And Now For Something Less Sexy: Yoga Injuries

If you hang out in certain circles, this past week was full of drama. The way that some people talk about it, you would think there’s a deadlock in an international peace talk.

I am talking about, of course, the The Yoga Mogul article from the New York Times about Anusara Yoga’s founder John Friend, which has gotten the whole interwebs buzzing. A lot of people have said a lot of things about this, I won’t contribute to that conversation. If you’d like to know what’s being said, the world is at your fingertips, only a Google search away.

Instead, I’ll point out something also from the New York Times, also recently published, and got nowhere near as much buzz: yoga injuries. It’s a blog post titled: Stretch – When Yoga Hurts by Lizette Alvarez. Even though there isn’t nearly as much attention to this post specifically and topic in general, to me, it’s actually much more interesting, probably because it hits much closer to home. As a yoga practitioner and teacher, I am confronted with the issue of working with bodily pain–past, current, and potential–on a daily basis.

I appreciate this post very much, Lizette Alvarez, wherever you are out there, thank you.

Here are some excerpts that totally resonated with me:

Training for yoga teachers can vary, and classes are so large in some studios that instructors do not pay enough attention to everybody. In New York, many people approach yoga with a no-pain, no-gain mind-set, with predictable results.

The most common form of injury is the overzealous student,” said Dr. Loren Fishman, a spine specialist, yoga teacher and medical director of Manhattan Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. “The second most common reason for injury is poor alignment, and that is usually crummy teaching.”

The best way to avoid injury, particularly if your body is creaky, is to take it slow and make sure to nail the fundamentals, experts said.

When I didn’t know any better, I’d crank into my lower back in Up Dog and push my pelvis as far forward as possible to create a backbend. I have been told “lock it, lock it, lock it” and then “and push and push and push.” I’ve been in classes where I haven’t even fully come into a pose before I’m asked to move on to next pose. And now, in the same situation, out of respect for the teacher, I would keep my mouth shut. For my own sanity, I just don’t go back to those classes. Out of sight, out of mind, so to speak. If I don’t see what’s happening, then it must not be happening!

I’m very well aware that there’s potential for injuries *anywhere*, no matter what style or tradition of yoga. Pain is inevitable. Complete safety is an illusion, no matter how hard we try. Yet, the difference is in the intention and the awareness, or lack thereof. I once panicked at a meditation retreat, confessing to a teacher that I stepped on a couple ants after I took the vow of no killing, no harming. The teacher asked if I had intentionally stepped on those ants. Was I aware of the possibility of me killing them?

I’ve occasionally wondered if some yoga teachers and students out there are aware of the possibility of injuries. For a long long time, I myself was not. For a long time, yoga was 100% good. It had all those good-feeling words, which could only produce good things: truth and light and love and peace and heart opening and bright conscience. (As an aside: you can make your own yoga buzzword with my yoga jargon generator.) When I went through a period of doing a lot of vinyasa flow yoga, I injured my wrists, and my brilliant plan was to go to class even *more*, since it clearly would help.

I know we live on a planet with a core temperature of something like 3000 degrees Celsius, spinning around a wobbly axis, hurling through space with asteroids and rocks slamming into each other. As Jim Morrison said, “No one here gets out alive.” At the same time, isn’t the practice of yoga meant to help us with living in whatever condition with more ease? And if so, why are we not more interested in creating more ease in the body through injury awareness and prevention?

Further reading:

The July 13, 2010 issue of yogajournal.com newsletter brought this to light. (Thanks for sending it to me, Thom!)

A few I’ve read and recommend: