangerously hyperflexes the neck. In fact, he insists on exactly the opposite. Mr. Broad cites a Yoga Journal column I wrote describing a method of “reducing neck bending in a shoulder stand by lifting the shoulders on a stack of folded blankets...” This safer method was invented by B.K.S. Iyengar and he has long been adamant that all of his certified teachers must teach the pose this way. Mr. Iyengar, who recently celebrated his 93rd birthday, still maintains a vigorous yoga practice that includes long holds in headstand (without support) and shoulder stand with his shoulders lifted on a prop.

The column describing Mr. Iyengar’s safer shoulder stand technique, entitled “Keep the Neck Healthy in Shoulderstand,” is at http://www.yogajournal.com/for_teachers/1091. The original version of Mr. Broad’s article supplied an incorrect link

Eddie Stern's response and the following from AYNY.org:

The New York Times Magazine published an article this week entitled “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body“, adapted from William Broad’s new book. The article quickly brought on rapid fire responses, and hundreds of online comments (many which are quite good).

Broad is a ‘senior science writer at The Times’, and though his article is heavy on anecdote and slim on science, I agree that the increasing occurrences of injuries in yoga should not be discounted or taken lightly, though the temptation to argue Broad’s article paragraph by paragraph is hard to resist. For example, yoga teacher Glenn Black’s repeated, incorrect use of the word ‘ego‘, (as if it is something that needs to be gotten rid of, which is not at all a yogic concept), or the need to go back to the 1970′s to find examples of strokes caused by yoga.  The case of the college student who kneeled on his toes for hours ‘praying for world peace’, causing nerve damage, begs the question: who was he more influenced by, yoga, or Christian penitence? And does one need to inflict suffering on oneself in order to bring about peace? Yoga would claim just the opposite.

There are a couple of obvious reasons why there are so many injuries in yoga. First, perhaps, is overzealousness on the part of the student – this is a natural response for a particular type of person when it comes to any activity that has physicality associated with it – no matter what a teacher may caution.

The second is more troublesome, and that is the value system that forms the basis of the yoga ‘industry’ in America; a model that for all intents and purposes is based on economic incentive. Sounds cynical of me? As a five-billion-dollar-a-year product oriented industry, it would be hard to argue otherwise. America is good at jumping at opportunities – and when it comes to making the holy dollar, no cow is too sacred to be sacrificed in the West.

When there is a great potential for making money, quality is usually the first thing to be sacrificed. Fast food, anyone? It is unfortunate that this is exactly what we are facing now – yoga has been McDona-fied. It has been reduced from a practice that traditionally demanded dedication, discipline, sacrifice, humility, surrender, suffering, love, devotion, and rigorous self-investigation, to something that you can now learn to teach in a weekend. Or, more popularly, in a mere 200 hours you can become a bonafide, registered yoga instructor. 200 hours is spit. It is a joke. And it is a joke that is leading an entire tradition – that granted even in India was subject to ridicule – to an even greater harm. This is because we have an opportunity, in the West, to be leaders in the rising field of yoga, by bringing these transformative teachings to places where they will result in great good. Though it is true that this is already happening – in schools, prisons, hospitals, with veterans, and with everyday people who walk into a class off of the street – it is also true that a rotten apple can spoil the barrel, and this is what I fear is happening. And, it is a mighty big apple.

I miss the early days when I was first doing yoga in NYC, in the mid- to late 1980′s. The feeling of freshness, of being clean and free, of feeling that a whole, new world was opening in me. There were no products for sale, no fifty types of yoga mats, just a towel and some cut-off sweatpants to practice in, or a pair of white, cotton ‘yoga’ pants that I could buy on Bleecker St. for $5. I still feel that freshness when I practice, and I love that – but when I look around at what is happening with yoga in America, I can’t help but feel sad.

When I saw the title of Broad’s article, the first thing that came to mind was Ice Cube’s old hip-hop song ‘Check Yo’ Self’ (‘You better check yo’self before you wreck yo’self’) – pretty good advice for the over-enthusiastic in yoga or any physical endeavor. I was going to post it, but it is so inappropriate, and the issue of injuries is too serious an issue; I will not make light of anyone’s pain. But, searching out Ice Cube did lead me down the dark path of youtube, where two hours later, I found myself still trolling through videos that fill me with a happy nostalgia for the rawness of youth – of early punk rock, and the passion and energy that was being expressed through so many amazing songs.

Sanskrit means refined, and many of the yogis of India were extremely elegant, in a simplicity-filled way. The rishis, who became the world’s first yogis, purposely left society to meditate in the forests, turning their backs on the mundanity and suffering of the world. They discovered something that ultimately can be of great benefit to us all, if we use it wisely.  This is quite the opposite of the rawness of music that I grew up with, like the Clash or Sex Pistols – but, still, listening to White Man (in Hammersmith Palais) still fills me with the same feeling of freedom I felt when I first heard it when I was probably about 14.  And who can argue with this lyric: “The new groups/ are not concerned/ with what there is to be learned/ they put on suits/ they think it’s funny/ turning rebellion into money”. I always loved that line, and now it just makes me think of Lululemon.

Then I came across this video below – I have no idea if anyone will think it is as awesome as I do – but this girl is killing it. I love how every once in a while she cracks just a little smile; punk rock, a little bit humorous, as it was meant to be. You know, if we didn’t take ourselves all too seriously, maybe we would cause a lot less harm – to ourselves, and to each other.

From Marshall Hagins PT:

Apparently the Times believes that it needs to make yoga look “funny” to sell what is ostensibly a serious work of scientific reporting [“How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body” by William Broad in the NY Times Magazine on Jan 8th ].   But it is not the attempt by the Times to sell more papers that really concerns me, it is the lack of balance in a report of genuine importance—risk of injury while practicing yoga.

First, anecdotal reports, no matter how impressive the journal they appear in, does not a convincing argument make. Second, the issue is not whether some people get hurt doing yoga (no serious yogi thinks that yoga has zero risk) but injury rate. In other words, how many people are getting hurt doing yoga (numerator) compared to how many people are actually practicing yoga (denominator).  Many common activities are inherently risky. Have you seen the statistics for playing basketball?—over 600,000 injuries per year in America (15% of basketball players get injured in the sport). Yet we continue to play basketball and other even more risky sports (football anyone?).  Why? Because there are perceived benefits and we make the choice of risk versus reward.

