A recent conclusion I am now willing to openly admit: yoga hurts my body.
Potentially, it’s not the right thing for me, at least in some of its most rigorous forms such as Power Vinyasa and Ashtanga. With all the conflicting information out there on exercise and nutrition, it’s hard not to get sucked into thinking that if you don’t do yoga, you cannot achieve strong health, fitness and flexibility from the inside out. How else are you going to detox those internal organs?
Well, simple twists are not exclusive to yoga, first of all.
I liken my journey with yoga to my one-time decision to throw in the towel with wheat and sugar. I had read so much about wheat destroying our insides and sugar being a current-day poison that I was determined to cut these things out of my diet, even though I wasn’t noticing any ill effects from eating them. What resulted was extreme fatigue and overeating (even after several weeks). I never felt satiated and was weak and lethargic.
About a week into this no-wheat-no-sugar shit lifestyle, in one sitting I ate two crab cakes, two pieces of sword fish, a grand-sized chicken wing, salad and other assorted vegetables… and still felt hungry. Ya know, I was trying the whole Paleo thing. But something was wrong. I had never felt worse. I kept waiting for the detox stage to be over, but it never ended.
Almost a month in, my first dip back into straight-up sugar was a peanut butter cookie. I felt good for the first time since I had started these eliminations. I guess I must need some sugar in my diet. Yeah, I know, Coca Cola is poison, but some people need straight up sugar. I think I am one of them. And, I know some people have a real problem with glutinous products and sugar, but apparently my problem is being denied these things. Lesson learned.
With so much conflicting information out there, it’s an error to place too much weight on any advice related to diet or exercise. Opinions are constantly in flux. I remember when I was dousing everything in agave syrup because my yoga teacher said it’s the healthy sweetener, with a lower glycemic index, and that gave me free reign to basically suck it straight from the bottle. But now, they’re saying that agave is actually no better than high fructose corn syrup. So, my bad.
I think the most important thing is to see how your body reacts to all the conflicting information you get about health, diet and exercise.
Back to yoga. After moving to Mexico, and rarely practicing yoga beyond some simple daily stretches, I am no longer at the chiropractor every week. Yes, I still exercise a lot—running, ballet bar exercises and weight training—but not too much yoga short of a retreat here and there. So now, because I am not always in pain, I definitely notice how I feel the day after doing a vigorous yoga practice, and it’s kind of wrecked, frankly.
Before I left Portland, I was already noticing that my body was not responding well to yoga, and I had transitioned into teaching and doing more ballet bar workouts. These classes, where extreme flexibility is not a necessity or encouraged, were actually healing my body. I felt better about passing along this style of fitness to young and old, injured and strong. These workouts emphasized good and safe alignment over attempting your deepest backbend or 200 chaturangas.
I know many yoga people feel threatened by anything that seems like anti-yoga sentiment, hence the fact that a good number of yoga people have made the decision to cut ties with me. However, these are just my meager opinions, and only have as much power as the backlash people give them. Probably no one would have read William J. Broad’s book about the dangers of yoga if there hadn’t been such a backlash. Certainly, he probably wouldn’t have had a 30-minute segment on NPR. And so really, I only know what’s right for me, and am not challenging the benefits of yoga for other people.
Recently, I read that the belief that we need to feel pain to get things accomplished in our bodies is false. This is an ingrained idea in our culture: that if it is not killing us or making us extremely sore, then we are not making positive changes in our health and bodies. But sometimes, the more subtle things are actually improving us at a deeper level.
I know there are all types of yoga, and the simple static and active stretches I do in my home are my healthy yoga now. So, I’m just saying, yoga is not the only way to a healthy body. In fact, I didn’t know how good my body could feel until I stopped doing regular yoga.
This story originally appeared on Recovering Yogi.
Shana Sturtz is a certified yoga teacher and survivor of the exploding Portland, Oregon yoga scene. She currently lives in Guadalajara, Mexico with her husband, Tom. She continues to teach yoga and tutors in English. She has practiced yoga for 15 years, and yes, she is older than most yoga teachers. She is currently looking for more ways to occupy her time in this new land where she hasn’t quite grasped the language, and she is too scared to drive. Coming from Portland, you only learn to ride a bike. While no longer living in Portland (where a new yoga studio opens every hour) she is forced to practice her yoga within the comforts of her home, often with her cat looking on admiringly.
Editor: Kate Bartolotta