November 23, 2013

How To Critically Analyze Yoga Articles (Part Two). ~ Bernie Clark

New on the Way by 21limited on Flickr

Hasty Conclusion

In our previous article, we learned that there are three basic kinds of fallacies that can occur in an argument:

  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

We looked in detail at the logical fallacy of irrelevancy, where premises offered in support of a conclusion are not actually relevant to that conclusion, and we looked as some examples from an article appearing in Elephant Journal on July 11, 2013, written by Michaelle Edwards entitled, “When Flexibility Becomes a Liability”.

We will now learn how to judge whether or not premises offered in support of a particular point of view are sufficient to support the conclusions. [Again, at the end of this article is a disassembly of Edwards’ article into premises and conclusions.]

Once premises are deemed to be relevant to the argument at hand, we next need to test the premises to see if they are sufficient to support the conclusions? Is more information needed in order to arrive at the proposed conclusion? If the premises are not sufficient to support the conclusion, then the argument has committed another logical fallacy: hasty conclusion.

In our first article we were looking at the opening premises and conclusions of Michaelle Edward’s arguments and determined that A1 and A2 were irrelevant to the conclusions offered. We also determined that A3 and A4 were relevant.

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.
Picture: GammaMan on Flickr

Let’s return to look at premises A3 and A4 to see if they are sufficient to draw the three conclusions proposed. We will look at the premise A4 in relation to the conclusions drawn.

The premise is that the hip joints must have strong, tight ligaments to allow proper hip function. Is this premise sufficient for us to conclude that (CA1) all women should do strengthening exercises to stabilize the hip joints? With a little reflection, we can see that “all women” is overly broad. Many women already have strong ligaments; why should they have to continue to strengthen their ligaments? Likewise, from A4 it does not follow that (CA2) “all” women should be cautious when doing hip openers. Many women are in no danger when doing hip openers, and the fact that most yoginis who do hip openers are not suffering hip joint problems, attests to this. Here, just one anecdotal observation of a woman who has done hip openers and has no problems will be sufficient to prove that conclusions CA2 and CA1 are not warranted by premise A4. Finally, A4 does not support CA3. CA3 is problematic in that there is no precise definition of “more flexibility than your need.”

How is “more than you need” defined? Needed for what? To touch your toes? To get out of bed? To drive a car? Since CA3 is an ill-defined conclusion, no premise can be used to support it. We can see that premise A4 does not pass the sufficiency test and the conclusions offered are not supported by it.

To be fair to the author, let’s assume that she didn’t really mean to hyperbolize the conclusion to refer to “all women.” Would her point be supportable if she said “some”? Since is it plausible that some women may indeed have weak ligaments in their hips, then this premise clearly would be sufficient to establish the conclusions CA1 and CA2.

On this basis, let’s give premise A4 a provisional pass of this test, but only if we remember to replace “all” with “some” women in the conclusions.

Let us look at premise A3: the author is proposing that “excessive flexibility and weak stabilizing muscles lead to hip joint deterioration,” thus “all women should consider practicing strengthening exercises to stabilize the hip,” and “all women should be cautious when doing “hip openers” in yoga classes.” Is the premise sufficient to make these conclusions? If we grant that premise A3 is true, then it would seem to be sufficient to support the conclusion. If excessive flexibility and weak muscles lead to hip joint problems, then clearly if women strengthen these muscles and reduce flexibility here, it will prevent the joint damage that these two conditions caused. But, is A3 true? While the argument passes the relevancy and sufficiency tests, if it is not true it is a problematic premise.

In our analysis of Premises and Conclusions A, we have seen so far that A1 and A2 are irrelevant, A4 is insufficient (but if we change the conclusion slightly it would be sufficient), and A3 is sufficient to support the conclusions. The next test is to see if the remaining premises, A3 and the modified A4 are acceptable – are they true? We will answer this question in our next article.

Picture: GoToVan on Flickr

For now, let’s return to the major premise D3: Your spine does not need to be stretched.

We saw in our first article that of the premises offered in support for this conclusion D2 was irrelevant, D1 was relevant, and we could not determine the relevancy of D3 due to problems arising from unclear terminology used. We now can ask, “are D1 and D3 sufficient to establish the conclusion?” As we mentioned, this conclusion is a very big claim. Does the fact that “leaning over, reversing the natural lumbar curve … does not honor the integrity of design of the spine” really mean that the spine does not need to be stretched?