Well…you may ask, then why can’t this piece be viewed as helping increase awareness of the risk of yoga so people can make informed choices? Because this piece fails to accurately describe the risk of yoga—it merely cherry picks a few extreme events and implicates the entire practice.  (Is it really surprising that if you sit on your heels for “hours a day” that nerves will go to sleep in your legs?) A balanced, serious, and accurate scientific report on the risks of yoga would have, at a minimum, explicitly stated that no one actually knows the injury rates for yoga, as is actually the case.  What is provided beyond anecdote to demonstrate the “growing body of medical evidence” is two numbers: 1) Emergency room injuries related to yoga increased from 13 to 46 in a two year period; 2) Yoga practitioners grew in number by 15 million in the last 10 years.  While acknowledging that comparing risk between activities is ultimately much more complex than what I suggest here, it is still roughly reasonable to note that if you multiply the number of reported yoga injuries by 100(!) to account for under-reporting, the injury rate using the authors numbers is still exceedingly small and far less than what is known about most common sports activities.

And by the way, it is not true that the cervical spine can only rotate 50 degrees as suggested by the author.  If you doubt this, turn your head as far as you can to the right or left.  Is your nose almost pointing over your shoulder? Voila…80 degrees of rotation.  Now you have the mobility of an “intermediate” yogi!

From Rick Bartz, D.C.

Mr. Broad makes a glaring error in reporting the extent of side to side rotation in a normal cervical spine.  In stating range of motion for the neck, or cervical  spine, the author gives 75˚ extension, 40˚ flexion, 45˚ left lateral flexion (LLF), 45˚ right lateral flexion (RLF), and 50˚ in both right rotation and left rotation.  The normal range of motion for the cervical spine, according to most major references, including the AMA Guide to Impairment, is 70˚ ext, 50˚ flex, 45˚ LLF and RLF, and 80˚ L rotation and R rotation.  So the author is a bit generous in neck extension, a little short on normal flexion, correct in lateral flexion, but seriously erroneous in rotation.  Since most of his arguments linking yoga to cerebrovascular incidents are based on an assumption of hyper rotation, he is seriously at odds with the medical literature.  For an “Intermediate student” to have  90˚ active rotation is only a small increase above normal, and no more than the passive rotation normally expected in a routine physical exam.

He then goes on to misidentify hyperflexion of the neck as encouraged by Iyengar in the cobra pose.  In fact, in cobra pose the neck is in extension!  This is a sloppy error that one hopes the author would have caught before going to print.  As far as shoulder stand, where the neck is truly hyperflexed, some sources indicate that motion of the chin to the sternum is, in fact, the maximum accepted ROM of 80-90 degrees.

The primary focus of the article is, of course, stroke.  As a chiropractor, my profession has been under relentless attack for years with the false accusation that chiropractic manipulation is a causative factor for VBAI.  In fact, the most definitive paper on the subject published in 2008 by J. David Cassidy, was a meta-analysis of vertebrobasilar artery (VBA) stroke cases admitted to hospitals in Ontario over a 10 year period.  The conclusion that Cassidy’s prestigious team reached was that “VBA stroke is a very rare event in the population.  The increased risks of VBA stroke associated with chiropractic and primary care physician (PCP) visits is likely due to patients with headache and neck pain from VBA dissection seeking care before their stroke.  They found no evidence of excess risk of VBA stroke associated with chiropractic care compared to primary care.” In other words, patients with acute headache and neck pain were already suffering symptoms of a stroke when they came into their doctor’s office with those complaints.  The astute doctor would then refer the patient to the emergency room upon recognizing these and other related neurological symptoms during physical exam.

The human body provides a marvel of redundancy in it’s blood supply to the brain.  there are two internal carotid arteries and two vertebral arteries providing circulation to the basilar artery, also known as the Circle of Willis, so that in the event that either the left or right is compromised or entirely occluded, the other side will provide the needed oxygen-rich blood supply, via the Circle, to the side that is deficient.  Mr. Broad correctly identifies the anatomical problem area for the vertebral artery as C1-C2 in an earlier part of his article when he references the 1973 study of a 28 y.o. woman, but then goes on to describe a 25 y.o. man rushed to Northwestern Hospital in Chicago with “blockages of the left vertebral artery between the C2 and C3 vertebrae.”  Incidentally, the C2-C3 section of the VBA is statistically less likely to be damaged by neck rotation.  Even If he had suffered “total or nearly complete occlusion” in that artery, it is false to say that “no blood could get through to the brain.”  There would certainly be at least three other arteries providing circulation, via the Circle of Willis, to his brain.  Not to deny that the young man did indeed have a stroke, but that the causes are suspect. There are many cases of spontaneous dissection of the vertebral artery.  There are cases of people with only one vertebral artery who had no neurological symptoms in their lives.

This is not to say that yoga practice is without risk of injury and that yoga teachers should be alert to signs of potential medical issues, such as acute, intense headache and unusual neck stiffness, that would affect a student’s ability to do practice safely.

Read more responses:

Peter Ferko: “I think the Times article goes too far, and will scare people away from yoga who would benefit from it tremendously. It is possible for anyone to practice yoga. From an ISHTA perspective, it would be more appropriate to tell students to expand their idea of what yoga is.” [peterferko.com]

Charlotte Bell: “We all know that yoga is not just poses, but asana remains the centerpiece of most Western practice. I wonder if the rise of yoga-related injuries might also be related to the fact that asana has been taken out of its original context. When the physical practice for its own sake becomes the be-all, end-all, it is much easier to become forceful and competitive, which IMO is the source of many yoga injuries. Consider how practicing the eight limbs tempers asana practice:” [huggermugger.com blog]

Have you read other great responses? Let us know.

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Earlier

48 comments… add one

  • Thanks, YogaDork, for such great commentary. There’s a lot to digest here—all valid points. I was especially glad to see Roger Cole correct the NYT article re: Iyengar’s method of teaching shoulderstand. I’ve been practicing Iyengar yoga for 30 years and have NEVER been ordered by anyone to do a shoulderstand without proper height under my shoulders. Iyengar devised the safest method of teaching shoulderstand. It is the gold standard method among all the knowledgeable teachers I’ve worked with. Most Iyengar-trained teachers I know (including me) will not teach shoulderstand in a class where there are not enough blankets for everyone to have 2 or 3!

  • I like Charlotte Bell’s response to the article: Yoga is Not Just Poses.
    http://www.huggermugger.com/blog/2012/yoga-injuries/

    I could not agree more, Yoga is more than just the physical. However, I do realize that not all students feel this way. As a teacher who strongly teaches the foundation of doing the asanas safely, I see many students taking classes without any real knowledge of alignment because they’ve skipped the beginners classes because they feel they won’t get a good enough workout. Some of these students I know have been practicing for a while, maybe even a couple of years. Some of them get injured, some of them realize they need to back track and learn the basics.

    In college I blew my knee out skiing a trail that I wasn’t ready for after taking just a few lessons. It’s the same thing with Yoga, if you do something you aren’t ready for chances are good you will be injured.

    If you listen to your body and your breath and honor their messages you have a far greater chance of getting “wrecked”.

  • Thanks, Meredith! You are right that many students—probably most at the beginning—aren’t interested in the other aspects of yoga. I wasn’t. That’s why I think it’s important that teachers have integrated the whole system, so that they don’t consciously or subconsciously encourage their students to practice aggressively.

