Time When Yoga Hurts is an example of the backlash in the media against trendy yoga. It points out that “over the past three years, 13,000 Americans were treated in an emergency room or a doctor’s office for yoga-related injuries, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.” What else does the article say: that people overextend themselves because they think that yoga is benign; that some classes take place in adverse conditions (Bikram’s 105 degrees F) or many teachers are not well-prepared to deal with students. In other words, practitioners face the same risks with yoga as they do with other exercise regimes. More to the point, the Time writer says that yoga is just plain wimpy as a way to get into shape:
The truth is, yoga, regardless of the form, doesn’t offer a comprehensive way to get fit. According to a study by the American Council on Exercise, a national nonprofit organization that certifies fitness instructors and promotes physical fitness, dedicated yoga practitioners show no improvement in cardiovascular health. It’s not the best way to lose weight either. A typical 50-min. class of hatha yoga, one of the most popular styles of yoga in the U.S., burns off fewer calories than are in three Oreos–about the same as a slow, 50-min. walk. Even power yoga burns fewer calories than a comparable session of calisthenics. And while yoga has been shown to alleviate stress and osteoarthritis, it doesn’t develop the muscle-bearing strength needed to help with osteoporosis.
There are so many types of yoga and varying paces of classes even within styles, that it’s really hard to say flat out what the final balance sheet is for yoga. Yoga never evolved as the complete answer for physical conditioning. I am sure that some teachers could make a case for their style of yoga (Baron Baptiste, for one) being better suited that more sedentary styles.
Yoga’s a lot better than no exercise at all. It deals with aspects that are ignored by other exercise regimes by taping into the spiritual and mental realms. I have started to adding more work in the gym, getting back to jogging after giving it up nearly a decade ago, and adding some weight-lifting for strength. But I don’t think that I would have approached physical exercise as consistently, systematically and sensitively without the body awareness that yoga has given me. It also addresses flexibility, which is a major constraint for me.