How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body, an article in The New York Times by science writer (and yogi) William J. Broad appeared online late last week, in the Sunday Magazine yesterday, and continues to ripple across the yoga community, though this is not the first time The Times has trod this ground (see When Yoga Hurts, July 2010). The message of Broad's article, which is excerpted from his upcoming book The Science of Yoga, is supported by many, though just as many are critical of its delivery and use of anecdotal evidence. (Keep an eye on YogaDork if you want to watch the back-and-forth.) Yes, yoga can be hazardous to your health. Since this practice is often touted as a panacea, it's not a bad idea to stop and point that out occasionally.
Early in my practice, I pulled a hamstring attempting to do a handstand my body wasn't ready for. More recently, I tweaked my shoulder pushing for one more chaturanga. Another time, I injured something in my forearm while carrying my heavy toddler a few blocks too far. And, years ago, I sprained a toe when I ran my foot into a table leg. That one still comes back to haunt me. What, those last two don't count because I wasn't "doing" yoga at the time? All four injuries were painful, took a long time to heal, required the adaptation of my practice, brought a new awareness of how to be careful with myself, and came about while doing something in a less than mindful way.
So while yoga injuries are no doubt on the rise, it's important to take a look at why this is happening. Two factors leap to mind: more people doing yoga and more people teaching yoga. Yoga itself is not getting more dangerous, but it can be taught, and learned, in a manner that is more likely to bring about injury. Finding a good, experienced teacher is going to go a long way toward preventing injury, but, ultimately, you are responsible for yourself. One of my first teachers did me a great favor by often repeating that letting go of striving after achievement and competition are important tenets, more important than where you can put your leg (I'm looking at you, Lululemon video). You hear a lot of teachers say "listen to your body," but seriously, listen to your body. It's the most important thing you learn to do through yoga.