    As you say, many people do seem to have an aversion to taking a beginning class. In my experience it’s the naturally flexible people (like me) who are most likely to hurt themselves. Because we are so conditioned to be in “no pain, no gain” mind, we flexies will push too far in order just to feel something. I’ve learned the hard way that what safe, balanced practice means for flexible people is actually containing flexibility—not going to the edge.

  • “many people do seem to have an aversion to taking a beginning class” — I was in a “beginning” yoga class for 7 years before I trained as a teacher.

    raise your hands as to how many enter a teacher training after 7 months of yoga.

  • I’ve gotten to the point where I only teach beginner classes because I feel there is such a great need for it. When I visit another studio, I will take the beginners classes and modify up respectfully if I feel I need it.

    As for teacher training, I had been practicing for 10 years before I took teacher training ~ I simply wasn’t ready before that.

  • Vision_Quest2

    Do you really think that all beginners interested in the Level 2/3, want to take that advanced class just to get into a tricky pose?

    What about the prospect of experiencing a faster flow at the beginning of class? (Said style at a studio, which shall remain nameless, had extremely slow flows in the beginner classes with very bendy people doing the most rococo versions, and the teacher mostly did “the teacher workout”, not caring about most of the students’ alignment)

    What about picking the teacher (and other students’) brains …?

    Believe me, watchasana and even child’s pose (with my ears open) during those trick poses … are highly underrated …

    Shame on teachers for second-guessing the motivations of SOME beginners …

    I’d had a longer-than-class-length home practice for well over a year and had been discouraged from going into the “Open” (what the Level 2/3 was called at the time) class by a studio owner with attitude … and believe me, my home practice had to kick enough major butt to cross-train me for the harsh beginner classes …

    The teachers should be kissing the ground Beth Shaw of YogaFit walks on, instead of their own gurus. If a yoga at a gym did not introduce me to taking yoga classes, I would have given them a small fraction of the business I did give them … and I’m sure many others feel the same …

    [Yes, I did discover Baptiste style somewhat later ... in case anybody was thinking that I was not flexible enough (dead giveaway in how I wrote about this)]

  • frankly, I think if these NYT yoga stories were ignored instead of being spread through the yoga blogosphere and Facebook like manure through a field, we’d be better off….

  • Em

    I whole-heartedly agree with Linda.

  • magola

    I was wicked pissed to this poorly-informed article in the NYT. I just have to say: anything we do can wreck our bodies. I think its time they start writing articles about football, hockey, driving during rush hour, eating and how its wrecking our bodies. Hell, taking a poop can wreck your back. Better forget having sex, heaven forbid you might get injured.
    All it takes is wisdom. Push yourself too far in anything, you’ll likely end up injured. NYT, before you write an ill informed article check yourself and do some damn research. I’ll only been practiced for oh…more than 2,000 years.

  • claire

    Yoga can heal, that is definitely true but it can also hurt if done incorrectly or pushed to far. I have been kicked out of classes because I’ve told the teacher (Iyengar teacher) that I cannot use the belt for that pose because it aggravates an injury (injury he knows about) and his answer, after bullying me and humiliating me, was to not come to yoga then if I’m not prepared to use the belt. Since when yoga is all about the props? they are aids not permanent implants. This is the kind of teaching that is wrecking yoga, a misunderstood interpretation of the original teachings. Then we have the student who is so eager to get there that doesn’t listen and the teacher decides is easier to ignore. I’m a teacher, I have been doing yoga for 10 years plus, have done many workshops and 3 teacher trainings and still don’t feel I know enough. It upsets me that people who don’t even know their right elbow from their left knee are out there teaching just repeating verbatim what they read in the book….It is time we ALL take responsability that ANYTHING we do without awareness can injure.

  • THAT is a serious well informed rebuttal.
    I knew a guy once who had a cerebral hemorrhage , a stroke, taking a poop. Probably this happened to him because he DIDN’T do yoga.

  • It is disheartening to read such an article, especially in the New York Times. As with any sport or exercise, injuries can happen. Proper form, training, and mental/emotional state all factor in to injuries.

    Your response was spot on.

  • After realizing there were over 700 comments on the NYT article, I had to jump here for my own sanity.

    I hope the article is just a really poor adaption from the author’s book. It certainly lacks a sense of context (or specificity) and really hammers in on the fitness-obsessed U.S. public and their (mis)conceptions of what exactly yoga is (and isn’t).

    Thanks to the NYT, I now know that if I do physical things I can be physically hurt and/or healed! What a revelation…

  • I agree with many of these responses. It is extremest for William Broad to state in such a black and white fashion that “yoga wrecks the body”. As with all physically activity, it is important to practice good form, have good teachers and pay attention and address pain when present. I’m sure that similar claims of “wreckage” could be applied to many other types of physical activity including Pilates, Dance, Lotte Berk, andWeight Training which also have tremendous benefits for the body.

  • Yoga asanas are physical exercises, and yes you can hurt doing them. The yoga community shouldn’t be overly defensive about this point. One can easily come up with reasons why safety is an issue when doing yoga asanas. Here are my Top 7 reasons:

    http://virtualsatsang.wordpress.com/2012/01/10/7-reasons-why-safety-is-an-issue-within-yoga/

  • It’s true – yoga without proper physical alignment, and without the guidance of a quality teacher, can result in injury. But that’s like saying that eating is responsible for food poisoning. You don’t want to avoid yoga; you want to savor it under the guidance of a good teacher. And get out of Western head: yoga is not a competitive sport, it is a practice. And the point of this practice is not to make “perfect” – in the Western sense of being “the best” at it – yoga makes for a lifetime of exploration.

  • The beauty and tyranny of many American approaches to asana practice is that there’s always somewhere “better” to get to. Perhaps you’re only in level one or two classes (though you do sneak in to the more challenging classes once in a while and regret it in the morning). Or perhaps you’ve progressed to “advanced classes” or second or third “series,” continually challenging yourself to move beyond the restrictions in your body that keep you from perfecting the asanas. It’s no wonder that the National Association of Chiropractic Physicians may be planning to sponsor next year’s Yoga Journal conference, out of gratitude for sending so many pulled sacroiliacs, strained knees, and hamstring insertion injuries to its members.

    It is easy to forget that asana is only one of the Eight Limbs of Astanga as defined by Patanjali (and differentiated from the astanga style popularized by Patthabi Jois). The goal of Astanga is to reduce suffering through increased self-awareness of the connection between the individual self with the greater whole. The first step to realizing that connection has always existed is to reconnect the mind and body. They’ve been artificially separated by our cultural emphasis and mental dominance. If asana practice were about putting your body in certain positions, then any contortionist could start an ashram.

