November 22, 2013

How To Critically Analyze Yoga Articles (Part One).

Focus by toolstop on Flickr

Frequently articles, and even books, become controversial topics of the day.

They are passed around in a sudden flurry of emails, sent from one yoga teacher or student to another, or appearing in Facebook posts and on other social media sites.

The controversy acquires proponents who claim to have always believed what the author of the article is stating, while other readers have a visceral antipathy to the conclusions reached. The emails and posts seek confirmation of each reader’s own bias and understanding, but through all the discussion and debate, the author’s original premises and conclusions are rarely analyzed in a dispassionate and reasoned way.

One cause for this is simply the lack of knowledge on how to critically analyze arguments presented in an article.

The intention of this article is to provide such tools, in the hopes that readers, yoga teachers and yoga students will be able to look at articles about yoga clearly and unemotionally. A side benefit would be nice as well: by understanding these tools, perhaps more yoga professionals writing articles will take greater care to ensure that their arguments are well constructed, logical and relevant.

There are several simple and useful tools that can be used to analyze an argument.

To understand how to use these tools, it is helpful to have a real life controversial article to analyze. For the purpose of this discussion, I have chosen an article that I have been asked to comment on several times. It is an article appearing in Elephant Journal on July 11, 2013, written by Michaelle Edwards entitled, “When Flexibility Becomes a Liability”.

We will look at this article in three waves: first we will investigate the relevancy of the arguments offered; second we will look at the sufficiency of the arguments; and finally we will look at validity and credibility of the premises to see if they are acceptable.


Before we begin to dissect the article, it is important to first spend a moment imagining the intention of the author in writing the article, in the interest of satya and ahimsa. Ascribe to the author a positive intention! I do believe that Michaelle Edwards is offering this article in the hopes that she will help yoga students reduce their chances of injury and harm. I share the same intention in my classes and writings.

While it is impossible for me to know exactly why she wrote this piece, by assuming it was for a positive reason I am less likely to slip into a logical fallacy of attacking her rather than her writing. Often readers will disagree with an article because of who wrote the article, rather than the validity of the arguments offered. These “ad hominem” attacks (to the person, not the argument) can be seen anytime a critic notes some irrelevant fact about the writer instead of focusing on the writing. We can reduce this tendency by imaging the writer really does have our best interest at heart, and we can thank her for her intention to help us, whether we ultimately agree with her conclusions or not.

When Flexibility Becomes a Liability

Accompanying the article was a picture of a very flexible young woman, shown here, smiling pleasantly (as if to say, “You mean, you can’t do this?”) The article became controversial due to the disagreement many readers had to the overarching conclusion of the argument. These readers believed the article concluded that people are stretching too much and hurting themselves, even to the point of requiring hip replacements, all due to forward folding in yoga classes. The title of the article alongside this picture seems to imply “You better not do this!” But, is this a fair categorization of the article’s conclusions? [1]

Articles usually have a point to them: the basic point of the article we will call its “overarching conclusion.” This conclusion usually stems from several minor conclusions and each conclusion in turn is based upon one or more premises. Thus the general equation is: premise(s) –> conclusion(s). Frequently, conclusions can become premises for further conclusions, so a rigorous delineation between premises and conclusions is sometimes tricky. There are logical tools that can help us evaluate the validity of an article’s conclusion and the adequacy of the premises. Often, however, writers will fall afoul of logical fallacies that undermine their conclusions. There are three basic kinds of fallacies that can occur in an argument [2]:

  1. Irrelevancy (non-sequitur) – this is a test for relevancy
  2. Hasty conclusion – this is a test for sufficiency
  3. Problematic Premise – this is a test for acceptability

These are in descending order of strength, thus it is more critical for an argument to ensure that its premises are relevant than they are acceptable. There are dozens of types of logical fallacies that can bedevil an argument, but almost all of them fall into these three categories.


Let’s look at some examples of where a premise may be irrelevant to the conclusion it is supposed to support. At the end of this article is a disassembly of Edwards’ article into premises and conclusions. For ease of references, these have been numbered. Breaking an article down in this way makes is easier to see the strength or weaknesses of the author’s points and conclusions. Let’s examine her first set of premises and their conclusions:

Premises: A

  1. Being a woman means you have a higher chance of undergoing hip replacement.
  2. Women have looser ligaments than men.
  3. Excessive flexibility and weak stabilizing muscles lead to hip joint deterioration.
  4. Lumbar and hip joints must have strong tight ligaments to allow proper function of the hip joints.

Conclusions: A

  1. All women should consider practicing strengthening exercises to stabilize the hip.
  2. All women should be cautious when doing “hip openers” in yoga classes.
  3. Having more flexibility than you need compromises the longevity of your joints.

