(by Susi Hately, Functional Synergy)

Earlier this week, I received a request from a Facebook Fan to comment on a recent New York Times article, How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body, that has created quite a stir in the yoga world. I posted a short comment on my facebook page, with a promise to fill it out later …

And, here is my take.

Yoga is amazing. All of us yoga teachers have been awed by watching what can happen with yoga. And, when not done appropriately, major problems can occur.  You would be shocked with how many emails I receive each week from yoga teachers – from the “rock star” yoga teachers, as well as from teachers who are “less known”. They ask questions with a similar theme . . . “why is my back sore, I do yoga!” As I share the mechanics of what is happening, I also add….”it is because you do yoga that your back is sore”.

Y’see the trouble is two fold. First, we have to remember that we are westerners pursuing an eastern philosophical movement program that has important tenets (yamas and niyamas) as the foundation. If we follow those tenets, we’ll progress in our practice – in all its forms – physically, mentally, and spiritually. Second, we need to consider the term “Asana” which, when loosely translated means, “sitting comfortably and still”. This means, that no matter the asana you are practicing, are you “sitting comfortably and still” or are you in “tension”?

Consider your practice – when you are in Warrior 1, Warrior 3, Triangle, Headstand, Downward Dog, or any other myriad of asanas, are you in tension? If you are. . . you aren’t practicing yoga . .  you are “doing fitness”.

It sets up an interesting predicament, doesn’t it? A predicament which has me understand and have compassion for why it is so difficult for yoga practitioners in the West “to get it”.

  1. As a culture, there is a preference for the “end”, not the “journey” or the “process”.
  2. Many trainings are about “going deeper” since there is some apparent belief that “going deeper” is “better”. (I recall a teacher who came to a training of mine who was utterly shocked that my training was the first she had been too that wasn’t about depth of asana and she was so “wow’d” that she felt so good).
  3. There is a focus on not paying attention to the pain, to move through it as opposed to listen to it.

I am all for a physical challenge, and for the mental and spiritual stretch required to see my “blind spots” so that those things that restrict or limit me can be resolved; just as I enjoy practicing with energy and prana and transcending the physical plane. But truth be told, the physical plane is where we live, and Newton’s laws still reign true. Biomechanics and Kinesiology are facts of life on this earthly plane, and we need to honour their principles. If you don’t honour them, you will suffer the consequences.

Does this mean that “some people should give up yoga all together” as written about in the article? Well, that assumes that yoga consists only of the physical postures in their classic form. Perhaps in those times of injury, it is actually time to read up and embody the yamas and niyamas so the journey back to the mat, the journey back to living the life you want to live, through great yoga therapy and then modified asanas, is one of exploration, curiosity and awe.

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