    Asana is about effort. It is the effort first of waking up to present experience, noticing if you are struggling, and training yourself, moment by moment, to be present. In that respect asana is simply a tool of meditation. The messages of the body are mindfulness bells. They provide an anchor to bring the attention back to the breath and to the part of the body that is “speaking.” Thich Nhat Hahn, with only a little irony, suggests that as you drive around with the mind spinning recklessly, there is a wonderful opportunity to pay attention. Each time you come to a stop sign, use to “sign” to truly “stop” and bring yourself back to the “right now.” So, too, you can use the messages of the body, especially those we might describe as uncomfortable, as reminders to come back.
    Often in asana practice there is a psychological reaction, mental tension that accompanies the physical sensations. But because of the pervasive attitude towards progress, and because of the belief fostered by many teachers that you are simply in fear that must be overcome, the emotional and psychological discomfort seldom becomes a subject for attention or investigation. With a teacher’s encouragement, your face may soften, your breath may deepen, and you may become aware of the specific muscles being engaged. But seldom is the mental tightness that accompanies your practice brought into conscious awareness. If the yoking doesn’t occur, if the connection isn’t made between what your body is doing and what your mental chatter is saying, then the body learns over and over again that stretching is accompanied by stress, not release. While there might be exhilaration or calm at the end of a session, those benefits are often achieved through a lot of disconnection between mind and body—and they are fleeting.

    There is a world of difference between the spaciousness to which the liberation of yoga can lead, and the tightness and constriction of the dukha (suffering) that accompanies most of our waking lives. Zen teacher Joko Beck writes that the response to fear accompanying the earliest post-natal experiences manifests as physical pressure or tightness. Each person has a pattern for responding to the normal and extreme stresses of life. Beck recalls that Gurdjieff called the strategy each person develops his or her “chief feature.” It is the style developed at a very early age for handling pressure.

    Certainly there is much to be said for “no pain, no gain” at the level of physical and mental discipline. We each have personal stories of the exhilaration that follows overcoming some obstacle. Those who practice the more active forms of asana, such as Patthabi Jois’or Bikram’s followers, know that physical exertion can overcome mental chatter. But if this result is accomplished through patterns that have led to emotional and physical suffering in the first place, then one tool of suffering is simply being substituted for another.
    In The Heart of Yoga, Desikachar points out that without the body being in a state of sukha, stira alone cannot bring the mind/body into the state for true advancement. Stira is the steadiness and firmness that accompanies effort and concentration. Sukha is comfort, ease, and expansiveness (the opposite of dukha). It is impossible to prepare for the deeper states of Astanga without it. Those deeper states are where you truly come to know yourself from the perspective of the equanimous observer, accepting both strengths and weaknesses as equal measures of who you are.

    Edward Espe Brown, former abbot of the San Francisco Zen center and chef par excellence, describes his style of cooking as “what’s in the fridge.” The analogy to the sukha that could free one’s life from struggle is obvious as he describes how cooking should be about what is available. Certainly it is necessary to stock up on ingredients. But at the time of pulling a meal together, you always have the choice of paying attention to what you failed to get, to run around trying to find the missing ingredients, or even to go to a cookbook and read someone else’s idea of what a great meal would be. Or you can open the door, take a deep breath, look inside and let your eyes scan what’s there. Then you can prepare your meal with what’s available.

    Asana practice can be similar. Training, practice, and discipline are valuable. They stock the shelves. But coming to practice each day, seeing and knowing exactly what the package is with which you have been blessed, can be a truly liberating experience.

    Accepting what is requires a deep awareness of how your internal critic, those mental voices of advice, admonition, and correction, guides your viewpoints, perceptions, and behavior. Those internal directions are often so pervasive as to be downright daunting.

    Try giving yourself 10 seconds, 20 minutes, or an hour and a half to be just where you are. The irony is that the critic’s power can be suspended simply by noticing its presence. Then the body will begin to open in ways it never has before. As Dorothy discovered in The Wizard of Oz, the critic would love us to “pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.” But just noticing the critic’s presence will diminish the pressure it exerts.

    The key to letting go is noticing your unwillingness to do so. You can’t stretch a knot. It is first necessary to untie the mind before the body will follow. But because of unconscious patterns, it is often the body that reminds you how locked up the mind truly is. Pay attention to yours, and it will set you free.

    ¬ 

  • This is the best response I’ve read online since the beginning of this debate. Thank you!

  • Collyn Rivers

    As a Certified Iyengar teacher who ceased teaching that method some years ago I feel the yoga community are in some considerable denial, not necessarily re injuries suffered by students, but by the teachers themselves. Nor, I’d suggest are some of these often quite major injuries incurred only by the younger less experienced teachers.
    Collyn Rivers
    Sydney
    Australia

  • The beauty and tyranny of many American approaches to asana practice is that there’s always somewhere “better” to get to. Perhaps you’re only in level one or two classes (though you do sneak in to the more challenging classes once in a while and regret it in the morning). Or perhaps you’ve progressed to “advanced classes” or second or third “series,” continually challenging yourself to move beyond the restrictions in your body that keep you from perfecting the asanas. It’s no wonder that the National Association of Chiropractic Physicians may be planning to sponsor next year’s Yoga Journal conference, out of gratitude for sending so many pulled sacroiliacs, strained knees, and hamstring insertion injuries to its members.

  • Atalanta

    I agree with Collyn Rivers. While I don’t agree with everything that was said in the original article, I do think it’s high time the yoga industry and yoga community comes under some form of outside scrutiny. The problem with living in a bubble and being surrounded by people who all agree with you is that a yes-man complex and enablers proliferate. Yoga, like any other discipline, like acupuncture, massage therapy, homeopathy, Pilates, dragonboat racing etc. needs to come under scrutiny to see what is genuine and what isn’t. I’m sorry if that ruffles a few feathers but websites like recoveringyogi.com, the number of people who got jaded by yoga and left, the YouTube videos which play on all the yoga instructor stereotypes are based on some truth or else there wouldn’t be any dissent at all.

    Students and teachers alike are guilty. There are people out there who like to unnecessarily push themselves into doing a pose “because it looks cool” or they want to impress their instructor, without listening to their bodies or understanding what their own physical boundaries are. There are far too many narcissists, abusers and emotional manipulators walking around as yoga instructors and developing a cult of personality around them. I don’t see anything wrong in either exposing the bad apples from the good ones or making people really question themselves in an honest and meaningful way as to why are they doing yoga in the first place.

  • Vision_Quest2

    Amen!!

    You don’t get an honest opinion of what went wrong with you during class from the Kool-Aid drinkers around in the studio …

  • Collyn Rivers

    I see various issues re yoga injuries: leaving aside injuries to teachers for the moment I believe a number of myths have developed re student injuries. The following will suffice for this post.

