A Response to “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body”
Wednesday, January 18th, 2012
This post is by John Schumacher, founder and director of Unity Woods Yoga Center.
Well, the recent New York Times article, “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body”, has certainly created quite a stir. My inbox had over forty emails on the subject and I understand the Times had over 700 responses within the first week. (Use the link above to connect to the article in case you haven’t seen it so you know what all the hoo-ha and this comment are about.)
First, I think we should remind ourselves that the Times is in the business of selling newspapers. Since there are an estimated 20 million yoga practitioners in this country alone, what better way to grab a lot of attention than to tell those millions of people that what they are doing could very well seriously injure or even kill them. And why not splatter some pictures of clowns in funny positions around the page just to be sure to catch their eye.
Second, let’s keep in mind that the author of the article, William J. Broad, a Pulitzer Prize-winning science writer for the New York Times, has a new book out. I bet he’s interested in selling copies, too. (I think it worth noting that the book itself has the much less sensational title The Science of Yoga: The Risks and Rewards.)
Mr. Broad extensively quotes Glenn Black, a yoga teacher, who Mr. Broad says, “has come to believe that ‘the vast majority of people’ should give up yoga altogether.” Why we should put a lot of store in Mr. Black’s opinion, aside from the fact that he has been teaching yoga for nearly forty years (as have I and more than a few others), is not clear, other than that he holds controversial views sure to get everybody all fired up. Furthermore, Mr. Black has recently undergone surgery to have his spine fused and screws inserted into his lumbar. He attributes the need for this to his practicing extreme backbends and twists for those forty years. I have to say that listening to Mr. Black’s opinions on the dangers of asana practice strikes me as being akin to receiving advice on the advisability of riding motorcycles from Evel Knievel.
Not only that, several responses to the article cite factual errors regarding the anatomical and physiological statements Mr. Broad makes. I include a link to some of those responses for folks interested in delving into these more technical aspects raised in the article.
Nevertheless, some of the issues the article raises do warrant further examination and discussion: For whom is yoga appropriate? Just what IS yoga? What role does the current approach to training teachers play in the possibility of injuries occurring? (A topic with which readers of this website and our newsletter are very familiar.) What is dangerous and what isn’t? I plan to address some of these in more depth than is possible here in the upcoming spring newsletter as well as responding to the specifics of the article point by point.
But one thing I do want to say is that, OF COURSE, you can hurt yourself doing yoga. You can injure yourself tying your shoes, for God’s sake. If you’re in a body (and all but a few of us are), then ANYTHING you do – or don’t do, for that matter – can have insidious effects. Which strikes me as a good reason for current and prospective yoga students to think seriously about where and from whom you are receiving your yoga instruction.
Oh, and by the way– B.K.S. Iyengar (who is referred to repeatedly in the article) is thriving at age 93, still standing on his head for up to half an hour at a crack, and a bunch of us fogies who have been practicing yoga for forty years or more are doing quite alright, thank you.