≡ Menu

Wrecked by yoga: a personal story

Do you think yoga might be dangerous? Had you realized it could be this dangerous?

So now The New York Times wants to tell me that yoga can wreck my body. Big whoop.

For years now, I’ve known how dangerous yoga can be.

Yoga took over my mind, rearranged my priorities, changed my career path, and rewrote my  life pattern.

And like someone who does a faulty practice for years before seeing the results, I never saw it coming.

When I took up yoga, I knew what I wanted: mental clarity, emotional stability, physical strength, flexibility, and the ability to do cool things like touch my head to my knees in a seated forward bend.

Slowly, without me noticing, things changed.

After a few years, I was just in it for the asanas. I wanted to learn them, achieve them, refine them.
Why? Because I wanted to, that’s why. They became their own justification. I was happy to have the benefits, but they were by-products.

When I started, I took one class a week, then two, then every workshop that came to town and several out-of-town retreats.
Then a friend who couldn’t find a substitute teacher asked me to teach a beginner’s class one Saturday morning, and I was hooked: no longer just a carefree student; I crossed over into teaching.

Something else happened. In the beginning I shrugged off yoga philosophy as boring and irrelevant. All I wanted was the deepening connection with my body. Then, several years ago, I found a translation of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali that spoke to me. A rough count of my bookshelf? I now have nine translations of the Yoga Sutras, one of which is always in use.

These days yoga takes pretty much all of my time: teaching, practice, taking classes, studio administration. Four years ago I started writing simple practice tips. Two years ago, I started this blog. Now yoga takes my writing time too.

There is not much in my life, from my wardrobe to the way the space in my house is allocated, that hasn’t been touched by yoga.

I am only insanely happy about this every once in a while.

Most of the time, it’s work, and beyond work, tapas – intense devotion not just to physical practice, but to all of the limbs of yoga.

I do not feel good unless I do a practice, and it always has to include a shoulder stand.

Because of yoga, I need to be upside down for some portion of every day. Because of yoga, I can’t bear to work at a desk and not stretch out my shoulders when I get up. Because of yoga, I’ve stopped hurrying, almost all the time.

Because of yoga I have a set of exacting, unreachable moral standards to hold to and another list of off-the-mat practices – cleanliness, contentment, tapas, self-study and surrender – to try to abide by.

When I was seven, I didn’t want to grow up to be a yoga teacher, in part because when I was seven, “yoga teacher” was not a career option.

But yoga, dangerous, life-altering yoga, wrapped its tentacles around me and dragged me into its embrace.

So despite the drama – strokes! nerve damage! – I find it hard to take William J. Broad’s article too seriously.  (Leslie Kaminoff’s video is an excellent and detailed criticism of the article from someone who knows yoga and anatomy.)

The lesson I took away? Find a good teacher. Be a good student.

You can read about the long training and careful supervision of certified Iyengar yoga teachers on the Iyengar Yoga Association of Canada’s website, as well as a response to the New York Times article from IYAC president Lynne Bowsher.

Ask what your teacher’s qualifications are. Know that 200 hours is a drop in the bucket, and that registration with Yoga Alliance is no guarantee of quality.
Expect to be seen and corrected in the poses. Avoid teachers who do their own practice at the front of the class and call out helpful suggestions.
Avoid aggressive teachers. Learn to recognize aggression in your own practice, and let go of it.

I’m inclined to just watch all the controversy drift past, like clouds in an ever-changing sky. Twenty-five years ago, when yoga began taking over my life, it was roundly ignored in the popular press. Then it was the butt of jokes. Then it was glorified. It had to be demonized eventually.

I know I should be working up more of a froth, but somehow I can’t. And I think I know why.
Years ago I saw a cartoon of a man who had just hit his thumb with a hammer, a thumb that was swollen out of all proportion and vibrating with pain.

In his conversation balloon, the man asks his wife: “Hey, remind me, what’s that thing your uncle says when he gets mad?”

The caption? “Too much yoga.”

Photo courtesy of istolethetv, via Flickr.

If you liked this post, you might also like:

Yoga Bear in Finland: But what does it mean?

The Ross Sisters: It’s Not Yoga, So Why Are They Doing Bhanda Gerundasana?

Meet Your I-Maker and Feel Less Alone


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • trish November 24, 2012, 12:35 pm

    How did I miss this post last January. Brilliant. Thank you so much for your insight, humor and wisdom. May I share this post on fb?

    • Eve November 24, 2012, 3:13 pm

      Hey Trish, share away. I’d love to have you pass it on.

  • Gilian January 20, 2012, 2:38 pm

    Hi Eve:

    I’m forwarding this post to my two daughters – for the the fine writing, the insightful thinking, the goofy pic and the excellent advice:

    “The lesson I took away? Find a good teacher. Be a good student.”