    Myth 1. That they are caused mostly by unqualified teachers.
    Possibly – but some of the most dangerous teachers I have come across were fully Certified teachers, who were simply unaware of the limitations of beginning students. My wife (who has a strong Ashtanga background) says she was horrified recently by a Certified Iyengar teacher having students trying to hold dog pose for some two minutes – and ditto ALL of the standing poses.

    I have personally seen another (who applied to teach at my jointly owned Sydney Yoga Centre – almost certainly the largest in the late 1990s in Australia propose to teach first month beginners head stand. Another, almost incredibly proposed to start the class on a cold morning with head stand preparation.

    Why? – partly because Iyengar Certification is substantially predicated on how ‘well’ one can personally perform the poses. There is a teaching component – and one of our own SYC teachers seeking Certification was knocked back for “not teaching strongly enough”; secondly, because so many attempt to run ‘mixed level’ classes where it is virtually impossible to devise a program that works for most – let alone for all.

    I have encountered the above at all levels of Certification – not just newly certified teachers (I need to exclude from the above, the Senior Iyengar teacher with whom I recently did a few month’s classes, but not necessarily all of her assistants.)

    (I need to disclose that I resigned my Certification, following a terminal argument with some elements of the local Iyengar Association re Mr Iyengar’s treatment of teachers during Pune Intensives – in 1992 (I was Acting President of the Oz Iyengar Association at the time) – but have since been formally told that such certificate can ONLY be revoked by Mr Iyengar personally – and is otherwise for life. This was uncovered following a move to require all junior level teachers in Australia to be examined yearly for ‘certificate renewal’ and jumped upon very smartly by Mr. Iyengar. I am now a Senior Level Teacher with Yoga Australia a ‘non-demoninational’ organisation happily free of most cultism.
    Collyn Rivers
    Sydney, Australia.

  • Collyn Rivers

    My apologies for hogging this forum – but I have received a private email re the above that points out that ‘only’ some 5000 or so injuries were reported of all US yoga students (in the US govt survey of 2005).

    Here, most reports of that survey miss out a vital piece of information – that the report was the results from the 100 US hospitals surveyed.

    As an Australian (who has however visited the USA many times) I do not know the number of hospitals there are in your country – but I would wager a lot of money that it is way over 1000 – let alone 100.

    If so – and assuming that govt survey was of representively typical size, that adds up to a very large number of injuries indeed.

    I agree with many here that there are more injuries in other sports – but did not Patanjali say something about ‘Do no harm’. I am not aware of that stated intent in most sporting activiies.
    Collyn

  • Dan

    The NYT article was a classic example of one form of bad reporting: it shows one side of the story. Sitting all day will wreck your body too… So does getting older – if only we could stop that. The bad reporting was deliberate – to sell papers and books, which has probably worked.

    In the year since I started Yoga, I’ve broken a big toe and, if I didn’t break any bones, at least did some nasty soft tissue damage to my left hand. I don’t blame my teachers (who warned me of ways I might break a toe) nor Yoga, it’s down to my own impatience. Anybody who “sells” Yoga as a magic cure-all is out to make a buck any way they can. Anybody whe buys it as such is naive or desperate.

    The Yoga studio I go to has everybody sign a waiver – what more do you need?

  • Collyn Rivers

    “The Yoga studio I go to has everybody sign a waiver – what more do you need?”

    So that’s OK then!
    Collyn

  • Chris

    Is Yoga safe ?

    Guruji BKS Iyengar is 93 years old, and is in full possession of his physical and mental faculties. He still teaches Yoga, practises Yoga, and delivers delightful lectures on Yoga. He just traveled to China, and bowled-over the Chinese, with his week-long Yoga Program in China.

    And Guruji is able to do all of this, despite having had a very difficult childhood. Guruji’s father died when he was merely 9 years old, and Guruji continued to suffer from a variety of maladies in his childhood, including influenza, malaria, tuberculosis, typhoid fever, and general-malnutrition.

    Guruji’s students number in the thousands today, and they seem to be doing OK. Guruji’s genius has resulted in superbly innovative teaching methods, and the use of brilliantly-simple props, which are designed to avoid any injury to the practitioner.

    The Hindu science of Yoga has been practised for 5000 years in India, and there haven’t been any complaints.

    So, I think that it’s safe to conclude that Yoga is safe for ALL !

    What might be unsafe, however, is the latest trendy, “faddy”, hyphenated-Yoga-ripoffs, which seem to be crawling out of the woodwork, and assaulting us from all sides.
    This McDonaldization and Wal-martization of the sacred Hindu science of Yoga, wherein nonsensical, new hyphenated Yoga rip-offs are being manufactured everyday in the West (Power-Yoga TM, Christ-Yoga TM, etc., anyone ? ) is nothing short of Profane.

    These hyphenated-Yoga-fads are simply out to make mega-bucks, and have little to do with the Hindu science of Yoga. Thus, rarely will any of these hyphenated-Yoga-schools ever bother to mention that a Yogi is required to be Vegetarian, in accordance with the Yogic Principle of Ahimsa.

    These hyphenated-Yoga-schools have much in common with a Bela Karolyi Gymnastics-Factory, in that these Yoga-schools are intent on wowing all, by producing star-students endowed with super-awesome-bendiness, caring little for the physical, mental and spiritual ( i.e. Yogic) well-being and advancement of their students.

    We have seen some morons in the West, who have even attempted to patent certain Yoga-asanas ! Huh ???

    India has already seen Western lawyers trying to patent Basmati rice, Darjeeling tea, the use of turmeric for medicinal purposes, etc, all of which are of ancient-India-origin. Clearly, in the West, there are far too many patent-lawyers, and too few genuine Yoga-students !

    However, this too shall pass, and the sacred Hindu science of Yoga, as compiled by Patanjali, and as disseminated by true and selfless teachers like Guruji BKS Iyengar, will endure.

  • Atalanta

    Chris,
    It’s great that your experience with Iyengar was such a positive one and yes, you are right that there is a McDonaldsization of yoga taking place, studios with little to no regard for the art and science of yoga itself but just want to milk the yoga cash cow for all it’s worth from unsuspecting consumers. That’s the nature of Western capitalism and corporatism and the market economy, unlimited wants and needs in a finite physical system. If you study history long enough, it eventually topples over and crashes. The yoga Juggarnaut is not immune to this either. Right now, yoga is Big Business.

    Any cult of personality is dangerous if unquestioned long enough. There needs to be more objective,outside scrutiny of yoga, ALL YOGA, whether it’s Iyengar, Ashtanga, Bikram, Anusara, Jivamukti, Moksha etc. If it has nothing to hide, then nothing to worry about, right?

    First of all, I’m Indian. I’m brown. You look at me and you know I’m ethnic. I speak Bengali and can get by in Hindi and Urdu if I really stretch myself. I walk into most of my yoga classes and I do not see many other ethnic faces. Why is that?

