The Problem with Yoga

The New York Times had a very discouraging article on Yoga a few days ago. It’s a good article. If you’re looking for excuses NOT to start doing Yoga this year, you’ll find plenty.

Unfortunately this photo isn’t the joke it’s meant to be. I often see poses like that in Yoga classes, and am surprised that severe injuries aren’t happening more often.

Answers to the NYT article popped up everywhere: you can read Josh Schrei’s post in Elephant Journal as an example. I like his perspective and insight, but he’s missing the point.

People don’t start Yoga because they want to be heroes like Josh.

They want to get rid of their chronic pain, they want to be more flexible, they want to lose weight–or they just want to find a way to deal with stress. After a first class they feel inadequate, are hurting more, and give up.

We have several Yoga studios in Orlando that are perpetuating the problem. Teachers are arrogant, some even yell at students, or they completely ignore the newbies. Even in so-called “beginners classes” people are pushed to do more than they really can.

It’s not rare to see positions like upward facing dog in beginner’s Yoga. Look at the woman in the yellow shirt: she’s wrecking her low back at about L2-L4, the one with the legwarmers is putting a lot of stress on L5-S1.

Let them do that for 15 years and I’m sure they’ll be in trouble.

(I don’t know these people, but I’ve paid istockphoto to use the pic)

Now imagine you’re 57 years old, out of shape, and you’ve read about the health benefits Yoga offers. Somewhere in your mind is the idea that Yoga is gentle and relaxing. Then you end up in the class shown in the picture. Not only is your back hurting afterwards, you also feel fat and depressed.

I’m ok with Yoga being more and more a workout taught in gyms. All I’m asking is that people know what they’re signing up for. Experienced Yogis can drop into any class and modify it for their needs–beginners need a lot of specific instruction.

A studio I like is Shine On. A teacher I love is Candice Mitchell. 

In Candice’s classes we’re a very diverse group. Some are over 70, some under 30. One of the old ladies is topfit (I want to be her when I grow up), some of the younger ones are overweight.

We all get great strength and cardio training, gain flexibility and learn to calm our minds. Nobody feels inadequate or left out, nobody gets bored. It’s the beauty of Yoga that even if you only do simple poses, you can deepen them as you wish. And with a teacher like Candice you learn how.

11 thoughts on “The Problem with Yoga

  1. Well said! I love it when we do what seems like a slow class and by the end of it I’m sweating because slow or not, it really was a work out. I never have to hurt myself and I still gain strength and endurance. I never could touch my toes or do a decent push-up (chaturanga) until I found a yoga class that taught me how to do yoga the best way for me, not the most egotistical way to impress those next to me.

  2. I read that article, too. I’ve also frequently felt a little worse the day after a yoga class, and I’m flexible and in shape. Usually, I had overstretched my hamstrings, which so many yoga teachers like to focus on.

    I’m a stickler for good form. I feel it’s more important than pushing your body’s boundaries. But I’m still capable of falling victim to that mentality. 🙁

    • Actually I’m sore very often, usually because I push myself very hard. But that’s just soreness, not injury, and I know I build muscle.
      I’m so much stronger than I EVER used to be.

      I love Yoga mostly because it’s so efficient.

  3. Candice is an excellent teacher! Since I live so far away I only get to enjoy her classes when I visit Orlando, but she’s always, to every pose, offering alterations to accomodate specific issues one or the other participant of her class might have with the pose suggested. That is after she’s explained the intended pose in detail, what to pay special attention to, and advises what not to do and why. I’m so peeved I couldn’t be in your yoga workshop. I’m sure you would have explained how to do the upward facing dog correctly. I still don’t know. 🙁

  4. It also depends on the style of yoga one is doing. Anusara (and the teachers) seems to be more tolerant of doing what you are capable of. Bikram and Iyengar seem to be the most Nazi-like (please take no offense to your beautiful heritage). Personally, I like Kundalini Yoga, as taught by Yogi Bhajan. KY teachers keep their students within their limits. also, one point to KY is to allow the exercises to open up the body and prepare it for meditation.
    My pet peeve with many yoga teachers is their insistance on belly breathing. I think yoginis/yoginas understand that breathing comes from the diaphragm, but their students don’t, and go uncorrected. (Tias Little is one exception who understands anatomy, and teaches functional anatomy to yoginis.
    I can’t begin to tell you how many clients i have had to encourage to balance their belly and diaphragmatic breathing.
    those are my thoughts to your excellent article. will follow your blog as well as everything else.
    Robert Rex

    • Isn’t it funny how people couldn’t belly breathe at all a few decades ago?
      Now, as Rolfers and movement instructors we see people who can’t expand their ribs and only bellybreathe.
      In the workshop Candice and I taught together we did a whole session on it when we explored safe core exercises.

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