The Wrecking Ball of Yoga (or, maybe we're human)

I love that so many people know that I love yoga. I appreciate more than these individuals can ever know when someone emails me to tell me that they love this blog or that they tried a new yoga class or that yoga is changing their life.

Or when they send me controversial articles and ask - what do you think?

I received double digit emails, texts, and FB messages about an article that ran in the New York Times today:

NYTimes Examines How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body

What follows is my opinion only and my reaction both as a practitioner, and a human being.

I am sure that the article's author accurately portrays the facts about the injuries these individuals faced, but what is missing in his explanation is the placement of these issues in the context of our physical nature as a whole. Yoga as a physical practice can certainly be dangerous. I have heard stories of yoga falls that lead to concussions. In each of the two marathons that I ran, an individual passed away after or during their run. The physical challenges of life are fraught with peril. This is as true in many asana practices as it is in riding a bike, running, or working out at a gym.

I try very hard to practice ALL aspects of yoga. This means that the physical components - the asanas - are only one way that my practice manifests itself in my daily life. Most people think that yoga is only composed of the pretzel bendy moves that you see on tv or at the gym. Some days I do find myself in a handstand or balancing in a way that makes me feel like I am flying. Some days my practice is nothing more than sitting on a mat, breathing, and meditating. At times it is simply lying on my back just trying to get my brain to slow down.

Photograph taken at Crissy Field Park, San Francisco
Sometimes the biggest yoga pose I do all day is to practice ahimsa (doing no harm) - and letting myself take a day off from exercise.

The asanas seem easy in comparison to the other 7 of the Eight Limbs of Yoga.

I simply don't believe that yoga wrecks your body. I think that any number of things: ego, pushing, unhealed or untreated injuries, poor teaching, simple accidents, or inherited anatomy can wreck our bodies.

Being human means that we are vulnerable to all kinds of hurt, both emotional and physical. We are also unique creatures, with different limitations and comfort levels.

I have pushed too hard and fought my way into lower back pain at times as a result of my yoga practice, and have openly talked about the consequences for my body when I push too hard. For me, this isn't just a yoga issue. In training for the two marathons that I completed, I know that I did permanent damage to my hip. I have pushed too hard. I have not recovered well enough. I have eaten poorly. I have made mistakes. And mistakes (including attempting poses that won't work with your particular body) lead to injury.

My desire to have a healing asana practice is what has made me a devotee of Forrest Yoga. I would suggest that Forrest Yoga is a practice that is exceptionally conscious of injury in the back, neck, and shoulders. It isn't for everyone, but it works for me.

Do we pump up the benefits of yoga at times - without appropriately discussing the risks? Of course we do! I can very easily get caught up in wanting to share my passion with someone and completely forget to mention that some of the benefits I derive don't come from the poses - and that the whole process takes slow, patient time and requires an honest dialogue about ability and limitation.

Here is what I know. Yoga saved my life in many ways. It gave me peace that I had not yet had in my life. It helped me to be a better, more complete person. It has brought me great happiness, that I hope I am sharing with my small part of the universe.

I consider these the ultimate gifts of my practice - a practice that includes so much more than just poses.

That isn't a wrecking ball.

Living is hard, dangerous work. We do the best we can. We are human.


For those that are interested in how to avoid being a wrecking ball in class, I have created a separate, accompanying post here.