January 6, 2012

This Just In: Yoga Can Wreck Your Body!

News flash:  yoga poses can hurt you!

So says the NY Times.

Well frigging duh.

Listen up, peeps.  Yoga has always been about power.  Always.

Yoga is not just about yoga poses.  It is a technology designed for revelation:  revelation of your true face, your true name, your true nature. For most people, unflinchingly and lovingly knowing yourself requires a great deal of power. Although we tend to mistrust power as corruptive, I learned from my teacher years ago that, if I want to do something good in this world, I damn well better be powerful.

Asanas (yoga poses) are powerful.  The very word Hatha, as in Hatha Yoga–which describes every kind of yoga which requires a yoga mat–means “to strike”.  Asanas are like scalpels.  The strike of a scalpel can heal or harm.  It is the application that determines whether the strike of a scalpel is salubrious or injurious.  The same applies to asana. 

To claim that yoga is so dangerous that all people should give it up is, in my opinion, sensationalist and irresponsible. Yes, yoga can injure.  That’s why you should practice it with a really well trained teacher.  That’s not NY Times newsworthy.  It’s just common sense to be filed under duh.

Yoga can also heal.  It’s a lot like medicine. Medicine should be prescribed by someone who knows how–a doctor with years of training and practice under her belt.  Medicine can cause harm–even death–when taken incorrectly.  Should my dad stop taking his heart medicine because it is just too dangerous?

People, please don’t chuck out all your prescriptions because if taken incorrectly they might kill you.

Anything taken to its unchecked extreme is probably going to be a bad idea.  What I want to know is–why was that kid in the article sitting in Vajrasana for hours upon hours every day?  Why the heck was he doing that?  It was dumb.  If he were practicing with a seasoned teacher he wouldn’t have been doing that.  He wouldn’t have been sitting in Vajrasana for more than about a minute.

Do I sound flip?  If so, I apologize.  You probably can’t imagine how much I care about the safety of the people in my classroom.  Over the last decade three people have been injured in my class. All three injuries occurred when yogis spontaneously did something I didn’t instruct.  I have developed eyes in the back of my head a result. I have gotten good at anticipating when people might be tempted to go off the ranch and do something erratic and irresponsible.

I am very stern with students who do not follow my instructions to back off.  I have to be.  Safety hangs in the balance. In all the years I’ve been teaching, I have invited only one student to never return to my class, and that was because she refused to follow my safety instructions.

As far as people having strokes from hyperextending their necks, we don’t do that in Anusara Yoga™.  We have something called Skull Loop to prevent unbalanced backbending of the neck.  We also have levels of initiation.  With a good teacher, a practitioner will have demonstrated strength and ability before being allowed to move on to more powerful intermediate and advanced poses–Headstand and Shoulderstand, for example.

All that said, I will share something that I have believed to be true for some time.  There are different reasons to practice the physical form of yoga.  If you are practicing to heal your body, or simply to keep it strong and limber, there is a tipping point.  You do not need to do advanced asana for that.  You do not need to do Power Yoga.  Maybe you shouldn’t.

I practice asana for a constellation of reasons.  Strength and agility factor in, definitely.  Healing my body has factored in too, as well as healing for my heart, mind and spirit.

I also like to do advanced asana sometimes.  It’s joyful.  It’s challenging.  It’s fun.  I don’t do it to stay strong and limber. I do it simply because I want to, for the love of it.  Advanced asana practicioners are–among other things–elite athletes. Elite athletes sometimes get injured.

When I do advanced asana I do it with all the skill I have acquired to keep myself safe.  Alignment yoga is smart yoga.  Not only can lining up in a specific way generate a huge shift of consciousness–it’s like looking both ways before crossing the street.  It prevents most injury.

But even with good awareness of alignment, injury is possible.  There is nothing that I know of that prevents 100% of injuries 100% of the time.  The world is far less certain than that. Over the years, I’ve been injured a few times doing asana but I have also been healed. The healing has by far outweighed the injury.

Thank you for your attention on this matter.  End of rant.

Read more of Bernadette’s rants here.

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