When most people think about yoga, stress relief and healing come to mind — not injury.
But in a recent NYTimes article, "How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body," author, William J. Broad argued that yoga was dangerous. He quoted instructor, Glenn Black, who said that the majority of people should not do yoga because of the injuries — even stroke — it can cause.
Understandably, this article has caused quite a stir in the yoga and fitness community. And with the topic receiving extensive coverage from other news sources, many are now wondering if yoga actually does wreck the body.
ACE Fitness Expert, Exercise Physiologist and Experienced Registered Yoga Teacher (E-RYT), Jessica Matthews, said the advice to avoid yoga altogether because of possible physical injuries fails to view yoga holistically and accurately.
"Asanas or poses are only one of the eight limbs of yoga," she said. Discouraging people from practicing yoga — which includes universal morality, personal observances, breathing exercises, and meditation, for example — because you can potentially be injured in one-eighth of the practice is too far-reaching, Matthews said.
Matthews acknowledges, however, that of course it's possible to get injured when practicing the poses — just like how you can also get injured or "wreck your body" when you're running, swimming, weight lifting, or exercising on your favorite cardio machine.
Any time fundamental form of any exercise is not mastered before advancing — like in this viral video taken at a Crossfit gym — the risk for injury is higher. So when yoga students neglect the basics, follow an instructor who does not use intelligent sequencing, or move onto advanced poses because everyone else in the class is holding them, they are putting themselves in danger of sustaining injuries.
In any physical activity, participants must first develop a solid foundation for movement, and instructors must prioritize safety to avoid injuries.
Matthews' tips to keep you from wrecking your body.
Tips for Students:
- Check the Ego: Matthews agreed with Black that students cannot let their egos get in the way because if they do, they may move into more advanced poses before they're ready.
- Listen to your Body: Really listen to your body so you can be sensitive to any tightness or strain. Just because you did a particular variation of a pose one day, your body may not be able to do it the next. It may be tight, so you may have to modify.
- Choose Your Instructor Carefully: Make sure your instructor focuses on the basics and teaches the class in a way that allows your body to open up (intelligent sequencing). And beware of instructors who may push you to move into advanced poses when you know you're not ready — they may not prioritize safety as much as they should.
Tips for Instructors:
- Keep Exercise Science in Mind: Even if you're not a professional Exercise Physiologist, it's important to stay on top of emerging exercise science. This can help inform you on the risks of certain poses and whether you should modify them.
- Intelligent Sequencing: Use intelligent sequencing to structure your next yoga class because it will ensure your students warm up, open up and are safe throughout class.
- Adopt Multi-Level Teaching When Necessary: Since some beginners may trickle into your advanced class or vice versa, it's important to pay attention to each individual student. Though it requires more attention, it's important to walk around and get students who should not be in advanced poses into foundational ones. After all, teaching yoga is about setting students up for success.