How William Broad is Helping Yoga Be Safer & Smarter. ~ Michaelle Edwards

Via Michaelle Edwardson Nov 23, 2013

OneHourYogAlign

…And Why We Might Want to Leave Plow Pose in the Field.

I had to chuckle when I read some of the latest ways yogis are trying to discredit New York Times science journalist William Broad.

In his 2012 book, The Science of Yoga, as well as in the recent piece in the New York Times Sunday Review, he seeks to support the practice of yoga, but also to warn people of possible dangers in asana. Here is a link to his latest article showing the scientific research, and a call to action for yogis to understand how the practice of yoga asana can sometimes be very damaging to the female hip joint.

His writings have been a relief for some, and have created a backlash from others. Many in the yoga community have taken his work seriously, and others have come up with ways to try and discredit him that are not exactly kind, compassionate, or informed. Although The Science of Yoga has been printed in 14 languages, many yogis have not read a word of it, but still make blog comments that he is being paid by the religious right to discredit yoga, or by the pharmaceutical companies so people will take more pills instead of yoga.

These statements are at best, comical.

A yogi himself, Broad says in a post to elephant journal, “My own goal is to help promote smarter yoga, better yoga, safer yoga.”

Yogis, please take the time to read this post, especially if you have not read his book. It may be time to get informed not defensive; Broad is on our team.

The practice of yoga is supposed to be about finding the middle path of balance, but many yoga poses take our structure into extreme flexion, extension, or compression of joints, that go far beyond the ‘middle path’ of normal ranges of motion.

I have been involved with countless yoga injuries, including my own, for over two decades which is why I contacted William Broad about hip injuries and replacements in yogi women. As a bodyworker, posture educator and yogi, I saw a correlation between yoga practice and hip pain and deterioration in many women.

Broad listened to my concerns, and took the time to read my book, and then investigated hip replacements in yogis by interviewing orthopedists and specialists in bio-mechanics. His research resulted in the publication of the New York Times article confirming what I already knew to be true; that many yogi women were having hip surgeries. Reading the research from the Swiss doctors also helped me understand the problem better—they call it FAI or Femoral Acetabular Impingement syndrome, and often perform labrum re-attachment surgeries to sew the connective tissue of the hip back together, or hip replacements.

The surprising part about this article, presented at the International Hip Society, is that scientists concluded that hip problems are coming from how people are using their bodies, not just their genetics or bone shape. The research says the most damaging position for women’s hips is to sit in a chair or with hips at the same level as the knees while squeezing the thighs together.

The staff pose is an example of the 90 degrees hip flexion position with knees straight creating an internal rotation of the femurs or leg bones. What adds even more compression is by going deeper into a yoga forward bend. The hip joint flexes even further than 90 degrees flexion to 75 and even 180 degrees when the chest presses to the thigh. By keeping the knees straight and the ankle flexed too, there is a tremendous compression on the hip joints, and if one also considers the sacral lumbar joint, ligament tension for upright spinal alignment is getting stretched, undermining the necessary shock absorbing angle of the sacral platform. It is like the perfect storm for the hips!

I have dozens of female clients, some even in their 20s and 30s, already showing signs of groin pain and hip joint deterioration who primarily practice ‘traditional yoga poses’ requiring them to engage the body in 90 to 180 degree hip flexion with extended knees.

My message to the yoga world has been to consider how the body is designed to move, rather than what the pose is supposed to look like, as a way of deciphering what kind of asana practice will bring the most favorable outcome. Many tell me that their body stops hurting when they lay off their practice. We need to engage our body as a whole, and stop focusing on stretching or strengthening parts.

After the publication of The Science of Yoga, Broad was inundated with letters from yogis all over the world describing injuries, such as someone who suffered a stroke from doing the plow pose. People have tried to say these events are rare, but we need to consider that some poses in yoga actually create more harm than good, rather than chalking it up to an inexperienced yoga teacher, or incorrect practice. The plow pose in my experience is one of the more anatomically questionable poses, given that there is medical documentation of stroke.

