Anyone on the pulse of yoga has probably already heard the buzz surrounding The New York Times' controversial piece, How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body. Most outstanding to me are the 700+ comments its received and the flurry of responses (much like this one) its received from yoga instructors, scholars and practitioners.
It's true: yoga has become a Western meme, as ubiquitous as the Starbucks-on-every-NYC-block. Much like our country, yoga's modernization is democratic and therefore imperfect, messy and comes with pros and cons. What's great is that anyone can give it a go, not just a privileged class or gender as it had been in the past. What's not so great is that in the age of popularized yoga, "McYoga," as my partner and co-director of our yoga studio likes to call it, it's all too common to find inexperienced instructors leading Western bodies (those of us working desk jobs, leading mostly sedentary lives) into inappropriate poses for their ability, let alone not taught safely.
You Can Lead a Horse to Water, But You Can't Make Him Drink
We don't say this out of arrogance, we say it out of truth. We also say it, knowing that there are good instructors out there, like ourselves, but also cavalier practitioners. The reality is far too many Western practitioners carry the mentality that harder and faster and "Look, I can do it!" is better. We can guide a safe class all we want but sometimes a certain type of practitioner doesn't want instruction, instead they want to show off. Depending on the circumstance, we've had to ask people to leave class. No one will "wreck their body" on our watch, if we can help it. And we're proud that in the history of our studio's existence, we've had no notable injuries.
While the NYT article offers an exaggerated cautionary tale, its alarm-ism can lead many to throw the beautiful practice of yoga asanas (postures) out with the bathwater. Cavalier practitioners and careless instructors can wreck the body. Mindful practitioners and an informed instructor can help transform the body into a stronger, leaner, well-oiled machine in which to navigate and benefit this planet through our example, interaction and expression as my asana mentor says. Let alone, if one is also interested in incorporating the mental trainings and cultivations.
Since beginning a yoga practice, I've sat -- even when difficult -- with the importance of my individual actions and choices and their consequences. If I take a cavalier launch up into headstand when I haven't learned how to do so properly, I'll increase the odds of getting hurt. If I take the process in baby steps, odds are I'll be fine.
If we take a low-impact approach to our yoga practice much like our efforts to make low-impact choices for the planet, we can't go wrong.
More on Yoga:
The Self-Compassion--Sustainability Connection (i.e., Take it Easy)
Study Links Meditation to Telomerase, An Anti-Age Enzyme
Wanderlust Yoga Festival Founders on Mindful, Murky Green Event Planning (Interview)