Damn the New York Times. Last week they wrote an article entitled, How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body, and that totally ruined my last yoga class. Not because I was afraid or wary of pushing myself in my beloved 90 minutes of hot power yoga, but because my teacher was.
Just as I had my mat all rolled out and was ready to “get my yoga on” (yes, I know that’s a ridiculous statement, which is why I poked fun of it the other day in my “Shit yogis say” post), a new instructor comes walking in. I hadn’t taken one of her classes before, but judging from the arm full of tattoos, nose ring and all-around hippie look, I thought she’d be a badass on the mat–just what I wanted.
Instead, she strolls in says, “There was an article in the New York Times the other day about how yoga can wreck your body…” To which I expected her to say, “That’s just silly, amusing bullshit.” But instead, she says, “And you know what? They’re right.”
“So today,” she continues, “we’re going to focus on taking care of our bodies and taking things slooow and easy.”
OK, slow and easy is not what I had signed up for. That doesn’t exactly say “power yoga”.
I’d love to be able to say that the next 90 minutes were filled with heart-opening asanas and mind-melting poses that made me realize not all yoga had to be sweaty and power-filled, but they weren’t. It was actually hell. Not only did the teacher talk really slow and have us move at the speed of my granny, I never broke a sweat and found the class to be more frustrating and stressful than relaxing and energizing.
As much as I dislike yoga bitches, I kinda felt like one that day by always being one or two steps ahead of what she was calling out (simply because my body was just used to a certain faster flow) and taking more advanced poses when she told us not to (like shoulder stand even though she warned us it could cause injury and we should stay with legs-up-the-wall instead). Ugh. Is it really unyogic of me to admit that I wanted to punch my yoga teacher?
When I left class, neither spent nor calm nor joyful as usual, I had so much pent-up energy that I had to go home and hop on my road bike for another 90 minutes, the whole time cursing my teacher–and the NY Times. But by the end, at least I had some endorphins rushing into my brain and I felt sane and rationale again. Rationale enough that I had time to read the article responsible for the demise of my yoga that day and admit, it did have some valid arguments. Then again, it had some really stupid ones too.
Let’s start with the stupid ones.
Glenn Black, the Manhattan yoga teacher quoted throughout the article stated that “the vast majority of people” should give up yoga altogether because it’s simply too likely to cause harm. He explained that teachers and students alike injure themselves in droves because most have underlying physical weaknesses or other bodily issues that simply invite injury:
It’s controversial to say, but it really shouldn’t be used for a general class.
Throughout the article, Black and the author went on to cite numerous examples of the pain, injuries and even disabilities that yoga can cause. Admittedly, all of that can be quite convincing. That is, if you don’t really understand yoga and your body.
If there’s one thing I’ve come to learn throughout my own yoga practice–and athletic career–it’s this: You have to know your body. Or as Clint Eastwood once said, “A man’s got to know his limitations.”
Potential and limitations are two different things in the world of sports and exercise, and if we confuse the two or blur the lines, that’s when injuries happen, be it in the weight room or in the yoga studio. It’s not so much the yoga itself, I have learned, that can lead to a pulled calf, a stiff neck or aching shoulders, it’s our ego. Which brings me to the valid points in the NY Times article. Black does say that even though the whole point of yoga is to get rid of ego, it’s this very thing that can end up hurting us. Agreed.
I once had a teacher who was a yoga bully. She would push and push and push during class, telling us to go deeper, go further, go to the point of pain. And, when I was a younger, more naive yogi, I listened. That caused me to not only secretly curse her out during class, but it did lead to some strained muscles and tendons. If you’re limping out of yoga class, something’s wrong. And while I wanted to blame it on her, in reality, it was my fault and my own ego. I couldn’t bring myself to take child’s pose or take a modified pose or just ignore her taunts and not feel pressured.
But now, I like to think I am much wiser with my no-I-will-not-take-that-bind-because-it-hurts attitude in class. And that very attitude has allowed me to actually go deeper into my practice, release some of the fear and tension with certain poses and accomplish a lot more. That’s because I did what was right for my body and didn’t get bullied or pressured into trying to do more than I should before I was really ready.
Which is precisely why, now, I love nothing more than a fast-paced, powerful yoga class. It makes me feel alive and open and full of potential. Except, of course, when my teacher reads too much and takes certain articles too literally.