Tuesday, January 10, 2012
In the New York Times is an interesting article titled, "How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body". Not having looked into the subject at all, I have no strong opinions one way or the other about whether yoga, at least as a kind of physical training, might be worthwhile. I am open to the idea that this discipline could, despite its dubious philosophic and scientific foundations, offer some benefits to its practitioners, but not inclined to look into the matter beyond that point.
What does interest me about the article is the following, particularly if we assume, for the sake of argument, that yoga does manage to offer physical benefits through its physical regimen:
When yoga teachers come to him for bodywork after suffering major traumas, Black tells them, "Don't do yoga."Unsurprisingly, at the root of both the injuries and the persistence lies a mystical view of yoga as not needing to be understood rationally and intrinsically good. (Practicing anything this way is analogous to the following approach to travel: Toss out the road map and, if someone or something tells you you're headed the wrong way, press the accelerator to the floor.)
"They look at me like I'm crazy," he goes on to say. "And I know if they continue, they won't be able to take it." I asked him about the worst injuries he'd seen. He spoke of well-known yoga teachers doing such basic poses as downward-facing dog, in which the body forms an inverted V, so strenuously that they tore Achilles tendons. "It's ego," he said. "The whole point of yoga is to get rid of ego." He said he had seen some "pretty gruesome hips." "One of the biggest teachers in America had zero movement in her hip joints," Black told me. "The sockets had become so degenerated that she had to have hip replacements." I asked if she still taught. "Oh, yeah," Black replied. "There are other yoga teachers that have such bad backs they have to lie down to teach. I'd be so embarrassed." [bold added]
If yoga can, in fact, offer benefits, those benefits arise in some way. Therefore, there would necessarily be some basis in reality, understandable by reason, for such benefits. In that sense, yoga practitioners who ignore their own physical limitations in the name of "yoga" are failing to truly practice yoga -- at least in the rational sense of attempting to separate the wheat from the chaff regarding what that discipline might offer.
Among devotees, from gurus to acolytes forever carrying their rolled-up mats, yoga is described as a nearly miraculous agent of renewal and healing. They celebrate its abilities to calm, cure, energize and strengthen. And much of this appears to be true: yoga can lower your blood pressure, make chemicals that act as antidepressants, even improve your sex life. But the yoga community long remained silent about its potential to inflict blinding pain. [minor format edits]There's not much else I can add to this, but to say that if you're taking classes in yoga from someone with self-inflicted yoga injuries, unless you know why those injuries occurred and how to avoid them, you are getting exactly the kind of instruction you deserve.