Yoga injuries, bodywork and a media controversy

I have refrained from commenting on the most controversial topic of yoga in America this year, but it’s time to break my silence.

I am referring to the William Broad’s article How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body in the January 8 issue of New York Times Magazine. it’s a chapter from his book, The Science of Yoga: The Risks and the Rewards (Simon and Schuster) which came out a few weeks later. It resulted in a massive wave of discussion, reaction, even hysteria about the possibility that you could hurt yourself doing yoga. For a representative sampling of the web writing on the topic, see Yoga Dork’s Guide. Really, she’s just scratching the surface. The reaction has been visceral because it also touches on how Americans do yoga, which gets into the evolution of a transplanted and transfigured discipline that started in India and ended up in Manhattan, Hollywood and Dupont Circle.

A personal digression

The short answer is “Yes, of course, you can hurt yourself practicing yoga.” I learned it the hard way when I tore my meniscus in 2008 and underwent surgery to repair the knee. More than the physical damage and the disruption to my practice, the injury shattered my own misplaced faith that yoga was a superior form of mind-body practice that could not harm me. I injured myself and I didn’t even feel it at the time. It was only the next day that the pain hit me. But what injured me was actually not the particular yoga pose that I did in an advanced Anusara workshop, but the patterns of use and abuse that I had locked into my tissues over decades of self-inflicted stress.

Luckily, I did not give up on yoga. As my practice slacked off last year because of the disruptions of my parents’ deaths and my own illness, the experience ended up convincing me that I needed to deepen my practice through increased awareness and self-discovery. It also convinced me that I had to enlist additional help to make sure that I did not harm myself. That’s why I have been treated by a massage therapist since August.

Back to the article

This blog entry got started because I came across an interview with Glenn Black, the veteran yoga instructor that Broad used in his article to wage a finger at the excesses of American yogis. Eden G. Fromberg: Yogi Glenn Black Responds to New York Times Article on Yoga:

EF: What is the best way to overcome injuries from yoga?

GGB: Remedial exercises that overcome the source of the injuries. And people need to get bodywork. Not just any bodywork. They need to look for people who work on really moving the joints and connective tissues.

Well, that just confirmed what I’ve come to comprehend after practicing yoga for nine years. Because my peripherial neuropathy and its repercussions (sleep deprivation, mainly) threatened my livelihood, I was prepared to spare no expense. I’ve been lucky because I can afford the luxury of doing both yoga and bodywork.

And the lesson that we can learn from the “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body” controversy is that yoga matters in America. It’s reached a kind of critical mass in the American mainstream, and this discussion is about how it can contribute to Americans’  need for wholeness and wellbeing.