It is a fact that yoga can cause injuries. We can debate the reasons–from inadequate teaching to over zealous students. But that conversation can only begin with an acknowledgement of this basic fact that we personally know. It is a conversation I have had online with Alison Eastland, a yoga teacher and blogger, in Australia.
So we accept with openness, objectivity, and maturity when William Broad points out that women’s hips are vulnerable in his New York Times article http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/03/sunday-review/womens-flexibility-is-a-liability-in-yoga.html. A thoughtful reflection on what is yoga, why each of us practices, how we practice is long overdue–for teachers, schools, as well as all who practice yoga. Contraindications must be clarified, and they are not. Uninformed teachers hurt themselves as well as their students, perpetuating this state of lack of knowledge.
Men are less flexible and can get hurt from forcing the body into challenging stretches. Women are generally more flexible and can overstretch. As a couple of women said to me in one class, women who clearly know the dangers of overdoing as one has a hip replacement and the other back problems, the ego gets carried away in a class. They want to do what others around them seem to be doing. For a fleeting class, it is important to show others what they can do. This is particularly true of some middle-aged women who feel terrible about their aging bodies–acceptance is hard for them.This is in spite of repeated warnings to not look at others, to feel as if each person is totally alone in that class–nothing to prove, nothing to show-off, nothing about which to feel inadequate or insecure.
So what are the consequences of ignoring warnings? Here is what Broad writes:
To my astonishment, some of the nation’s top surgeons declared the trouble to be real — so real that hundreds of women who did yoga were showing up in their offices with unbearable pain and undergoing costly operations to mend or even replace their hips….
Dr. Hyman said his typical yoga patient was a middle-aged woman, adding that he saw up to 10 a month — or roughly 100 a year. “People need to be aware,” he said. “If they’re doing things like yoga and have pain in the hips, they shouldn’t blow it off.”
Bryan T. Kelly, an orthopedic surgeon at the Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan, echoed the warning, saying yoga postures were well known for throwing hips into extremes. “If that’s done without an understanding of the mechanical limitations of the joint, it can mean trouble,” he said in an interview.
Broad goes on to explain the anatomically why women’s hips are more vulnerable and it is suggested that readers read his full article to get a better understanding. It helps to be well informed.
I think (though no studies have been done), based on common sense and personal observations over 30 plus years, that gentler styles of yoga will be less prone to injury while still being significantly helpful for arthritis, range-0f-motion, backs, hips, shoulders, breathing, and many other health problems. The gentler yoga is the bedrock of Satyananda Yoga, Sivananda Yoga, Integral Yoga (all founders were disciples of Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh). Himalayan Institute founded by Swami Rama also is firmly in the gentle yoga approach. Interestingly, the founders were all grounded in raja/tantra yoga and not predominantly hatha yogis. Krishnamachari, and his most prominent disciples B.K.S. Iyengar and Pattabhi Jois, are master hatha yogis. But they too, particularly the late Krishnamachari (and now his son Desikachar), cautioned on extremes and having the right attitude and approach.
Somehow the practice of yoga has gotten out of hand and we need to fix it.