So is it safe? Were these rare events that we should ignore?

Let your body decide. Stand up and draw your chin deeply into your chest, flexing your neck in the opposite direction of its natural curve. Bend over with your feet together and knees straight, until your torso is at a right angle to your legs, while keeping your chin to your chest. Some people may even take it further, but my guess is you will not be adding this pose to your yoga routine. But this is the plow, just done while standing up!

When doing the plow, the hips are in 90 degrees of flexion, and the neck is compressed by extreme flexion, while the trunk is in a inverted supine position with internal rotation of the hip/femur joint.  Does this make anatomical sense or contribute to functional movement?

Claims are made that the plow is decompressing the spine or stimulating the thyroid by doing the plow. But where is the science behind these claims? Just because we are inverted does not mean we are decompressing the spine, contrary to popular yoga beliefs. The spine is still compressed, just in a different direction. There is also no proven medical evidence that the plow stimulates the thyroid, but there is common sense knowledge that maybe this is not a kind or necessary position for the human spine.

All of this compression on the neck can also impede blood flow in the vertebral artery.

So maybe there is just a small risk of stroke, but cannot be overlooked is possible long term structural damage by over-stretching nerves, compressing discs, impinging artery flow, and undoing the necessary ligament tension needed to keep the curves of the spine ‘strung’.

It may in fact be time to leave the plow in the field.

Roger-Before and After one YogAlign class

As a posture reader, I have noticed that many yogis have a very flat look to their entire spinal column, as though all of the necessary curves have been straightened; robbing them of the shock-absorbing flexible-rod design of the human spine.

Yogis, consider checking your posture and pain levels too. If there is forward head carriage, a flat looking sacrum or butt, or hip and groin pain on a regular basis, perhaps there is a need for a practice that supports better posture, not better poses.

Since the publication of the latest New York Times article, like William Broad, I am inundated with emails and phone calls from yogis all over the world asking for information on why they have hip pain, or wanting to share about their hip replacements or labrum tear surgeries resulting from their yoga practice. Many are relieved to find out they are not alone.

Like William Broad, I want yoga to thrive, but I also see a lot of danger in continuing to teach poses and positions that do not follow the design and structure of the human body. We need to make yoga asana safer so that none are injured, driven away or afraid to take it up. Yoga is popularly believed to be a healing practice, and nobody should get injured doing it. Many yoga teachers who have received hip replacement surgeries are still teaching the same way, unwilling to consider that yoga poses may have been the cause.

Beyond this yoga injury controversy, what I am most excited about is having worked through my own yoga injuries, and birthing a system of yoga and bodywork based on supporting the curves of the spine and balancing the fascia tensegrity forces that keep us strung in alignment.

This is done by changing the way the nervous system directs us to move, and involves a deep communication of each practitioner with his own body. The creation of YogAlign began over 25 years ago and if asked who my teacher was, I consider the human body to be my guru. By tuning into the intelligence of the human body, I have come to the understanding that the most important yoga practice finding a sattvic balance in all aspects of our being. This can happen easily by aligning posture and breathing with nature’s design.

Although The Science of Yoga has received more attention than any of his previous books, William Broad has a prolific career as a science journalist and author that clearly displays his efforts to get us the facts.

Betrayers of the Truth is an investigation of how careerism, big money and academic pressure can tempt scientists to cheat, and in Teller’s War he writes how the supposedly foolproof safety mechanisms of science fail to detect and correct fraud.

William Broad is clearly a man of science, a yogi and a seeker of truth.

I also have a website called where you can read up on injuries, as well as take a survey on individual yoga injuries to help gain an understanding of how and why yoga injuries occur.

Let’s all work together to evolve the practice of yoga to support health and longevity.

 

Like elephant journal on Facebook.

