The yoga world has been turned on it’s head this past week when the New York Times wrote an article titled “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body”. If you haven’t read it I suggest you do so before reading my opinion. The Yoga world has been in a uproar because of it and is doing its best to do damage control. Yoga School owners and teachers feel that they now need to combat this article with flooding the media now with How Yoga is great for your body. In the Article they interview a Yogi named Glenn Black with over 4 decades of experience. His synopsis……. Most people shouldn’t practice yoga, and those that are should give it up!! No wonder there was an outrage. I just hope that yoga teachers don’t riot in the streets because I don’t think the world can handle all the Patchouli in one area. Ok so time to get my take on it.
Mr. Black has the balls of an 8 ton African Elephant. That is my first take on this. If you read the article he states the following: Instead of doing yoga, “they need to be doing a specific range of motions for articulation, for organ condition,” he said, to strengthen weak parts of the body. “Yoga is for people in good physical condition. Or it can be used therapeutically. It’s controversial to say, but it really shouldn’t be used for a general class.” With years as professional trainer and someone that is a lifelong student of human movement, I applaud Black for this. This statement goes for just about any form of exercise. Just telling people to stretch and go through a series of poses is reckless and irresponsible. Everyone wants to look at those in India that can do all of these wonderful poses well into their elderly years, but what we don’t realize is that they have probably been doing those poses since they were young. They didn’t have to spend years sitting behind a desk for 12 hours a day with an additional 2 hour commute on top of that. Black explains “ The biggest is the demographic shift in those who study it. Indian practitioners of yoga typically squatted and sat cross-legged in daily life, and yoga poses, or asanas, were an outgrowth of these postures. Now urbanites who sit in chairs all day walk into a studio a couple of times a week and strain to twist themselves into ever-more-difficult postures despite their lack of flexibility and other physical problems.”
Black even goes further and goes on to say that most yoga instructors should quit altogether because they are injuring themselves yet their ego won’t allow them to admit it. In all my years as a trainer I have trained numerous Yogi’s and many have similar problems with back and neck pain as those that don’t do physical activity at all. I do a Functional Movement Screen on them and they have stellar flexibility, yet they have the same issue as someone with poor flexibility…nagging pain. In my conversations with these experienced yogi’s they refuse to take time off of doing yoga. They insist in the benefits of it, without being able to truly see the harm they are causing. It was almost like trying to talk to an alcoholic that insists that the alcohol is the only thing that helps them sleep therefore it is necessary for them to do. Sounds like a far reach but it really isn’t. You are doing something everyday that is causing harm to your body yet you are too blind to see that those “restorative poses” aren’t really restoring you but rather breaking you down. Many yoga poses start to really stretch ligaments rather than just muscles. Ligament are what hold joints together and give them structural integrity. The joint that now should be stable is now flaccid and instead of giving the body the support it needs it now is a point of weakness.
Why did I choose to write about this? Well I did yoga for a period of time and though many of the poses I believe were beneficial there were a handful that really did more damage than all the benefits added up. Here is an example of one that ensured I would never go back.. Sasangasana or Rabbit pose is one example.
I will never forget the time I was in this pose. It wasn’t nearly as exciting as it looks. First lets look at this pose. The one thing that by far stands out is the rounding of the lumbar spine which rounded spine under load or tension is a great recipe for a herniated disc. Granted some can get away with this, but MOST people are not able to do this safely. In this pose I was told to by the instructor to “pull, pull, and pull on your heals and raise your hips”. I remember feeling a weird pop in lower back during this pose but no initial pain just a different sensation. As we left the class I went to shower and get dressed and putting on my shoes became very challenging. I got back to work and felt my entire lower body stiffen and pain started shooting down my buttocks.. Yep a herniated disc…… I went to yoga to help my back and found myself being very injured. Yogi’s will state that I probably shouldn’t have pulled so hard or made sure to watch my limits, but here is my QUESTION: HOW THE F&*^&*K ARE YOU SUPPOSED DO KNOW YOUR LIMITS WHEN THE INSTRUCTOR IS TELLING YOU TO PULL PULL PULL ON YOUR HEELS. The fact is I didn’t know my limit till I heard something POP. There was no pain or anything to tell me to stop until it was too late.
WHAT THE YOGA INDUSTRY SHOULD DO BUT WON’T
They should embrace this article and really understand that a huge weakness has been found. There is tons of truth to this article, and to just turn away from it without implementing new programs would be a huge mistake. There are tons of benefits of yoga and I am sure that a more thoughtful approach could be put together to still train groups of mostly sedentary individuals. In my opinion I would start with taking out the headstands, and postures with excessive spinal flexion and lumbar rotation.
WHO’s NEXT ON THE HIT LIST
The Fitness Industry and Personal Trainers are the next in line to be attacked, and honestly I hope it is. Hell, I would love to write the article myself. If someone wrote it I would probably post it to my website and forward it on Facebook. Hell, any kid can go apply at LA Fitness and be a personal trainer. They have a sales staff that push training like crack rock to a school kid and it is trash. People are paying $35-$45 per half hour session for a kid that can’t even calculate body fat percentage and have probably never heard the word periodization.