This provocatively titled NYT article has been making the rounds online and friends of mine have asked me for my thoughts. So, here they are, my rudimentary typed-in-a-hurry-because-I-should-be-working thoughts on a vast vast subject…
The article would be more aptly titled “How YOU Can Wreck your Body”, not “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body.”
For precise reasons outlined in this article I have – wait for my sweeping statement – had “issues” with the “boot camp” school of yoga often practiced in North America. Now that’s a huge generalization, as there are plenty of teachers, studios and schools that don’t emphasize the “impressive / acrobatic / supposedly advanced” postures. But, overwhelmingly mainstream yoga in America is about adrenaline, gravity-defying feats, and pushing yourself hard. Case in point, Bikram is popular in America and I find the Bikram style of teaching a little like beating your (stressed out white collar) students into submission. I have walked out of Bikram classes because the teachers felt like “yoga Nazis.” Who apart from the student himself is to know when is the right time to take a break, drink some water, or stop following the sequence all together? It’s supremely egotistical of a teacher to think that he sets the pace 100%.
Another example, walk into a “beginner” or “intermediate” level class in NY and you’ll find people springing into hand stands all over the place. When I first moved to Asia I was surprised to find very “advanced” students spending a lot of time just holding a Triangle pose and never getting into any inversions at all. But this is what yoga is really about. As Black is quoted saying in the article, “awareness is more important than rushing through a series of postures just to say you’d done them.”
If you’ve truly embraced yoga then you know better than anyone else that it doesn’t matter what you look like, who’s looking, and who’s impressed. I haven’t gotten there yet, but I try to remind myself of why I practice yoga. It’s not to look good, not to be cool, and certainly not for the nice glossy photos (which I do enjoy) that I post on Facebook. It’s for my inner calm, my physical health, and happiness which I can share with others.
People do into injuries while practicing yoga and it often happens when you’ve pushed yourself too hard, or a “bad” teacher has pushed you too hard. Remember, if you’re doing it “right” with the “right” people, then you shouldn’t be getting hurt. The first and last lessons I learned at teacher training were to pay attention to student safety and to let people go at their own pace. We all need to be reminded, but in many North American classrooms we aren’t reminded, and yoga becomes just another part of the mainstream corporate culture of “go go go!”
So, these are my thoughts – happy to hear others’ on this controversial topic!