Editor: Paige Vignola/Bryonie Wise

Photos: courtesy of the author

About Michaelle Edwards

Michaelle Edwards is the director of the Kauai Yoga School in Hawaii, inventor of YogAlign and author of the book/DVD combo; YogAlign, Pain-free Yoga From Your Inner Core. She is an ERYT, Licensed Massage Therapist (LMT), musician, surfer and posture educator. She is devoted to giving people painless, inexpensive self-care tools to heal chronic pain and injuries using common sense techniques that work quickly and painlessly.

6,799 views

Appreciate this article? Support indie media!

(We use super-secure PayPal - but don't worry - you don't need an account with PayPal.)

22 Responses to “How William Broad is Helping Yoga Be Safer & Smarter. ~ Michaelle Edwards”

  1. Joe Sparks says:

    Thanks Michaelle, In my perspective, it is clear by reading William Broad's latest article in the NY Times, he is making us aware of the potential for injury in some yoga poses. He is providing important information that could prevent people from getting hurt and making sense out of the injuries that are becoming more and more prevalent in asana practice. Most of it is, common sense, like performing plow pose, putting all the weight on your neck or standing forward bend with straight legs putting the spine in extreme flexion, is probably not a good idea. As a studio owner, I have the responsibility to keep my students safe from practicing asana that are anatomically questionable. We must re-think the value of poses that go against natural design of the spine. It is like we are training people to be circus animals, which requires warping their behavior to perform certain tricks, once we stop warping them, they start being themselves. We do not have to warp or contort the human body to feel good about ourselves. Let us undue the damage of sitting in chairs for the last 100 plus years. We were meant to move and be upright, happy and free!

  2. Just wanted to let you readers be aware that the before and after posture photos featured in this article were changes that happened on the same day after just a couple hours of practicing YogAlign! Also make sure to go to this link to read about the Swiss MDs who have gathered research concerning FAI or femoral acetabula syndrome connected to 90 degree or more hip flexon.

  3. Helen says:

    Having been injured through yoga (hip) and keeping it quiet so as not to scare anyone off I suppose, I know that certain poses exacerbate my pain and led to it in the first place. As a teacher, I just can't teach those poses.

    • Kimberly Lo kimberlylowriter says:

      Same here, Helen. Yoga can hurt if not done probably. There shouldn't be any controversy about that statement.

  4. Helen says:

    To add to my previous comment which posted too soon, I do think however, a practitioner has to take personal responsibility; like all physical postures, pushing yourself can be the potential downfall…that is, pushing yourself too far, which is what I did. So my injury is my fault, not yoga! Of course, teaching people who are competitive with themselves can be precarious which is why I decided to eliminate those postures which may cause the most damage. I think making people aware of the danger is a good thing but i have not fully read all the articles discussed.

    • HI Kim and Helen, thanks for commenting. What we all need to think about what does doing yoga properly mean? The right angle poses are not how the body is designed so doing them properly as in a perfect right angle goes against the curves of the spine. Chair sitting is also hazardous because we must have the hips higher than the knees by at least 4 to 6 inches to stop the flexors from shortening. Put a yoga block in your chair and stop using the back and your hamstrings will magically stop hurting and feeling a need to be stretched.
      Many of the injured yogis I work with did yoga poses to perfection and it looked like perfect right angles. So not their fault, it is the pose template that is the problem. The study cited in my article by the Swiss doctors proves what I have been warning people about with hip compression and forward bends. Read it please and then go watch how toddlers bend their knees when bending forward and you will understand why we need to stop stretching with your knees straight.

