photo from http://www.liberalrev.com/?p=5854
Yoga studios in America are ubiquitous. Lululemon-clad yogis have overtaken our cities and gyms with their pseudo-spiritual form of exercise. I used to be one of them, and I still have an impressive stash of Lulu gear to prove it.
But over time, I’ve realized that yoga is not for me. First, I became turned off by the yoga “scene” and the new age weirdos that thrive in it (though there are tons of lovely people involved in the yoga community as well). Second, I became tired of all the recovery periods I had to take because of yoga injuries. I also felt like I was never flexible enough to get the most out of the yoga poses, and that the two-minute meditation (savasana) portion of the class was never long enough to be meaningful. Ultimately, I discovered a more effective way to get fit, a more grounded group of friends, and a deeper way to practice mindfulness.
Below is a more in depth look at why after 8 years of practice, I turned my back on yoga:
Part 1: It Can Hurt More Than It Can Heal
Last year the New York Times profiled a prominent teacher in the yoga world, Glenn Black. The main message that Black had to impart was that yoga is physically dangerous and that most people should quit. According to Black, students and even experienced teachers injure themselves all too frequently, and practitioners who have any underlying physical weaknesses or issues are especially vulnerable. “Yoga is for people in good physical condition. Or it can be used therapeutically. It’s controversial to say, but it really shouldn’t be used for a general class.”
Luckily, I never experienced any disastrous or prolonged injuries from yoga, but I did have plenty of nagging ones (mostly involving my neck and shoulders). I also regularly experienced acute discomfort from yoga class, including dizziness and indigestion, probably from being upside down for too long.
I’ve learned that you can’t trust a yoga teacher to protect you from injury, unless maybe you are taking private sessions. In a group yoga class, everyone flows through the same poses, regardless of skill-level or physical limitations. The teacher is there to guide the class as a whole and cannot monitor each of us individually, so it is up to us to modify the poses if we don’t have the strength or flexibility to do them correctly. But we are not the experts, and modifications can be more dangerous than the intended pose. For example, “downward-facing dog” done modified (with heels raised) distributes too much weight to the upper body, causing strain to the wrists and shoulders.
Another reason not to trust your yoga instructor is because any fool with $3000 can become one. It is remarkably easy to become a yoga teacher and it only takes 4 weeks (or 200 hours). There is no national certification exam, like the one required to become a certified personal trainer, and also unlike trainers, yoga teachers do not need to be certified in CPR. Plus, only 10% (about 20 hours total) of the yoga training course is spent on the study of anatomy and physiology, which seems woefully inadequate for understanding yoga’s effect on the body.
Evidence and common sense indicate that exercise is good for the health and that the benefits of doing it outweigh the risks of not doing it. I think it’s best to do whatever form of exercise you enjoy and can do consistently, but many people in the yoga community would say that yoga is the best form of exercise because of its “healing” benefits. Yoga Journal claims that yoga can improve arthritis, disability, herniated discs, chronic back pain, asthma, bone density, blood clots, drainage of lymph nodes, heart disease, depression, anxiety, obesity, and diabetes.
These claims are either false or hyperbolic. Studies show that there is no evidence that yoga improves arthritis or asthma. The evidence for yoga’s effect on the spine, bones, blood, lymphs, heart, chronic disease, and disability is either slim, biased, or non-existent. Yoga may have a positive effect on mood, weight, strength, cardiovascular health, and flexibility, but so do all forms of exercise, including some very affordable and low-risk workouts such as swimming, walking, and cycling.