    Prices at most yoga studios and yoga retreats are set at prohibitively high levels leaving many people out. I unfortunately do not see a lot of outreach either to those segments of society who could benefit from yoga like the lower middle class and disadvantaged groups like the handicapped on social assistance or prison inmates despite all the talk about compassion, giving and sharing. Sure, I see the odd donation class here and there, but they are the exception, not the rule.

    I do not think many well-meaning practitioners of yoga realize it, but in some respects , mimicking aspects of Indian culture and behaviour is actually viewed negatively by some people in the Indian community especially when it is done out of context.
    For instance, Hindus going to Temple and performing puja rites are usually doing so because that is their form of reverence and showing devotion to a particular deity. This usually means sitting in silent meditation or prayer. Doing Full Scorpion in your lulu shorts in a room full of people who are trying hard to pray is not considered to be meditation to them, even if you may think it is for you. They consider it to be showcasing and it is a distraction to them and in some cases, is an insult to their sacred space where they are trying their best to enter into a meditative state of humility and reverence.

    Sanskrit, like Latin, is a dead language, let it go. The Catholic Church let go of the Latin Mass after Vatican II back in the early 1960s. Chanting in Sanskrit does not make you look cool nor does it make you an automatic Hindu. Or an authority on yoga, Vedic studies or Indology. Nor does having a made up Sanskit-derived moniker name make you any more real either with names like Blissananda, Ganeshananda, Serenityananda etc.

    Many Indians, in India make fun of you behind your back and are making money off of your ignorance.
    Do you see real, native Indians in the fancy ashrams in India?
    No.
    Do you see many native Indians “following” your Guruji? Probably not.
    Do you see many Indian women at these open air clothing-optional Tantric weekend workshops?
    I’m willing to bet on the house tha tthe answer is no.
    Did you ever ask why not?
    I’ll let you in on a little secret. Many, many of these so-called gurus and God-men (and women) of India are scam artists (I am NOT singling out Iyengar FYI) but because their ashrams and centres bring in so much, much-needed cash and tourist dollars, the Indian government looks the other way and in fact, are in on it too. There is nothing spiritual about it. It’s a cash cow and they are milking you for all they can get. (Check out the BBC documentary on Sai Baba called “The Secret Swami”, for instance). They are promising you Enlightenment just as long as you pay up or keep giving enforced “donations”, but it doesn’t work that way (Why do you think celibate Buddhist monks devote their ENTIRE LIVES living in monasteries under vows of poverty living off of alms trying to achieve Enlightenment? Because it’s VERY hard work and it takes a lot more than a weekend retreat or two plus reading a best-seller to get there)

    Yoga can unfortunately become cultic very quickly if you are not careful, particularly with instructors who are charismatic to begin with. It is probably more important to observe what a person actually does off the mat than what they actually say while they are on it. If you are suddenly feeling uncomfortable about something but you are not sure why, there probably is a reason for your discomfort. Here is an excellent article on the warning signs of cults and bad leadership if you’re unsure about something:
    http://www.rickross.com/warningsigns.html

    Don’t get me wrong, real teachers and guides do exist, but like the old saying goes, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear”. Generally, spirituality and money do not mix. If they do, it’s not spirituality anymore but a business. That might be a model which works in the capitalist West but in indigenous cultures the world over, authentic teachings are usually not passed on with the understanding of cash in exchange. They are passed on due to two reasons. Firstly, they are only passed from teacher to student if the teacher feels the student is ready for a particular set of teachings, if the student consistently displays qualities such as maturity, wisdom etc. Secondly, the teachings have to continue even if the teacher has disappeared, which is precisely why there is such a strong oral tradition of transmission and study in non-Western and Native cultures.

    I hate to say this but this but there is no direct relationship between performing yoga asanas and directly achieving world peace. If yoga makes you feel more peaceful and that means you become a peaceful person out there in the real world and set an example to others, which then has a ripple effect, that’s truly wonderful. However that also takes time and is not instantaneous. It may even take generations. Yelling at your kid to shut up because you can’t meditate won’t get you there either.

  • Dr. O. P. Sudrania

    Atlanta,
    “(Check out the BBC documentary on Sai Baba called “The Secret Swami”, for instance).”

    I am not surprised at your bragging of being an Indian, brown, Bengali to impress upon your silly observation. Atlanta is neither Indian Hindu name nor a Bengali surname. Why do you need to impress of your credentials by dubious manner. You should have used and introduced yourself in original style as you were.

    The above reference you make here is preposterous and maligning for your finding a cheap popularity by saying your mother a witch. That documentary was created by some girl viz. Tania Dutta for BBC by using another cheap Indian broker. Could she be another Bengali is your job to find out. There has been a lot of counter reaction on it but this is a deliberate attempt to malign Sri Satya Sai Baba for different reasons where the reasons are again, I am sorry to be frank, BBC is an old anti Indian imperialist agent.

    First update yourself fully before propping up yourself so cheaply. I feel ashamed of your Indian identity. There is a good name in India – Jaychand in Hindu parlance and Mir Jafar in Muslim parlace which fits very well to you. I am sorry for my hard words, but it needed him. You are nowhere near his dust.

    Secondly don’t sell yourself for a few bucks as you are trying to in this market of McDonaldisation of a sacred ancient Indian science. Don’t be a part of the same McDonald’s desk. I can bet that you have none, whatsoever, knowldge on Patanjali Yoga Sutra, either theory or practice.

  • Dr. O. P. Sudrania

    Erratum: “I am sorry for my hard words, but it needed him. You are nowhere near his dust.”

    Please read, “I am sorry for my hard words, but it needed you. You are nowhere near his (Sai Baba’s) feet-dust.”

    Another point on that BBC film, BBC was clever to lend this hired Tania Dutta but they did not own direct responsibility. My dear Indian brown Bengali, kindly update yourself first before blindly bewitching yourself in the quagmire.

  • Collyn Rivers

    Before you rave on like that – have you ever studied with Mr Iyengar (in Pune) in a teachers’ intensive – or even met him?

    If so would you please describe that experience.

    I have – twice – in Pune – and for three weeks each time.
    Collyn

  • Chris

    Collyn,

    “rave on” ??

    We are starting to understand why you have moved on from the Iyengar-Yoga system.

    And yes, love Pune, having cumulatively spent a few years there. And yes, have interacted with Guruji – several times.

  • Collyn Rivers

    Chris et al,
    The post from our Indian correspondent is a welcome injection of sanity as well as fresh air. The Hindu culture, as did that of others such, evolved over time to suit and support the mores of an ancient time and ancient culture. It it is absurd for otherwise seemingly grown up people from a totally different culture to believe that it can be mapped across to a totally different civilisation, ‘culture’ and time.

    How many times has any one on this forum even once seen anyone from that culture in a yoga class Western or otherwise – apart from a few ultra-wealthy ones when Gita Iyengar was teaching in Pune)? And are people aware that Gita Iyengar stopped teaching. And why?