    • Jessi Farley says:

      Helen, I agree that a practitioner does have to take charge of their body and practice and that means listening to and honoring your body. However, do not blame yourself, beat yourself up, or be hard on yourself. In yoga we have poses to measure up to and their is a belief that you will feel better and be better once you master a pose. The reality is that as Michaelle is saying, the poses held up to us as an example to pattern after for self care and wellness are the very problem in the first place. You simply have the desire to grow, heal, do what is good for your body. If what you are taught is good, is in fact not honoring the body, it is not your fault. Now we have William Broad and Michaelle Edwards to point us in the direction of posture focused poses that honor our body's true nature. They point us to critical thinking in our own practice as well. No more blaming ourselves or confusion as to why our practice hurts! Now we get to truly understand our nature and honor that. This is such an exciting movement in the yoga world! Thanks Michaelle and William!

    • I agree that my injury is somewhat my fault. But when I felt pain, I also felt confusion. I am very flexible. Young. I'm only doing what the teacher and everyone else around me is doing. My teacher is unsure why I'm feeling discomfort. Once I'm warmed up and it didn't hurt so bad I'd give in to the desire to achieve the beautiful sight that is a flexible person doing a yoga pose at it's best. I wanted to be a gymnast when I was little but wasn't allowed so this was such a great outlet for that athletic physical person! But I was trying to achieve the pose as it was being taught to me. the "correct" alignment. Since I COULD get there I would. The pain would usually come after and it wasn't until I suddenly couldn't flex my leg at all, even in a chair, on the right side and had the beginnings of pain on the left, that I realized something was really wrong. It stlll bothers me 7 years later and I have SI disfunction on that side at age 31 (having had no children either). Yes we may have pushed ourselves too hard and my extreme joint flexibility made it easy for me to injure myself but even people practicing over 10-20 years shouldn't have to end up with the eventual pain of misaligned repetitive stress. If there is a way to make these poses safer that is how they should be taught. I am so excited to learn Michaeles modifications to these asanas so that I can start doing yoga again. I had to quit all together and I'm so happy that the things I loved about yoga can take over again

  5. mitzi tamirisa says:

    "Sthira Sukham Asanam" in Sanskirt = "that which is comfortable is an asana" according to Yoga Sutra by Patanjali. The Plough or Plow pose does not look comfortable by any means. Extreme hip flexion may lead to the Neck of the Femur rubbing against the Acetabular Labrum, causing tears to the Labrum, leading to degenerative arthritis of the Head of the Femur.
    You can massage your Thyroid or Digestive organs in other ways than doing extreme neck flexions. Although I am a Physician, it is only after YogAlign Training, I could make myself aware,of how to avoid unsafe poses in the name of exercise.
    Here is the link to the Hip Joint Article. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC18887
    One should not get angry or get defensive when someone points out the demerits of certain poses. You have to look at it objectively, stop and think and review literature. One has the duty towards one's body. If you hurt it you will pay for it, physically and figuratively.

    Mitzi Tamirisa M.D. Internal Medicine.American Board of Pain Medicine. Toledo OH.

  6. moonshineyoga says:

    Michelle, I'm really intrigued by your research and YogAlign. I enjoyed reading your article and I've already checked out your YouTube vids. I do have a question and I apologize if this is not the right forum for it, but would love it if you could shed some light. You teach to keeping knees bent, which I've always felt was beneficial myself. I've recently seen information that makes the argument that our knees should not be bent in right angle poses, because it creates instability in the knee joint. Thoughts on that?

    • Moonshine yoga, What I am recommending is to stay out of the right angle or 90 degree flexion position of the hips and instead reduce the angle by using a high bolster if on the floor or a yoga block in a chair seat to get the hips higher than the knees .
      . When the kneecaps are higher than the hips, this will definitely compress the lumbar/sacral curve of course. Also stop using the chair back when sitting in a chair so that you can strengthen your postural muscles. Chair sitting is similar to wearing a brace on the spine and as anyone who has ever worn a cast or brace can tell you, muscles weaken and atrophy. So yoga poses that make your body look like the right angle 90 degree shape of a chair are to be avoided in my book. Everyone needs to figure this out and communicate with their own body too.

