In January, the New York Times published an article called “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body.” And the yoga world has been talking about it! I thought about gathering a collection of links so you could see the strains of conversation, but there are just too many. Some people reacted to the article with anger, others with confusion. Many people, myself included, think the conversation is useful because the plain and simple truth is that yes, yoga can wreck your body! Just because something is called yoga doesn’t mean it’s safe or appropriate. In my teaching I am constantly trying to help students become advocates for themselves in their own practice.
Yoga is a set of ancient practices designed to help us understand the nature of our true self. It is a complete system that includes intentional behaviors and attitudes, physical exercises, practices that help us work with our breath and our senses and, of course, meditation. The practice of asana (the physical postures) is a tool to keep the body structurally healthy and to help prepare the body for the deeper work of pranayama (breath exercises) and mediation. Asana isn’t calisthenics. The goal of asana practice should never be to master a posture, but rather to use the posture to deepen awareness and understanding of one’s own body – one’s own structural state and structural needs. As you practice asana I recommend that you begin to learn the functional purpose of each posture and to figure out the most appropriate way for you to achieve that benefit.
As practitioners of asana, I encourage you to think regularly about your practice. What style or tradition are you practicing? What teacher are you learning from? Where and how was your teacher trained? Do you push yourself appropriately? Do you push through laziness? Do you back off when appropriate? Do you know the difference between discomfort and pain? I encourage you to think about these questions and to talk to your teachers. Use your practice to learn about yourself, your body, your mind, your patterns and habits. Use this reflection to figure out what your current needs are and to find the practice that is most appropriate for your current condition.
If you have questions about the practice of asana or the deeper dimensions of yoga, please feel free to ask! I’m happy to help.