Yogies in blogasana got up off their mats in protest after reading the New York Times Magazine article that ran last Sunday, "How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body", which details the harms of this most popular of ancient trends. The New York Times writer, William Broad, who himself endured debilitating injuries in yoga, penned a five pager discussing the physical dangers of yoga.
For his article Broad interviewed researchers and yoga teachers. He opens the piece with, Glenn Black, a teacher who has come to specialize in treating yoga injuries. Yes yoga injuries! Too many headstands, tear a retina, have a stroke! Too many Trikonasana, pop a rib and replace your hips! Too many back bends, herniate a disk!
(Because life is full of contradictions, I'd like to point out that Broad is also the author of a book called the "Science of Yoga," which expounds the benefits of Yoga.)
Broad writes that the first modern books on yoga never mention the potential injures or safety precautions one must adhere to. Among others he cites B. K. S. Iyengar's 1965 book “Light on Yoga,” the veritable bible on Hatha Yoga. Iyengar is one of the modern masters who brought Hatha Yoga to the west and is often quoted and cited liberally by the yoga community at large.
Here he is in 1938 at the age of 20. I don't think there was a precautionary manual when he started practicing:
Once a German exchange student in graduate school said to me, "American's are like children." I asked what she meant? She explained "You need to be warned all the time about dangers that seem pretty obvious," she pointed to a sign on the back of a bus warning people to stay at a safe distance. I once worked for a boss at a faux finishing company who's motto was "if it doesn't fit, force it." Needless to say the company dissolved into a cloud of (pot) smoke after just a few years in business.
Perhaps we've so lost touch with any intuition about our bodies and how to operate in this world that everything needs to come with a warning label, lest things ends in a lawsuit.
The NY Times article created such a shit-storm in the yoga community you'd think it was the end of shavasana in spandex!
NYT editors followed up with a discussion including six yoga experts: Suketu Mehta writes (and I paraphrase here) "you competitive Americans have turned Indian yoga into a 6 billion dollar a year competitive sport!" Recovering yogi, Joslyn Hamilton, a former 15 year practitioner says "at the end of the day its just a tool" (so don't act like one). My fav is Sarah Miller, who likens human involvement in Yoga to human involvement in Climate Change.