By Kirstyn Brown
Recently, The New York Times ran a lengthy article entitled “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body” that has rocked the yoga community right out of their headstands. Yogis are in an uproar over the piece, written by NYT senior science writer William J. Broad that sites decades of case studies – horror stories of popped ribs, torn hamstrings and even strokes – to build a case against yoga’s safety.
It’s a tricky subject to tackle since both sides have solid arguments. On one hand, yoga is meant to be a deeply meaningful, even spiritual practice, connecting the body to the mind through the breath—not a dangerous experiment in contorting yourself into a pretzel.
However, as yoga becomes increasingly mainstream—an estimated 20 million Americans practice yoga today–it’s original purpose tends to get watered down in the sea of amateurs (both instructors and practitioners, myself included) trying to sink deeper into a pose than the person on the mat in front of them. It doesn’t help that we continue to try and put trendy spins on the ancient practice, with fads like suspension yoga – but that’s another blog post altogether.
Since I can sympathize with both sides of the spectrum, I decided not to take sides and remain firmly on the fence. Instead, I went to yoga guru (and Oxygen cover girl to boot) Trish Stratus for advice. She and her team at Stratusphere Yoga Studio gave me a refresher in how to approach yoga safely and effectively so I can get the most out of my practice. After all, it never hurts to play it safe, however it does hurt to fall on your face while your arms are in a bind behind your back.
Here’s what she and her team had to say:
“Many new practitioners push themselves well beyond their limits and expect to be able to do advanced poses like headstands and back bends instantly – a recipe for disaster and injuries. It’s important to understand that everything your teacher tells you is a suggestion – it is up to you to modify it to your own body. The general rule is: if your bones hurt it is bad, if your muscles are working it is good.”
Keep these five tips in mind next time you step in the practice room:
1. Check your ego at the door - Every BODY is different. Yoga is all about you so forget what everyone else is doing. It is your own practice. And as much as you may think everyone is looking at you - trust me, they're not!
2. Speak up – Notify your instructor if you’re new to yoga or have an injury. She or he will be able to keep an eye on you and offer modifications to the more advanced poses.
3. Make use of props – Use the blocks, straps, bolsters and blankets that are provided. They are great tools for guidance and deepening the practice.
4. Modify when needed – Don’t feel like you have to do a pose at its full extension. For example: dropping the knees or keeping them bent instead of fully straight; placing the foot on the calf instead of the inner thigh, will still provide you with the same benefits.
5. Listen to your body – If something doesn’t feel right, you are pushing yourself too much and can risk getting injured. Take as many breaks as you need and join in again when you’re ready.
To sum up, no matter which side of the controversy you might be on, I think we can all agree that no matter what physical activity you’re doing, whether it be downward dog or deadlifts, if you’re not focusing on proper form, you could be putting yourself in harms way. The same goes for not listening to your body’s cues that you’re overdoing it. I think Trish said it best when she said: “You know your own body best; you are your own guru.”