The yoga community is on the defensive and they’ve already made some pretty pointed counters [Is The New York Times Wrecking Yoga? The Community Responds] to the New York Times article heard round the yoga world. Basically everyone and their Maha mothers are voicing their rebuttals and opinions about yoga “wrecking your body.” Here are a few more worth reading with well-known yogis mixed in with mass media and well-known culture blog writers:
Chris Beach, president of the Iyengar Yoga National Association of the United States, upstanding fem blogger and apparent yogi Irin Carmon at Salon.com, physician and yoga teacher Baxter Bell via Yoga Journal, author and yogi Sarah Miller at The Awl. Read on.
A response from Chris Beach, president of the Iyengar Yoga National Association of the United States. [via Patricia Walden Yoga]
8 January 2012
To The New York Times
Re: “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body” by William Broad
To the Editor:
If yoga hurts, it is not yoga. A student’s overreaching ego, a teacher’s ignorance –many causes may lead to injury while doing yoga, but yoga itself cannot be blamed. Nor can B. K. S. Iyengar, who more than any figure in modern yoga has made yoga safe, accessible and transformative for all.
Many teachers and students of Iyengar Yoga were disturbed by the negative tone and outright errors in “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body” by William J. Broad. Just one example: Broad calls Roger Cole a “reformer” who advocates reducing neck bending in Shoulder Stand by lifting the shoulders on a stack of blankets. But this teaching was devised by Mr. Iyengar – Cole is simply one of many of Mr. Iyengar’s teachers who work this way. Similarly Broad writes that Mr. Iyengar does not address yoga injuries in his seminal book Light on Yoga; any reading will reveal countless instructions on how to perform poses correctly, without harm.
We urge readers to try an Iyengar Yoga class themselves. Iyengar Yoga teachers are held to the most rigorous standards. Only after years of practice and study, and close examination by senior teachers, are they certified. A Certified Iyengar Yoga teacher is a student’s guarantee of a yoga experience which is safe, progressive and personalized to their condition.
During his more than 70 years of practice and teaching, B. K. S. Iyengar has pioneered modern yoga and modern yoga therapeutics. One of his guiding principles – that yoga is for everyone – led him to develop modifications for the yoga asanas (postures) using props which allow them to be performed by practitioners of every age, fitness and skill level.
Iyengar teachers are trained to work even with students with serious limitations and injuries, to recognize when students are ready for certain asanas, and not to ask them to go beyond their readiness. Going to one’s maximum also means not going beyond one’s limits; teachers must help students understand this.
Before undertaking the practice of asana, those who pursue the eight-limbed path of yoga must first practice the guidelines of yama and niyama; first among these is ahimsa – non-violence. For a teacher, this means “do no harm.”
Christopher Beach, President
The Iyengar Yoga National Association of the United States (IYNAUS)
Salon.com’s Irin Carmon on extremes and omissions:
Generally speaking, Broad never makes clear if his research suggests that yoga is inherently damaging to the body — any body — or whether repeated stress and poor teaching raise the risk of injury, one present in any physical activity. After all, yoga wrecks your body — compared to what? Not doing anything active, which it’s fairly clear is bad for you? It’s true that yoga gets a special break as a panacea, and Broad cites his “belief, naïve in retrospect, that yoga was a source only of healing and never harm.” But we take for granted that runners will strain their knees or dancers warp their feet. I suppose “anything done often or in extreme fashion can seriously strain the body,” is less sexy than what ended up on the page.
And extreme is what seems to be really at play here — many of the examples of injury are of teachers with rigorous practice, and one is of a man who would “sit upright on his heels in a kneeling position known as vajrasana for hours a day, chanting for world peace.” I’d be willing to bet that hours of kneeling chanting does not fit the experience of the typical Times most-emailer, or the average sedentary American looking for excuses not to get up and move.
The biggest elisions were implied but never emphasized: the importance of good teaching and the wild divergence of practices under the umbrella of American yoga. Based on having practiced with (at least) dozens of different yoga teachers over the years around New York and occasionally globally, I’d argue those are the most important factors of all.
[read the full article at salon.com]
Baxter Bell talks about the bigger picture via Yoga Journal:
Perhaps the problem I see here is that this article creates an ongoing case for the negative potential of yoga asana, without balancing this with “rewards” Broad promises in the title of his book.
Broad continues to build his negative case, citing several instances of yoga-related injury, and mentioning statistics showing an increase in yoga-related injuries reported by U.S. emergency rooms, from 13 in 2000 to 20 in 2001, and up to 46 in 2002. What is not considered, however, is the simultaneous increase in the number of yoga practitioners during that time. In just 10 years, it’s estimated that the number of people doing yoga rose from 4 million to as many as 20 million. This could imply an overall decrease in the incidence of injuries, not the reverse. Statistics can be a tricky thing sometimes.
[read the full article at yogajournal.com]
Sarah Miller on the ‘Six Reasons To Ignore The ‘New York Times’ Yoga Article’:
5. This article is actually more about how no one should go to a bad yoga teacher, but, you know, who would want to read an article about that? This article focuses on Glenn Black, a yoga teacher whose own injuries forced him to evaluate both the teaching and practice of yoga. He mentions “teachers jumping on people, pushing and pulling and saying, ‘You should be able to do this by now.’” Well. I don’t want to go to class with any of these people either, but the existence of bad yoga teachers comes neither as a surprise to me nor some sort of proof that the practice itself is flawed.
6. What’s wrong with yoga is not yoga. According to Paramahansa Yogananda, author of the yoga classic and all-around great read Autobiography of a Yogi, Kriya Yoga was well-known in ancient India, but was eventually lost, due to “priestly secrecy and man’s indifference.” If we lose yoga it will also be a one-two punch, from different forces. One will be because we let the idea that we don’t really know our limitations—this is a core idea of yoga—translate into fantasies about how we can do a backbend even though we’re fifty and kind of fat, because hey, to believe it is to be it, etc. Combine this misuse of yogic philosophy with our capacity for senseless competitiveness and fear of being old, or ugly, or anything but the best, and yes, you’ve got a good recipe for injury. But if you think of yoga as a great way to breathe more, well, you’re not going to get hurt.
[read full article at theawl.com]
Once again, share with us your own thoughts, and any other responses you find particularly compelling.
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