The nature of Edwards’ article does not provide one-to-one correspondences between the premises and conclusions, and few articles do, so we have to assume that each conclusion is meant to be supported by the preceding premises. But, is each premise relevant to the conclusions? For example: premise A2 is irrelevant to all the A conclusions because none of the conclusions compare men to women. The conclusions do not mention men at all, so there is no point to premise A2. Likewise, premise A1 also is irrelevant because it again compares women to men. (The premise says that women have higher chance of needing hip replacements than men. Women also have higher rates of breast cancer than men, but this is not relevant to whether a woman should have a mastectomy or not.)

Both of these premises are irrelevant to the conclusions being offered, and thus run afoul of the first test for logical fallacy. The remaining two premises, however, do seem quite relevant to the matter of women’s safety and pass this first test. We will see in our later articles whether these two premises are sufficient and acceptable and thus whether they do support the conclusions.

Paschimottanasana by kellinahandbasket on Flickr

One of the most prominent conclusions the author reaches in her writing is (D3) “Your spine does not need to be stretched.

Most yoga classes offer forward bending postures that stretch the spine, and the author is implying that all these teachers are in error, and they are risking the health of their students. This is very big claim and thus requires substantial support before it can be agreed upon.

Are the premises offered relevant to this conclusion?

If we look at the premises in (D) we find three offered; we can check now to see if they are all relevant: Premise D1 states, “Leaning over, reversing the natural lumbar curve in a quest to touch your toes does not honor the integrity of the design of our spine.” Leaning forward certainly will create a stretch along the back of the spine, so this premise does seem relevant to the conclusion. (We will see later if it is sufficient and acceptable.) Premise D2 is “Folding forward puts a lot of torque on the sacral angle.” Putting torque on the “sacral angle” (a term that is not defined) is not the same as stretching the spine, so D2 is not relevant to the conclusion offered. D3 states, “Folding forward undermines the curving forces in the spine and hip joint needed for shock absorption and hip stabilization. ”

This premise is problematic because we are not told what “undermining” means, nor what “curving forces” are, thus it is very hard to determine if premise D3 is relevant or not: we will have to suspend judgement on this premise’s relevancy until we know more clearly what the premise means. D3 also talks about the effects of forward folding on our hips, which is not relevant to the conclusion that your spine does not need to be stretched. If the premises offered have no bearing on the conclusion reached, the logical fallacy of irrelevancy has been committed. At least one, and perhaps two of the three premises offered in support of the conclusion that we do not need to stretch our spine are not relevant.

In our next article, we will continue to critically analyze Michaelle Edward’s arguments and see if her premises are sufficient to support her conclusions.

Michaelle Edwards’ Argument by Premises and Conclusions

Premises: A

  1. Being a woman means you have a higher chance of undergoing hip replacement.
  2. Women have looser ligaments than men.
  3. Excessive flexibility and weak stabilizing muscles lead to hip joint deterioration.
  4. Lumbar and hip joints must have strong tight ligaments to allow proper function of the hip joints.

Conclusions: A

  1. All women should consider practicing strengthening exercises to stabilize the hip.
  2. All women should be cautious when doing “hip openers” in yoga classes.
  3. Having more flexibility than you need compromises the longevity of your joints.

Premises: B

  1. Many people stretch their ligaments too much.
  2. These people are unaware that it can take years for damage in their joints to show up.
  3. When you sit poorly in a chair, you are flattening your sacral platform and over stretching the ligaments that attach your sacrum to the pelvis and femur.
  4. We you do a 5 minute child’s pose, you are flattening your sacral platform and over stretching the ligaments that attach your sacrum to the pelvis and femur.
  5. Long ligaments can destabilize the dynamics of our pelvis to spine and pelvis to leg attachments.

Conclusions: B

  1. Longer is not better for your ligaments.
  2. Long ligaments will lead to SI (sacral/hip) joint or groin pain.

Premises: C

  1. Many people who do yoga and stretching exercises have chronic SI joint pain.
  2. These people keep bending forward (in an attempt) to stop the pain.
  3. Forward bending poses (cause) a shortening of the front (of the body) and excessive strain and over stretching of the back extensors.
  4. Most of us are pulled forwards and are shortened from excessive time spend in chairs.

Conclusions: C

  1. Our back body is strained and over-stretched.
  2. Our back body needs to be tightened and strengthened, not stretched.

Premises: D

  1. Leaning over, reversing the natural lumbar curve in a quest to touch your toes does not honor the integrity of the design of our spine.
  2. Folding forward puts a lot of torque on the sacral angle.
  3. Folding forward undermines the curving forces in the spine and hip joint needed for shock absorption and hip stabilization.

