Sunday, January 8, 2012
Is Yoga Bad For You?
A friend posted an article, How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body, on Facebook the other day, causing me to want to read it immediately.
Yoga wrecking your body? What?! I was perplexed. I had to figure out what was going on.
The article is based off of Glenn Beck, a yoga teacher who has been teaching for almost 40 years and who has an impressive background, having studied yoga at the B.K.S. Iyengar institute in India. After his many years of teaching he believes that most people should give yoga up. Yep, just give it on up.
To explain his rational behind this he states, "Today many schools of yoga are just about pushing people. You can't believe what's going on - teachers jumping on people, pushing and pulling, saying, 'You should be able to do this by now.' It has to do with their egos."
The answer to this problem, he believes, is that most people should just stay away from yoga. That only those in need of healing or those in great condition should practice.
I've only got about a decade under my belt, but here's my take on it: Everyone should do yoga, but everyone needs to be careful with what they do, how, and who they study with.
Sure, yoga can hurt you. You can also blow out a knee cap if you run, pull a muscle weight lifting, and sprain your ankle in kickboxing. Those injuries all depend on how hard you push yourself. They depend on how well you know your body.
That is the key - Knowing your body. Knowing your limits. Knowing when enough is enough.
I've heard of yoga teachers giving adjustments and hurting students. I'm sure it happens. He's right when he says it's about ego for a lot of people, teachers and students alike. Those people, however, are wrong to act that way. The very core of yoga is about having no ego. Having no thoughts, really, just being. The actual practice of yoga is about preparing the body for meditation. For silence from your own thoughts. It's also incredibly therapeutic and healing, when done properly.
I studied with a brilliant woman, Mary Bruce. Not only did she encompass everything that yoga is meant to, she taught us the difference between giving an adjustment and pushing someone. Between the soft side of the edge, and the edge itself. In yoga, you don't want to be on the edge.
Yoga is about stretching, growing, shifting, shall we say, your perception of what your body can do and why and how. It's about flowing with your breath, paying attention to your thoughts, eventually freeing your mind from those thoughts.
Yoga is not a competition.
It is not about how low you can go, how high you can stretch, how cool your clothes are, or how far you push yourself. It is not about pain. It's just not.
I used to teach a class where I had students in various age ranges. Each person needed something different. Some could do the more advanced poses, some couldn't, and that was fine. I always wanted them to know that was perfectly fine, excellent even. Honoring yourself was the most important piece. Rarely would I give an actual physical adjustment. I mostly tried to adjust with my words. I tried to refrain what I had said in various ways so they would know how the alignment should look, should feel, for them. I did a lot of demonstrating so they could see it, the difference between too much and not enough. I did it this way because this is how I was taught. Alignment of the body, to ensure you didn't hurt the body, but strengthened it, was key.
I still can't get my heels to touch the ground in Adho Mukha Svanasana, or downward-facing dog. Nope. I'm better, but me and my hamstrings disagree on where they want to go and where I want them to go. So I let them decide. One day it'll happen. That's good enough for me.
Let your body decide what's good enough for it. Don't force anything. By forcing you are actually doing more damage than you would be if you let your body relax naturally into the pose.
If something hurts, stop. Ask the teacher if you're doing it right. Ask them to show you various ways to do it, if the one they were showing in class doesn't work for you.
Be sure to find a yoga teacher you like...and trust. Make sure they're there for the right reasons and that they have your best intentions at heart. A really excellent yoga teacher will ask you if they can adjust you before they do anything. They'll give various options for each asana, or pose. They will help you challenge yourself, but they will make sure you don't hurt yourself. They will remind you that yoga is a practice, a process, and that the the only perfection you should be striving for is to realize that you're already perfect.
What are your thoughts on the practice of yoga?