    (Australia has a fair number of Indian migrants – and a great many students – and not once did we, over 10 years (with six teachers, and 28 classes a week – with many of 30 or so students -necessitating two fully-trained teachers plus assistants) have even one Indian in any class. Nor expected to.

    It needs also to be rembered that the yoga tradition was never 10-30 people in a class – but that of one-to-one teaching of a privileged few (mostly Brahmin) over a number of years. And how many know that Mr Iyengar’s ‘time’ with Shri Krishnamachara was only a few hours. How do I know? It was told to me first hand by T.K.V Deshikachar – his own son (who I brought out to Australia a couple of times) and who is a close relative of Mr Iyengar. So there goes another myth.

    All that aside – I left the Iyengar movement when it was only too clearly becoming a cult – at much the same time as did a substantial number of the the worlds’s then best known teachers (I do not include myself amongst them, but am fortunate enough to still know many of them). You would probably be genuinely surprised Chris, if you knew just HOW many of our top best known teachers of today are ex-Iyengar by choice.

    I should emphasis that most people who have done general classes in Pune will have had a substantially different experience than those attending the three-week teachers’ Puna intensives – that are a sort of yogic boot-camp.

    So what caused me finally to leave (but not necessarily cease basing my teaching – and that of the over 80 teachers that I and my partner subsequently taught and certified, using a far more gentle application of some of Mr Iyengar’s work – but seeing that as ‘all there is’, always acknowledging that – but always stressing that we were no longer Iyengar teachers).

    It was about that time when Mr Iyengar was morphed from being that – to BKS Iyengar (until the word went around re what became a not unrealistic acronym) then over a year or two via, our Guru, to our Guuji, to our Beloved Guruji. A low light was seeing a few of South Africa’s then leading Iyengar teachers arriving in Pune laden with gifts – and literally prostrating themselves to slurp Mr Iyengar’s toes.

    It was (a) a letter from North American teacher Shirley Daventry Smith – reproduced in the Australian Iyengar Journal around 1992 – that finally caused me to leave the ‘fold’.

    I had just returned from a Teachers Intensive in Pune – where at the then age of 62 – I we literally kicked out of headstand by Mr Iyengar – leaving me with a bruise above my heart for several days.

    That letter described Ms Daventry-Smith’s not disimilar experience – and continued to the effect ‘I’d deserved it – and what an honor anyway to be hit by Mr Iyengar’. An honor? Really?

    If that is not denial I do not know what is.

    I discussed my experience at some length with my yoga business partner – who, a hear before, had resigned from the Iyengar movement for not disimilar reasons. I do not have her permission to name her – but she is now recognised as one of the world’s most respected teachers. Her own words, that I shall never forget – were ‘Collyn, I fear the Emperor has no clothes’.

    I respondd to the the Australian Iyengar Association journal to the effect that it was one thing to take on the ‘battered wife syndrome’ – to actually promoting that as desirable, and to others.’ And that was the pretty much the end for me.

    Do you know Chris, why no school in Australia, the UK and the USA has, for some years been prepared to sponsor Mr Iyengar’s workshops in those countries? But that he still does them in China etc. .

    That yet another matter that ‘we do not discuss?’

    It is in my view, and so far I appear to be the only Certified Iyengar Teacher in this debate, that one simply has to separate Mr Iyengar’s undoubted contribution (that of introducing the importance of alignment etc ) and anatomical knowledge – from his (and only too many of his accolytes) method of 1850′s full-on Indian authoritarian teaching – and especially that of ‘adjustment’ by semi-trained assistants – even of elderly beginners. That adjustment is only too often of pushing people too far into a pose of which they may already be overdoing. Or of the extraordinary Ashtanga practice of literally forcing people’s knees down in Padmasana – and seeing injuries ‘as part of the process’. To what – wrecked knees?

    That – you will find – is why so many of the world’ top teachers – including Australia’s Shandor Remete (once a full-on Iyengar teacher), now well known in the USA – are ex-Iyengar.

    Many, including myself totally accept Mr Iyengar’s contribution but also are only too aware of the legacy that possibly/probably causes authoritarian teachers to be drawn to his likewise method of teaching – and then use that method – but without Mr Iyengar’s depth of knowledge. Consider why neither Gita nor her brother (Prashant) taught quite differently.

    The Australian experience is that most of the Senior teachers here were taught by one of Mr Iyengar’s early students – a fearsome ex-British Army physical training seargeant – who taught in much the same way as his Army methods. That legacy persisted for some 40 years – and is only now beginning to change.

    Re truly ‘traditional’ teaching – are members of this forum aware that, for example, the ‘Iyengar jumping in and out of standing poses and others comes not from ‘Patanajali’ – but the British Army’s physical training manual circa 1917 – i.e it is a left-over from the British Raj.

    Are they also aware that there were dozens of Patanjalis – and that many educated people of Indian background are well aware of this.
    I spent two years at Sydney University studying Sanscrit (simply because I was interested in Latin’s roots). Most of the class were Indians from the Indian Embassy – and I quickly learned from them that the single Patanjali is a total Western myth.

    That’s enough for now I feel – but am increasingly intrigued by the depth and extent of the denial – and indignation. I wonder what will happen when that book is published.

    I would incidentally take some of the respondents more seriously were they not hiding behind some silly ‘forum pseudonym’.
    Collyn Rivers

  • Chris

    Bowing or prostrating oneself before the Guruji and touching the Guruji’s feet is the traditional Hindu way of conveying one’s respect and gratitude towards a Guru ( or towards a parent, an Elder, etc.)

    The folded-hands Hindu greeting of Namaste is an abridged and informal version of the full-bow.

    This gracious Hindu custom has found its way to most of South-East Asia, where, the Namaste, and its variants (such as the Japanese bowing) are followed.

    So, Collyn, it would be perfectly understandable for South Africa’s then leading Iyengar teachers to prostrate themselves before Guruji, during their visit to Pune.

  • Chris

    How disgusting it is that the Australian-Man, who, if left to his own devices, would STILL be ethnically-cleansing the native Aborigine-population, hunting to extinction the kangaroos and the koalas, shooting down immigrant Indian students in Australia, getting rowdy in the local Australian pubs, and generally raising hell, in the best traditions of his convict-Australian-forefathers, greedily takes the full benefits of the ancient Hindu science of Yoga, and then proceeds to publicly rip apart the very Yoga-Guru, who nobly imparted this healing knowledge to the Australian, in return for a most negligible tuition-fee !!!

    Ungratefulness, thy name is Collyn Rivers !!

  • Collyn Rivers

    Chris

    Have you not left out the bit about all Aussies being red-wing pagan commies? Shame by background being partly French – but they are not much better – bunch of garlic-smelling snail munchers eh.

