Yoga is a wonderful tool, but “it hasn’t all been roses” as author, yoga teacher and prominent yoga blogger Matthew Remski points out in his promo video for the forthcoming book, What Are We Actually Doing in Asana?. Modern Postural Yoga (or MPY as Remski refers to it) is what we know as our contemporary and very asana-driven yoga practice. This is not necessarily “wrong” per se, but when Remski put out the call for stories and experiences from practitioners about injuries – both physical and emotional – sustained in these asana-heavy classes, he received an overwhelming flood of responses (and almost everyone had an injury story to tell). Thus began #WAWADIA (What Are We Actually Doing in Asana?), a series of essays and blog posts transcribed from interviews and drawn from personal emails and posted to Remski’s website to shed light on what can be a “shadowy process” when asana is both a tool for growth and embitterment, empowerment and disenchantment.
Taking the project beyond the web, Remski is planning to do further research and compile everything into a book, to be released in september 2016. To that end, he’s just launched an indiegogo crowdfunding campaign to help make that happen, and to go beyond the “happy veneer of contemporary yoga marketing.”
His intentions for the book (via the campaign page):
- To produce an accurate, contemplative, and hopeful account of modern yoga practice that will serve a maturing community.
- To help shift yoga culture into a more self-reflective era. To help reach beyond the fading paradigms of faith, charismatic authority, and the transcendent and often self-harming view of the body as something that must be perfected, instead of simply made more functional, enjoyed and explored with curiosity.
- To shine light on the innovative pathways that are emerging as earnest yogis recover from the injuries of yoga’s adolescence.
To read the full 52-page prospectus, including the thesis, projected budget outline and draft excerpts, click here.
The crowdfunding campaign launched November 1 and will close December 1. Watch the campaign video below, then head over to the WAWADIA campaign page for more info or to make a contribution:
What would you like me to say? This inquiry is the best, best thing I’ve read in a long time (52 pages of your treatment) … I recently took a full leave of absence from MPY which lasted all of a couple of months. But I came back.
My story is not one of injury.
The kids had tried to shunt me into Sleepytime yoga at their studio, deemed as the one thing suitable for my then 54-year old body; and they were “very professional” about everything … but there was no way I was not taking class with their main student body. I avoided all but the most mild physical injury (not gotten at that studio, anyhow), “stole” their pacing and much of their sequence for my very own; and lived to really ❤ yoga.
But I still like meditation more. I think that may be part of the key.
This is an interesting and worthwhile project, and I generally agree with the underlying principles.
But one major objection: from a statistical/scientific point of view, the approach taken (asking for input only from injured yogis) involves a huge “selection bias” and is pretty much guaranteed to overstate the physical risk of MPY.
For an informative discussion of selection bias, see Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s excellent book “Fooled by Randomness”. Taleb’s examples feature the “survivorship bias” of looking solely at “winners”, rather than the “mortality bias” of looking solely at injured, as in this particular yogic application, but the principle is the same.
The author here: hope it’s okay to pop in like this.
This is a really good criticism, Dwayne: thank you. I address it on page 40 of the prospectus, which YD links above. The problem begins with the spontaneous nature of the project – it’s “lack of design”, I suppose. I simply began to run with the anecdotal evidence of about 7 years in the industry. By the time I’d waded in, I was well aware of the problem of selection bias, and have been transparent about this ever since.
I characterize the work as qualitative research into the testimony of those who have injury stories to tell, and make no claims to prevalence, etc. On principle, I don’t think we need hard data on yoga injury numbers to proceed with the examination of the common threads and contexts of yoga injury in general. Perhaps in this field, the stories come first, and the numbers second. Although the numbers will always be sketchy, because people will argue ad infinitum about how to control the question. (What is yoga? Are the subjects doing it ‘properly’? Etc.)
Before you go on any witch hunts, make sure your own teaching is up to par. Based on your video, your students shown have much to learn. The class is not unified as everyone is doing their own thing. Also, you said you have 12 years of experience. That isn’t much no matter how many books you read.
I like the idea. A clear sited investigation into how asana works and what it does would be interesting and welcome. I’m just not sure that the best approach is to abdicate to selection bias and collect stories of injury. Plenty of us are yoga “health miracles”; might as well write a book based primarily on our stories. I’d also question the idea that healthy variations are “new” or “emerging”. It all feels a bit autobiographical, which is fine, but not the stated intent. Much as I wondered how different the famous blog post about “wild thing” would have been if, like me, the author had been safely taught it by skilled teachers and knew it only as “rotated half plank” so I wonder how different this book would be if the author had started yoga injured and found in it a cure.
I guess I’ve found something I know works, seen the teachers who taught it pushed out of mainstream yoga as “too difficult” (and take up work fixing and preventing injuries for other groups more concerned with results than orthodoxy), and decided I don’t much mind what other people are doing when they do asana, or if they choose to do it in a way that hurts them.