      • eric mathias says:

        michaelle,

        there is no guarantee of compression, 'nor is it specific to any knee angle. everyone's body is different and should be treated as such.

        eric

        • Eric, our bodies are different to a degree but we all have arms, legs, a trunk and we do ambulate by walking running etc. Bones are alive and can even re-shape as well when we begin to use our body differently by engaging in biomechanics that encourage upright aligned posture and recruitment of the trunk muscles to work predominately as stabilizers rather than flexors. Forward bends enlist the trunk muscles as flexors at the same time they stretch necessary ligament tension in the spine and sacrum needed for upright stabile posture. This is the main reason, according to my experience, that we are seeing these injuries in yoga. The SI joint is the most common injury and I feel this is because we are over-stretching it to get rid of back pain caused by leaning forward too much.
          When our knees are at the same level or higher than the hips, trunk muscles get wired in predominately as flexors and are enlisted in a concentric or shortening contraction. The back body muscular forces becomes strained because the shortness of the anterior body is causing a tension that strains or locks the extensors of the posterior body into too much effort. The huge blindspot in yoga pose practice I am trying to alert people to is that doing extreme flexion to the spine by bending forward is at best a band-aid to postural issues. The back is sore because the flexors are wired inefficiently from chair sitting, stress and compartmentalized poses and exercises. Whether the trunk muscles are weak and short or strong and short, its the same scenario. Since every human being I have ever seen ages by shortening in the front or anterior ( where everyones flexors are located) , what I am seeking to do is help people to solve this global postural issue. WE do not have to shrink as we age and more importantly why speed it up by bending forward into anatomically questionable positions?
          We have all sat too much in the right angle chair shape and our posture in most is inefficient. By focusing on aligning in good posture rather than good poses, there is a solution to all of this pain.

        • Joe Sparks says:

          In my perspective, there is a guarantee, if you live in a gravitational field. We exist and look the way we do because of gravity. So, why accelerate the gravitational forces with poor posture and alignment, causing structures to compress and our bodies to age rapidly. We all compress at the same rate, because we do not do very well in a long term weightless environment. Leaning with our backs against the chairs is messing with our spines. So, whether it is yoga, running, exercising, sleeping, gravity has the same effect on our muscles, knees, bones. Because of gravity, our spinal column need both tension and compression to function and move well. Everything else is a deviation, if you have lost your spinal curves and the differences will depend on the deviation of the spine. The cool thing about being human is that all these activates can be taught with recovering the integrity of the spine. Most everyone's issues in the tissues are related to how well we relate and interact with gravity. We must learn and understand we have limits with our bodies, challenge them but respect them or get hurt.

      • Bob says:

        Considering that humans have been bending over to pick things up (babies, food etc) for eons, how do you propose that I tie my shoes without flexing my hip more than 90 degrees?

  7. Jessi Farley says:

    As a 34 year old woman, an 8 year old yogi, a 6 year old yoga teacher, I have fallen in love with yoga and have been hurt by yoga as well. I am thankful for my issues coinciding with William Broad's work to illuminate my practice may be doing more harm than good, to experience that, and to shortly thereafter become exposed to Michaelle Edward's YogAlign system (the only yoga i will do or teach now). As a practitioner and lover of yoga, my body thanks you both! As a woman in the yoga industry, I thank you both for developing the profession of yoga. We need more evidence and researched based practice to develop as a profession. As someone who works in the mental health field, as recent as the 60's, even a Kennedy was getting a lobotomy as treatment for mental health disorders. In order to maintain the profession, professionals had to look at the effects and get rid of the surgery and come up with research based, safe treatment for mental health disorders. If the profession had not, it would have become discredited over time with poor methodology and harm done to patients. This is in a way what is going on in the yoga profession. Let's stop the proverbial lobotomy or plow poses and be will to take a look at as Michaelle says, "Does this make anatomical sense or contribute to functional movement?" Will this help move my client forward in their life, movement, practice? Do we want to do anything less as yoga teachers than best practice? How is best practice hung up on the contortion-ism yoga is hung up on now? Can't we go back to yoga's true roots of what is comfortable is Asana and that we are here to honor our body and be mindful, not to step out of ourselves and force ourselves into unnatural form. Thank you William Broad and Michaelle Edwards for being pioneers in the field! Gratitude to you both on this Thanksgiving week!