    Looks like you might profitable re-read Patanjali – assuming that is you read better than you seemingly write. But what would I know – with that convict past!
    Collyn
    Collyn

  • Collyn Rivers

    I feel I should apologise for forum members for my response to Chris’s attack on Australians. I should in retrospect have ignored it. I say this as it appears to have halted what was becoming an interesting debate.

    I do make quite strong comments re the issue of Yoga injuries as I have found that lesser ones are simply ignored. All my response are however based on my own personal experience, and from a background of having co-run Australia’s largest and arguably most successful yoga school. I also personally know a statistically significant number of teachers who have suffered serious long term damage in the process of practising what in retrospect was overly strong yoga in their earlier days.

    I should perhaps mention that my earlier background is unusual for a yoga teacher in that I was originally a research engineer (with General Motors). I thus also look at stuff from a different viewpoint than do most yoga teachers.

    (Desikachar also has an engineering background and I had an interesting conversataon with him re this a decade or so ago – particularly re how one approaches problems etc.)

    I believe the New York article was possibly ‘over the top’ but that too was probably the only way it could have gained attention on what is increasingly showing up as a very real concern.

    Ongoing denial truly does not assist. Why I feel it is now so important to discuss this – is that unless the yoga teaching industry does this – it is inevitable that governments will step in and do it for us. From my ‘off the record’ discussion with the Australian person most likely to be in charge, the situation here is quite close to that happening, and as per my posting some action has already been taken. Members may be interested to know that this topic was a major issue at the recent Iyengar Yoga Seminar in Australia – and was from the position that there are issues of teacher injury -and how they could be addressed. This is a welcome and constructive approach.

    I have visited the USA some 12 times since 1992 and have done many yoga workshops there (and am about to publish a book (not about yoga!) that is about to be published in the USA, so I am well aware that there tends to be less legislation – but I suggest that too may change after the forthcoming yoga-injury related book, that led to the NY review is published.

    I do hope people recommence posting on this forum re this issue as most others are simply blanket wall-to wall denial.
    Collyn Rivers

  • ivette

    “Why I feel it is now so important to discuss this – is that unless the yoga teaching industry does this – it is inevitable that governments will step in and do it for us. ” WHY? if governments step into Yoga “regulation”, it would represent an unfair targeting of a fitness activity. It would make no sense to only target Yoga while leaving ice hockey, american footbal, marathons, triathalons, etc., unregulated. This “solution” makes no sense to me.

  • louisa

    “Yoga is perhaps most helpfully understood as a relaxation into the welcome depths of being human in all of its incorrigible imperfectibility.” Thanks Godfrey Devereux.
    And what is yoga if it is not that? Yoga is not a sport, although it has been practised as one for most of the last 80 years (in India and beyond), fused and confused with body building and just simply shape-making, impressive acrobacy – very attractive to our competitive conditionings and aesthetic obssessions.
    “yoga” often defined as “link”…connection..experiencing through the body inherent interconnectedness.
    Could it be that?
    In the face of yoga dvd’s for « yoga abs and butt » from apparently « star » teachers and other shining offerings, and packed classes of vinyasa remixers sweating (or fretting ?) and strutting their stuff, it seems so far away. Good sport, but what was that about yoga ?
    I could not believe the senior Iyengar teacher here in Paris and one of the most respected Iyengar teachers in the world (for what reason she has that status I don’t know – how many exams she’s passed?), hitting her students and screaming at them. Like teacher, like student?
    What’s that got to do with yoga and how could that possibly encourage a student to deepen her experience of yoga, the first precept of which is commonly parroted to be “non violence”?
    If you accept and even like that kind of treatment from your ‘guru’ (and there’s been more than one of those to fall lately), then there must be some kool-aid in the dahl.
    If we use Patanjali’s yoga sutras as a guide to our understanding of yoga, i.e.
    that it serves to nourish you into accepting the present moment in its full, inevitable perfection, then it shouldn’t hurt and it shouldn’t damage.
    Pulling, pushing, drawing in, sucking up, stretching, twisting, tightening, holding, controlling, contracting, going further, even “shooting” …how often have we heard these instructions in “advanced Iyengar” (and other) teachings. And pranayama defined as « control of the breath »…really ?? On a simply physiological level, it is IMPOSSIBLE for vital energy to flow and therefore nourish if it is constricted. Tight, dry, tendons, worn joints, unnourished organs…
    And looking at it from psychological/spiritual perspective, it is IMPOSSIBLE for you to accept the present moment if you (or your teacher) is fixated on going further, holding it longer, all the while getting tenser and tenser.
    If “yoga is now” (first sutra, thanks Patanjali), then how can pushing myself or my students further into a longer hold, a straighter leg, a sucked in thigh POSSIBLY be helping me or them practice yoga? After a day or a year or ten years of practicing like that you will injure yourself, no doubt. And sometimes it’s hard to know where that post-yoga high is coming from – when you hold a posture in spite of pain, the body releases endorphins; the pleasure and pain areas in the brain are very close neighbours.
    As far as I understand it, according to Patanjali, yoga is a non-dualistic experience. Loving what is. If samadhi is not a presently existing state, then how could it ever possibly exist ? That is, accept your imperfectly slightly bent (but happy) knee as it is, NOW, all the while simply » lengthening what you can lengthen, broadening what you can broaden and softening what you can soften » (Godfrey Devereux). If it’s going to change it will, and it is, even as you are, and you can’t control it. oooooh.
    But sometimes we want to control it, very enticing, that. And “there lies the rub”, as the wise old man said.

    If you want to use yoga posture practice as a sport to improve your cardio vascular health and tone your abs and butt, then go ahead. But you’re missing the point, and PLEASE, don’t call it yoga.

  • I just make one comment in the midst of this raving ranting cilised or wild;

    “No pain, no gain” must be condemned to be replaced by:
    “Little Strain, for Bigger Gains”.

    If pain starts taking place at any point during the Asanas, it must never be allowed to reach that point. Rather one must stop short of that stage so that a little strain causes a little stretch. Then slowly keep repeating it several times on the same session or on different sessions for bigger gains.

    Anytime pain is allowed, that is when one will incur injury. Hence no pain for avoiding pain is a better mnemonic.

    “A little strain, for a bigger gain”.

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  • Dr. O. P. Sudrania

    “This McDonaldization and Wal-martization of the sacred Hindu science of Yoga, wherein nonsensical, new hyphenated Yoga rip-offs are being manufactured everyday in the West (Power-Yoga TM, Christ-Yoga TM, etc., anyone ? ) is nothing short of Profane.

    These hyphenated-Yoga-fads are simply out to make mega-bucks, and have little to do with the Hindu science of Yoga. Thus, rarely will any of these hyphenated-Yoga-schools ever bother to mention that a Yogi is required to be Vegetarian, in accordance with the Yogic Principle of Ahimsa.”

    It is a just and cautionary guard. Very well put.

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