Conclusions: D

  1. Without the lumbar curve, you end up with a flat looking posterior or butt.
  2. Without the lumbar curve, you end up with ofttimes chronic low back, knee and neck pain.
  3. Your spine does not need to be stretched.
  4. Our longitudinal spinal ligaments get over-stretched when we slouch or do yoga or fitness positions that engage the forces of spinal flexion over extension and stabilization.

Premises: E

  1. Years of tugging on ligaments can weaken the forces in the body that hold you together.
  2. As ligaments become lax, this can lead to serious postural issues, such as forward head carriage, chronic hip, back and knee pain, slowed digestion and elimination, and even a weakened immune system.

Conclusions E

  1. If you have tenderness when you walk, sharp pain when doing revolved triangle or deep warrior this is the beginning of hip destabilization and will require hip replacement.

Premises: F 

  1. Lady Gaga cancelled a tour due to hip pain that required surgery.
  2. Lady Gaga does Bikram’s yoga.
  3. Yoga did not prevent her injury.
  4. Many other famous yogis have had hips replaced.

Conclusions: F 

  1. (Poor) yoga pose biomechanics contributed to these joint destabilizations.
  2. We are not learning from these experiences.

Premises: G

  1. Toddlers bend their knees and hips, engage butt muscles and curve their spines when they fold forward.
  2. When we keep knees straight in yoga, instead flexing the spine to fold forward, we are overriding our natural design forces.
  3. Walking without bending knees is uncomfortable.
  4. If you could never bend your knees, life would suck.

Conclusions: G

  1. Keeping knees straight all the time does not contribute to the longevity of your joints.

Premises: H

  1. When you fold over and slowly straighten your legs, you will feel it in your sacral/hip joint.

Conclusion: H

  1. It does not make anatomical sense to stretch out the ligament stabilizing forces in your spine and hips.

Premise I

  1. It is not too late to strengthen your hips and butt muscles.

Conclusion I

  1. So working any yoga pose with strength and motion, instead of relaxing into a static pose, will benefit your hip/femur joint.

Premises J

  1. Strengthening your postural muscles using deep breathing while in a natural spine position can activate dormant extension and expansion forces.
  2. This will allow your bones to float.
  3. Keeping your knees bent while bending over enlists your gluteus or butt muscles which assists in stabilizing the pelvis.
  4. This contributes to functional biomechanics and strong stabilization forces.

Conclusions J

  1. Once your body works in a healthy, connected fashion, your ligaments can regain their natural length.
  2. This will protect your hip joint and sciatic nerve from wear and tear.

Premises K

  1.  The key to healthy alignment is accommodating your breathing process.
  2. Breathing dynamics provide the best tool for checking (to see) if a pose contributes towards natural alignment.

Conclusion K

  1. If you cannot take a deep breath in a pose, then the pose is activating externalizing forces in your body that overrides the body’s natural and essential core movements and infrastructures.

Premises: L

  1. Breathing deeply engages your psoas, which connects your diaphragm to the lumbar spine to the femur.
  2. Sitting in chairs shortens the psoas.
  3. Doing forward bends with straight knees shortens the psoas.
  4. The psoas is the only muscle group that is attached to the discs of the spine.
  5. In many people the inner groin is short.
  6. In many people the psoas is short and tight.
  7. A shortened psoas can affect the balance of the hip joint.

Conclusions: L

  1. Sitting in chairs can lead to bulging or herniated discs.
  2. Forward bends with knees straight can lead to bulging or herniated discs.
  3. Sitting in chairs and bending forward with knees bent can possibly lead to compression in the hip socket and deterioration of the joint.

Premises: M

  1. A pose called the core connector activates the psoas/diaphragm connection quickly.

Conclusion: M

  1. The pose called core connector  restores equilibrium in the psoas.
  2. Balancing the actions of the psoas can stop chronic back pain, stabilize the spine and create a fluid balance of the whole body.

Overarching Premise: N

  1. Yoga practitioners will often suffer from injuries.
  2. Spinal ligaments are getting stretched beyond their anatomical function when we do poses that take our spine into the C shape.
  3. The C shape of our spine is the bane of aging.
  4. The human body is made of curves and spirals.

Overarching Conclusions: N

  1. When posture is naturally aligned the human body stays flexible.
  2. Intense stretches to relieve tension of the parts are not needed.
  3. What has the most value is to remember our innate postural patterns and preserve the natural integrity of our spine and joints.


1: The article was given new life when William Broad reported on it on November 2, 2013 in a New York Times article titled Women’s Flexibility is a Liability (in Yoga). Paul Grilley posted an analysis of this article on November 6, 2013 at Teachasana.

2: See Logical Self-Defense by Johnson and Blair, page 12.


Read Part Two and Part Three.


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Editor: Bryonie Wise





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