Can Yoga Wreck Your Body?

Came across this article today in the New York Times about an interview with Glenn Black, a pretty famous yoga teacher in the United States. The article, published way back in 2012, challenges what many people believe in the yoga community: That yoga, if practised correctly, is always safe. Black says otherwise – and to be fair, many other people have similarly challenged the safety of yoga poses. This opinion, however, remains in the minority within the yoga community.

Is this yoga? It is if you’re paying attention.

A growing body of medical evidence now is supporting the idea that for many people, some common yoga poses are inherently risky. According to the NYT article, the first reports of yoga injuries appeared decades ago, published in some of the world’s most respected journals — among them, Neurology, The British Medical Journal and The Journal of the American Medical Association. These problems ranged from relatively mild injuries to permanent disabilities.

It has come to a point where Black and those who share his opinion believe that “the vast majority of people” should give up yoga altogether. It’s simply too likely to cause harm, they say. I don’t know if I agree. Many sports and physical activities are also inherently risky – but it doesn’t mean they should be avoided altogether.

For me, the same questions you ask yourself before attempting any physical exercise should apply so to yoga as well. People who believe yoga is safe simply because it is yoga is forgetting that human bodies and egos are involved.

Every person’s body is different, and responds to movement differently. A pose that is safe for one person may not be safe for another person. Here is where a personal teacher can make all the difference between a safe practice and a dangerous one.

It’s for this reason that as a student, I try to avoid large classes where the instructor gives little to no personal attention. Instructions need to, in a way, make sense for the student’s body. Forcing someone into a particular shape when that person cannot do so (whether it’s because of his or her natural anatomy or level of fitness/flexibility, or just how the body is feeling that day) makes absolutely no sense to me. Teachers who make students feel bad about not achieving a particular shape or range of motion should not be teaching.

Anyway, this was an enlightening read and also a wake-up call for me to be even more mindful in my personal practice and when teaching others.

Always, always, safety first.

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