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.
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