February 14, 2012

Jeez, What is all this Hype around Yoga Injuries?

So yes, I am a yoga teacher and I do take my job seriously and I make every effort to behave in a responsible fashion when teaching, counseling and talking to students. But all this negative publicity that is suddenly erupting out here in cyberspace has really got me down. It almost seems like this army of people wants to point their finger at me and say—”You see?  It is all your fault!  Yoga is not all that it is cracked up to be!”

Well, I hate to tell you this, but I am not buying into all the hype and the resultant hysteria amongst the masses. Yoga is a spiritual practice that dates back at least four thousand years and originated in what is now India. With the fairly recent popularization of yoga here in the good ol’ USA, it was only a matter of time before people decided to get their rocks off by engaging in “yoga bashing.”

The majority of this recent spate of negative press originated with a NY Times article that reviewed a recently published book on the subject of yoga injuries. I am purposely not mentioning the name of the author or the book because all you have to do is Google the following terms “NY Times article on yoga injuries” and there it is!

The name of the article that was printed in the NY Times Magazine is “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body.”  Nice, huh? It focuses on one man’s opinion of yoga which can be summed up like this:  “the vast majority of people  should give up yoga altogether. It is simply too likely to cause harm.”  Nice, really nice.

The article then goes on to make the following claim: “But a growing body of medical evidence supports Black’s contention that, for many people, a number of commonly taught yoga poses are inherently risky.”  And the author cites several cases of yoga-related injuries that have appeared in respected medical journals.

And to that, I say: “So what?”  I am sure if I researched bathtub-related injuries or ‘slipping in the shower’-related injuries,  I could probably compile an equally horrific list of injuries. Does this mean people should stop bathing and showering?
And please do not get me wrong. Practicing yoga safely is a hugely important issue.  So in answer to all the negative press I have seen recently, I have come up with the following 5 Cardinal Rules for Preventing Injury While Practicing Yoga:

1. Don’t Be Stupid! This is the most important rule of all. Most yoga injuries, and injuries in general, are the result of people behaving stupidly! And I am speaking from my own experience here—believe me! So what does this mean for yogis? Practice within your appropriate level. Injuries mainly occur when we push ourselves too far and the body is not ready to take that step. The answer is to listen to the wise voice inside your head and to not act from an inflated ego. Easier said than done, but if you can let go of the pull of your ego, your likelihood of an injury is next to nothing.

2. Modify!  Yes, modify! Again, this involves letting go of the ego and surrendering to Higher Intelligence. (Do you see a pattern emerging here?)  If something feels wrong in the classic way a posture has been taught to you, feel free to invent your own modification or ask your teacher to give you one. Perhaps your motto could be “Modify or Die!”  Which choice is more preferable?

3. Pay Attention! Hello! This is yoga! It is a meditative practice. What this means is you are making a conscious effort to let go of distractions and give your yoga practice your undivided attention. Once again, most accidents are caused by either trying too hard or completely zoning out, also know as daydreaming or multitasking. Ancient yogis talked of one-pointed concentration. Try embodying this during asana practice and your chances of injuring yourself greatly diminish.

4. Stay Alert During The Transitions! The transitions between the postures are the times when we are most likely to lose focus. Do not succumb to this temptation. This is the “yoga of life!”  Life is about change! Stay conscious!

5. Move Slowly—Be Patient! It is yoga, after all. Is yoga not meant to help us slow down? If you heed the message of yoga, “to slow down,” it is almost impossible to injure yourself. This might seem like a no-brainer but clearly injuries are on the rise and folks need to be reminded of why we step onto the yoga mat in the first place. And the other part of this is to be patient. This suggestion is two fold: (a) Be patient while you are holding the posture. Breathe, release tension—both mental and physical—and let the breath open your chakras and take you to a higher plane of existence. This requires patience, tenacity and fortitude. Yoga is not about instant gratification. (b) Do not be in a hurry to get to the next rung of the yoga ladder. Go deeper, and bite off more, only when the body, mind and spirit are absolutely ready . . . . .

I assure you that if you take these cardinal rules to heart, and integrate them into your practice, not only will you avoid injury, you will learn to transcend your ego, listen to your body, surrender to Higher Intelligence and stay completely mindful in the moment. Last time I checked, this was called yoga. Apparently, based on my definition of yoga, it is one of the safest and most beneficial practices on the planet. Hopefully the editors of the NY Times are reading this! But in the event that they are not, I still maintain that yoga will win in the end, especially if devout practitioners continue to reap the almost magical benefits of this life-affirming transformative practice!


This article was prepared by Assistant Yoga Editor, Soumyajeet Chattaraj.

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