    • Thanks Jessi, I feel truly honored to have you on board as a YogAlign teacher. I look forward to your contributions in the mental health field regarding helping people align their posture as a way of dealing with the 'issues in the tissues.' So many times when working clients privately, they will tell me after a few weeks of practice, they feel light in their body but also light hearted and balanced in their emotions. The body takes cues from our posture and movements, and oftentimes enlists the sympathetic mode in the nervous system when navels are held in, or stretches are beyond what is comfortable or natural etc. I have been reading that many women who have depression also have osteoporosis as they age because the stress creates a higher level or cortisol which interferes with calcium absorption. Also chronic poor posture raised the cortisol levels too which is why I am so excited to give people tools to align rather than contort in asana.

  8. dr.mitzi says:

    I have been incorporating some of these valuable tools in treating my patients. By pointing out to use a bolster or a pillow in the seat, and keeping their knees in a lower position instantaneously took the pressure off the hipsand the lower back and they thank me for these simple helpful modifications. A patient with chronic neck flexion, head forward position, contracted neck muscles, tight Trapezius and hunched shoulders immediately felt the relief when the shoulders are " spiralled' as discussed by Michaelle edwards in her Book YogAlign. She had tears and said ' no body ever told me these things'. I certainly hope to share more of these simple helpful techniques so they enjoy a pain free posture.
    Mitsi Tamirisa M.D. Toledo OH.

  9. Joseph Thorpe says:

    what is your opinion of “Foundation Training” with Dr Eric Goodman? His training principles seem to be in “perfect alignment” with your yoga system; let me know what you think. thanks,

    Joseph Thorpe

    • I have not yet read any books or seen the Foundation DVDs but I did watch his TED talk and we seem to be on the same page in terms of making sure that the prime mover muscles are engaged in kinetic chains that simulate movement and natural function. If none of us had ever sat in a chair, we would not need to do any exercises to stay aligned and pain free. Chair sitting has created inefficient somatic adaptations of natural human posture that stay with us when we stand up. Since we are made of curving forces, poses that put us in right angles simply do not fit the design of our structure. So there is no right way to do right angles that force our spinal curves to flex beyond normal ROM> The body is pulled together with forces that create lift and expansion. These forces need to be tuned to work together. We do not need to get rid of tension, we need to balance it. Stretching our parts in an attempt to get rid of tension or get aligned does not work for the human body since we are a global structure. Poses or exercises need to simulate how we need to engage our body in real life function. Once we can do that, our body stays fit and aligned just walking, running etc, in good posture. The predominance of straight leg seated forward bends in yoga creates spinal flexion rather than hip flexion. The research shows that extreme spinal flexion over-stretches the ligaments in the posterior spine damaging stretch receptors that help our brain to 'see' where the body is in space. At the same time, the gluteal muscles get stretched and loose and they lose their strength and tone. They have to 'shut off' to allow us to do yoga forward bends. Most people have such weak, stretched out gluteals that the last thing they need to do is bend forward, flex the spinal column and 'switch off ' the big muscles of the butt and legs. The muscles of the spine and trunk function primarily as stabilizers; enlisting them as flexors over-rides their natural function. More research is just coming out showing how the loads on the invertebral discs, can initiate redial fissures, disc protrusion, and in some cases de lamination of the layers of the annulus. Bend your knees and do hip flexion but not spine flexion to strengthen your core and protect the anatomy of your spine.

Leave a Reply