Periodically someone with dubious authority publishes an article about why it is dangerous to engage in yoga. The latest article, published in the New York Times last month, warns flexible women about serious hip injury if they keep doing this perilous practice.
You know what? Any activity in which we engage with a willingness to ignore pain – our body’s only way of letting us know we are on the wrong track – is dangerous. Sutter Health asked me some questions about the issues this article raises and if you want the whole interview it is here: Yoga and Hip Injuries. And if you just want the bottom line, here it is:
Yoga is simply a practice for mind-body union. As long as you can breathe, you can do yoga. Attachment to a particular form of yoga (for that matter, attachment to anything!) gets us in trouble. Many yoga forms (there are so many) or particular teachers (who vary in level of expertise) encourage us to move quickly or deeply or repetitively into shapes that may not be in our best interest. I have hurt myself in a yoga class more than once and I teach yoga!
We risk injury as soon as we lose our attention and focus. What are we attending to?
Sensation: where do I feel this and what is the quality of the sensation?
Breath: am I breathing freely, easily or is my breath ragged, gasping, held?
Ease: am I finding ease in practice or is there a continual effort, striving, struggling?
Repetitively sacrifice any one of these three factors during practice and you will eventually deal with injury. Anyone who can simultaneously attend to sensation, breath and quality of ease can do yoga safely. Stretch out on your floor at home, gently let your breath guide you; move in ways that feel good. Continue to attend to and return to your breath – this is yoga.
We get ourselves in trouble (“the yoga hurt me”) when we take a class and pay more attention to the teacher’s instructions or what the person on the next mat is doing rather than our own internal experience. That being said, classes are wonderful for expanding our movement vocabulary and self-knowledge. The quality of attention and self-care we bring to class is more important than what particular style we choose or what pose we do.
But it is important to choose a class wisely: if you feel at risk for injury or are a brand new beginner, some styles will be more challenging because they deeply tax your ability to self monitor. This makes them potentially more risky, probably better suited for someone with no injuries or someone who already has a solid base of meditative experience and practice. These more challenging styles include (and certainly are not limited to) fast-moving power vinyasa, kundalini and any practice done in a super-heated room and/or loud music environment.
If you are a beginner or know that you need to modify because of a body challenge, look for introductory hatha yoga series, classes labeled gentle or Level 1. Consider doing a few private sessions. I love offering this! Talk to studio owners, shop around. Look for a place to take classes that fit you and a teacher with whom you resonate. This is your body and your life, take it personally! And if you want some ides for rolling around safely on the floor at home, download this 10 Pose Routine: Yoga for Relaxation, a relaxing beginner series I pulled together for Sutter Health. Just the prescription for holiday craziness.
Lot’s coming up, check the sidebar. Dress with extra layers for Coloma Center. This is a very old, poorly insulated building and we have had problems getting it as warm as we would like. Technicians are working on the heater as I write! Sign up for Thursday Winter Waves for the big price break and if you are in need of a scholarship for the upcoming series, please contact me. This Sunday wear black to Sweat Your Prayers and next Sunday wear white… and gift yourself with some practice this month. It puts it all in perspective!