I’d like to share an article that recently came to my attention about yoga.
This article caused quite a stir in the yoga community, as it points out some of the less healthful effects that can happen practicing yoga. Most of what we hear from yogis, instructors, and medical professionals is, “Yoga is great exercise, have at it!” and I definitely agree. A long-term practitioner of yoga myself, it helps keep me injury-free, fit, and have a calm mind and open heart, which are just a few of yoga’s many benefits.
The point of this article, despite its unforgivable sensationalism, is that with any movement program there are risks, and the most important point of yoga is to know thyself. The Sanskrit word yoga means “to yoke” the body, mind, and spirit into one purpose. It is training the will, aligning the body/mind/spirit to your intentions in life. Will training, however, does not mean you push your limits to stroke your ego. It means you take a good look at your individual abilities, boundaries, and limitations, accept yourself for who you are and where you’re at right now in any given moment.
In yoga, the best practice is listening to what your body is telling you, not your ego or the teacher, and working within those boundaries. There are times to work up to the edge of your limits, to help your limits grow, but injuries happen when we push past that boundary without proper preparation. Finding your own inner awareness of that boundary is key. There are times when I’m in a yoga class, and I skip a pose altogether, just do the most basic form of a pose, or change a pose so it feels better to me, because my body said, “Not today – please respect my boundary.” Respecting your individual human anatomy and its abilities is essential to preventing injury. One yogini focuses on the importance of respecting your own anatomy, and writes a wonderful rebuttal to the above article here:
Patanjali, one of the great sages of yoga, wrote in his Yoga Sutras, “Asana (yoga pose) posture is that which is steady and easy. Any posture which is steady and easy is an asana.” Therefore, doing asana, or yoga poses, does not mean you have to bend yourself into a pretzel to do yoga. Sitting meditation is yoga, breathing exercises are yoga, doing a gentle forward bend is yoga, doing joint range of motion exercises are yoga. There are a myraid of poses that are safe for the majority of people, and endless modifications to make other poses safe and beneficial for any anatomy boundary, limitation, or medical concern.
When you engage in the above activities, you are “yoking” your body to do the will of your mind: to move towards improved flexibility, strength, calm, and overall health. You are doing yoga.
So listen to your body: understand its limitations, and “yoke” your ego to your purpose of healing without causing injury or harm. Find a teacher who can offer modifications so that you can work within your individual boundary. Next time you are in a yoga class and the instructor calls out a pose or tells you to deepen a stretch, ask yourself, “Is that best for my body right now?” and respect the answer!
Jean Lowe Carlson ND