Is Yoga Safe?
It was a big week in the yoga world last week when a very smart author decided to write a provocative article on yoga so that the attention on the article would help him sell his book. And his marketing plan worked really well for him. For those that did not read it, the New York Times published an article entitled "How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body".
From a business perspective, I consider the attention on yoga to be a good thing and such attention demonstrates how popular yoga has become. Specifically as it relates to the article there are some factual errors and also some good points. Our heads for example rotate more than 50% in one direction naturally else we would need eyeballs that drape across the side of our head to look around – kind of like a fish. Further the article lacks perspective; people get injured in every type of physical activity imaginable. On a relative basis the percentage of individuals that get injured in yoga is really, really small.
However, it is very true that not all teachers are alike and not all teacher trainings / certificates are 'created equal'. Certification programs vary broadly in the content they teach and the skills that the students are left with upon graduation. The certification process is evolving and standards are not all that high. It is important to make sure that you find a teacher that is focused on safety and has a good understanding of anatomy and proper alignment in a pose.
We all have a unique body, different from our neighbors and as a result our poses should not look identical. If you are participating in a yoga class where the teacher has a disciplined, militant and exact way of doing a pose (for reasons other than safety of course) – FIND A NEW TEACHER. Your alignment should be based upon individual anatomical facts like the width of your pelvis and length of your arms and legs and the use of blocks should be encouraged. Further, our body is in a constant state of regeneration, every day our body is different. It may be more or less open from one day to the next but with consistent yoga practice we begin to become more open overtime. So you need to meet your body where it's at that moment of class.
If you are participating in a class very regularly where the class is the exact same sequence every time – STOP. You need to mix it up. Yoga asana practice, as with any physical activity, should not be the same every day.
And nobody should be forcing you into a pose with physical pressure. When a yoga teacher assists you they should be helping you to be grounded in the pose, provide some added stability and guide you so that YOU can take yourself a little deeper.
At the end of the day, use common sense. Find the edge of intensity versus pain. Intensity is good; pain is bad. Yoga is a way to move AWAY from suffering in life not go towards it. If you're causing yourself to suffer in a yoga class, it may be insightful to spend some time reflecting on where else in your life you cause your own suffering?