In every day life our spine moves. We bend over to tie our shoes, to reach across a table, to turn on a water faucet. Curving our spine naturally stretches the spine and we move every day in all directions, stressing and stretching our spine. Many studies have shown that immobilization of the spine is very detrimental. Bed rest, which used to be prescribed for patients after surgery or after delivering babies, is no longer the cure-all it was once imagined to be. Hospitals today encourage patient to become mobile as quickly as possible.

Never stretching your spine is one of the least healthy things you can do for it.

The author’s claim that the spine does not need to be stretch requires much more support that the few premises she offers here. She would need to cite research studies, case studies, and anatomical explanations of why not moving the spine the spine is actually healthier than stretching it. Her premises are not sufficient to draw the conclusion she has offered.

There is a logical fallacy that often arises that when something can be done too much; the fallacy is to assume that the safest approach is to do nothing. It is self-evident that a person could over-stress their spine, or any joint, and hurt himself. But this fact does not mean that 1) everyone will suffer if they do the same activity (this is the fallacy of “we are all alike” and ignores the reality of skeletal variations) and 2) that no stress at all is the safest course of action. Paul Grilley offers this simple example: we know that overeating can be very unhealthy for some individuals, leading to obesity, diabetes and heart problems.

However, the solution to overeating is not to never eat food! The solution is to find moderation. In the same way, to claim that because some person hurt herself doing a forward fold does not mean 1) that everyone will hurt themselves doing forward folds or 2) that no one should every fold forward ever again. These are fallacious arguments, and Michaelle Edward’s arguments are insufficient to conclude,  “your spine does not need to be stretched.”

In our next article, we will continue to look at Michaelle Edward’s other arguments to see if the various supporting premises are acceptable, and we will examine the nature of evidence and credibility.

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 five 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.


Read Part Three.

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Editor: Bryonie Wise

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Michaelle Edwards Dec 9, 2013 10:09pm

Here is a website with hip replacement statistics. Women do get the majority of the surgeries and often need repeat surgeries too. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/hip-replacements-more

Also a Mayo clinic study shows serious dangers for people who do forward bends with osteoporosis. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22448849

Also see the prevent yoga injury blog about forward bends http://preventyogainjury.blogspot.com/2013/02/ost

Yoga teachers with hip replacements, Beryl Bender, Judith Lasater, Mary Dunn, Dharma Mittra, George Purvis,
You can critically analyze my writings but the truth be told. Yoga teachers are getting hip replacements. You may use logic to state that there is no scientific proof that yoga caused it. But yoga did not prevent it either. In my world, nobody should be getting hurt doing yoga and the fact is people are getting hurt and we are not able to see reliable scientific statistics on the numbers because yoga is not regulated and only acute injuries usually wind up at the emergency rooms. Statistics on chronic injuries are not available or reported which is why there is a serious denial in the yoga community about yoga injuries.
I feel and my body tells me that the dangers of yoga asana are getting in positions that do not simulate how the body is designed to move. ( for instance bending over with straight knees) Here is where repetitive strain and excessive joint actions create issues in the long term.
People talk about bone differences and how we need to move our spine. Agreed our spine actually gets moved every time we inhale or exhale but there is no need to bend the spine excessively when bending forward. Any back doctor will tell you, bend your knees. Explain to me in anatomical terms how bending over with the knees straight is beneficial for our body.
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Bernie Clark

Bernie Clark has been teaching yoga and meditation since 1998. He has a bachelor degree in Science from the University of Waterloo and combines his intense interest in yoga with an understanding of the scientific approach to investigating the nature of things. His ongoing studies have taken him deeply inside mythology, comparative religions and psychology. All of these avenues of exploration have clarified his understanding of the ancient Eastern practices of yoga and meditation. His teaching, workshops and books have helped many students broaden their own understanding of health, life and the source of true joy. Bernie’s yoga practice encompasses the hard, yang-styles, such as Ashtanga and Power Yoga, and the softer, yin-styles, as exemplified in Yin Yoga. His meditation experience goes back to the early 80s when he first began to explore the practice of Zen meditation. He manages the Yin Yoga website and he’s the author of Yinsights, The Complete Guide to Yin Yoga, and of the forthcoming From the Gita to the Grail: Exploring Yoga Stories & Western Myths.