8 Thoughts on the Yoga & Injury Controversy
There will be many more stories on the “riskiness” of Yoga
Given that Broad’s article drew a huge number of page views, I wouldn’t be surprised if other publications exploit interest in the “yoga injuries” meme. Broad’s NY times article and the NYMag profile of David Regelin allude to (famous) teachers downplaying (even hiding) hip replacements and other surgeries. Would it surprise you if someone does an exposé? In this competitive media landscape, anything is possible.
Modern postural Yoga is a collection of physical exercises
I’ve touched on this before, but there have been a series of books that indicate that yoga asanas in modern postural yoga are not thousands of years old (see the recent books by Buhnemann, Sjoman, and Singleton). Once you demystify yoga asanas and place them in the realm of other forms of physical exercises, then to the general public it becomes hardly surprising that the risk of (serious) injury is present. By now I think most yoga insiders have at least heard that many of the poses and sequences they’ve come to love are fairly recent in origin (less than 100 years old). Unlike many forms of physical activity, modern postural yoga does emphasize the breath — but it is hardly unique in this regard.
It’s ultimately pointless to highlight Broad’s lack of (scientific) rigor
It has been hilarious to read and hear the reactions along these lines: “The FEW examples he cites are old.” Have you read the Yoga Journal? It is hardly rigorous or empirically-driven! Ironically one of Broad’s examples (problems with head stands) comes from the medical editor of the Yoga Journal, and appeared on its pages. As I noted above, once the public realizes that modern schools of postural Yoga aren’t descended from centuries-old traditions, then the thrust of Broad’s article is so obvious it becomes hard to nitpick: challenging poses & physical exercises can lead to serious injury.
[BTW, by most accounts Broad’s yet unpublished book covers the risk of injuries in a single chapter. Most of the book is devoted to research extolling the positive benefits of yoga. It will be interesting to see Broad’s detractors turn supportive after the book is released.]
For some poses, it is hardly surprising that alignment is critical
Show a non-yoga enthusiast poses like head stand, shoulder stand, forearm stand, and plow pose, and chances are his/her initial reaction would be “That’s nice, but it looks like you can get hurt doing that!” Let’s face it, shoulder stand is awkward (and dangerous) for most beginners, yet many vinyasa teachers routinely include it.
Repetitive use syndrome
Do something poorly, and repeat it with enough frequency, and guess what happens? Glenn Black has pointed out that the repeated execution of Chaturangas can be detrimental. That’s bad news to many flow/vinyasa/power yoga teachers. Many students love these more vigorous styles, and to take away the heavy use of a critical pose (used in sun salutations) is going to be met with resistance. In a recent discussion on SF’s KQED Forum Glenn Black repeats this point, gets agreement from Baxter Bell, only to have an annoyed Jason Crandell pushback strongly. Crandell didn’t really provide a good counter argument to the concerns raised by Black and Bell.
[Jump to minute 36:00 in the audio clip below.]
Modern postural Yoga is very hard to teach SAFELY, at scale
One of the reactions from yoga insiders has been that yoga students themselves should take more responsibility, by listening to their bodies. I agree with that. But walk into a vigorous yoga class (say with 15 students), chances are during large portions of the class, sequences are being called out in quick succession. It becomes hard for a student not to try to keep up, and attempt to execute modifications to the poses being called out in real-time. (“Do pose X, for those of you who can’t do that, do pose Y instead.”) In most cases, fast-paced verbal instructions have to be delivered over loud music.
Now imagine being in a larger class (or even learning from a DVD or an online class), who’s going to check on you then? As I mentioned in my previous post Krishnamcharya preferred to teach one-on-one or very small classes.
One of the fallouts will be smaller classes that emphasize safety
I think a market will emerge for classes that emphasize proper technique, coinciding with students opting for more intimate settings. Some teachers will initiate this shift, a recent example is the NYMag profile of David Regelin. But because the yoga “industry” wants a mass market for its products and offerings, I think that students themselves have to drive this change. Business people can sense an opportunity: Broad’s article has led to potential books deals for Glenn Black. Look for safety to become the next big marketing tool.
The New, New Thing: Casual practitioners will move on to something else
Among tech hipsters in SF and other enclaves, rock climbing is taking off like crazy.