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Can Yoga Hurt You? The New York Times Seems to Think So


I found yoga about 16 months ago. I had done it unenthusiastically off and on for a few college years, trying the hot kind and then Ashtanga with a lovely Iranian teacher who said “lag” instead of “leg.” But I really found yoga in 2010, when Coraline was just over one. I walked by a studio flyer that said simply “breathe” and thought, I need to do some of that. I started with a beginner’s class and soon was going two or three times a week religiously. Class became my time, the one indulgence I allowed myself in the harried, run-on weeks juggling work and a baby and a relationship on life support. In class I learned how to breathe again, how to center myself, how to be quiet. I slept better, didn’t feel so frustrated, and felt stronger. Yoga was a gift.

This type of experience — maternal empowerment via downward dog — is one I’ve heard shared by a number of other moms (including my favorite teacher). It’s because, in addition to being an hour during which you have no one’s needs to meet but your own, yoga is a practice that extends beyond your mat. It’s a spiritual practice, a way of life. It’s about recognizing your own divinity and that in others, learning how to simplify, how to calm your mind. What mother doesn’t need to do those things to make it through the day?

It’s for these reasons I’m one of the many disheartened by the sensational New York Times Magazine article about yoga (“How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body”). The article cautions that yoga can really hurt you, citing examples of strokes, peripheral neuropathy, and serious joint and disc injuries caused by practicing asana (poses). But the most damning part of the whole thing is not the medical community’s postulation that yoga is dangerous. It’s that Glenn Black — a renown yogi (and Rhinebeck resident) with serious accolades — wholeheartedly agrees, and is quoted heavily throughout. “Black has come to believe that ‘the vast majority of people’ should give up yoga altogether. It’s simply too likely to cause harm.”

I’ve heard several yoga teachers address the claims made in this article over the past week. If I were a yoga teacher, this article would make me nervous, too. It will make people scared of yoga. But I think, maybe they should be. You can get hurt practicing asana. You can also get hurt lifting weights at the gym, or riding a bike, or doing Pilates. If you don’t listen to your own body, respect your limits, check your ego at the door, and choose a teacher who knows what they’re doing (and also how to recognize and respect your limits), you are asking for a problem. The article is a call to mindfulness. If you’re not practicing asana mindfully, you’re not doing yoga anyway.

“Please do not blame yoga. Please do not blame asana. It is the practitioner who has to take responsibility for finding and applying the appropriate knowledge through a sensible system. Please remember it is the style, the teacher, the ego and the application that causes injury, and not yoga.” — Aadil Palkhivala, the “Godfather of Yoga in the West”

Check this out:
I just finished reading Poser: My Life in 23 Yoga Poses by Claire Dederer, and strongly recommend it to any mom, avid yoga fan or not. It’s an insightful, totally relatable account of her first decade as a mom, reconciling her former self with her new mother/wife self as she bumbles her way through both the hard core attachment parenting scene and intense yoga culture of 1990s Seattle.

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