    Thanks for redirecting the conversation.

    • Eve January 20, 2012, 2:47 pm

      Hey Gil,
      Great to hear from you – and thanks!
      I’m honored to be sent off to Ella and Maggie.

  • YogaSpy January 20, 2012, 1:15 pm

    It took a mainstream article (granted, it’s the NYT) to cause such a stir! The power of the pen!

    I appreciated your words here:
    “I am only insanely happy about this every once in a while.

    Most of the time, it’s work, and beyond work, tapas – intense devotion not just to physical practice, but to all of the limbs of yoga.”

    I agree. When I notice some yoga teachers out there promoting yoga as bliss/play/fun/laughter/group hug, I think, “Huh?” It is like the difference between a two-hour movie romance and the real thing.

    • Eve January 20, 2012, 1:26 pm

      Well put, Yoga Spy.
      Sometimes I feel a like a bit of a grouch when I let it be known that for me, yoga isn’t all bliss, not by a long shot.
      But you won’t find much of a promise of bliss in the Yoga Sutras, just the promise of increasing powers of discrimination in return for sustained work.
      I love your analogy of the two-hour movie romance vs. the real thing. Nice.

      • Stefanie January 20, 2012, 1:35 pm

        I am with both of you on this. Our culture is addicted to quick fixes and so many of my students are seeking a continuation of that on the mat. They don’t really want to feel what is required to do the real work of yoga. Bliss is not a word I would ever use to describe what we are seeking. We are seeking engage, embodied awareness that allows for skillful action on and off the mat. That is not going to come the easy way.

        • Eve January 20, 2012, 1:54 pm

          I wonder facing up to the work of it is partly an Iyengar thing. No one ever said an Iyengar class would be easy.
          Maybe that’s why we sometimes have a slightly grim – or maybe it’s just serious – image. We think of it as “the work,” rather than play, and we are more likely to expect contentment than bliss.

  • kat January 20, 2012, 11:40 am

    Eve, you are awesome. I thoroughly enjoy your blog.

    • Eve January 20, 2012, 11:45 am

      Aw, shucks. I’m blushing. Thanks Kat.

  • Joanne Laverman January 20, 2012, 1:11 am

    Hi Eve,

    Great article. I am so happy for you, and everybody you teach yoga, that “yoga takes pretty much all of your time”. Miss your and Mary’s classes but love your practice tips.


    • Eve January 20, 2012, 9:45 am

      Hey Joanne,
      How lovely to hear from you, and thank you. We miss you too.

  • Lisa January 19, 2012, 8:22 pm

    You totally rocked this blog post, Eve!! My favorite line: “I am only insanely happy about this every once in a while.” Thanks so much for taking the time to describe the “dangerous” path you’ve taken. :)

    • Eve January 19, 2012, 10:33 pm

      Hey Lisa, glad you liked it.

  • Fay January 19, 2012, 7:19 pm

    Thank you so much, Eve, for the great article. Perfect way to put a put a better slant to this. I’ll be reading this in my classes.

    • Eve January 19, 2012, 10:33 pm

      Hi Fay,
      Good to hear from you! And thanks!

  • Stefanie January 19, 2012, 3:53 pm

    Eve – this was one of my most favorite things to read about this whole NYT yee haw. It was funny and oh so spot 0n! I am going to pass it along to my students.

    • Eve January 19, 2012, 5:17 pm

      Hey Stefanie, thanks!
      It was getting all a bit serious, wasn’t it?

  • elizabeth January 19, 2012, 3:43 pm

    Thanks Eve for the great perspective!! A sane approach to an insane world,sadly in need of rational!

    • Eve January 19, 2012, 5:18 pm

      Hey Elizabeth,
      Great to hear from you! And thanks. Laughter really is the most sane response sometimes, isn’t it?

  • Hester January 19, 2012, 2:14 pm

    Great column. My favourite para: “Twenty-five years ago, when yoga began taking over my life, it was roundly ignored in the popular press. Then it was the butt of jokes. Then it was glorified. It had to be demonized eventually.”

    I’ve been telling friends who are concerned about this NYT article: if you really think you might hurt yourself in yoga, find another teacher with more experience. Try another style until you find the right one.

    • Eve January 19, 2012, 2:21 pm

      Hey Hester,
      How lovely to hear from you!
      I couldn’t agree more with your comments on avoiding getting hurt in yoga.
      I think the most dangerous part of “dangerous” yoga is probably the way people assume that “certified yoga teacher” actually means well-trained, or safe. It might mean someone took a week-long course while on vacation in Mexico.
      We need a lot more education on what styles are the safest, and what certifications are the most meaningful.

  • Elizabeth January 19, 2012, 1:57 pm

    Excellent, Eve.

    • Eve January 19, 2012, 2:03 pm

      Hey thanks, Elizabeth. I hope I made you laugh.