There is a storm going on in the yoga community stirred by the New York Times Article, “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body”. Many are questioning the validity of the claims made by Broad about the hazards of practicing yoga. The students and teachers at Karuna have been discussing the implications of this article and the apparent misuse and skew of information and we would like to share some of our thoughts.
Teachers never stop being students and students are forever growing to become their own teachers. The responsibility to avoid injury is placed on both the student and the teacher. Karuna’s student and teacher responses to the article have stated that ego and ignorance, asmita and avidya, both in teachers and in students, are to blame for injury. Yoga, in the full sense of the practice, is a means to liberate oneself from ego and ignorance. As students we are working to cultivate awareness of asmita and avidya and to choose actions that are not borne of the two. As teachers we are providing tools for this endeavor. The responsibility to prevent injury lies on all of us, on teachers and on students alike, to maintain a clear path where information is known and made available by the teacher and is sought after by the student. This requires us all to be present in each moment of our practice.
Although there are a few rather large problems with the NYT article, Karuna’s community is pleased that the article was written. For our teachers it has brought about a heightened sensitivity to injury and how to better provide for the students with special needs. It has reinforced the diligent check-ins for students at the beginning of class and throughout for people who have pre-existing injuries / conditions. This can only make us better teachers. At Karuna, we teach our students a clear vocabulary on “how to feel” whilst getting into the pose, being in the pose, exiting the pose, and after the pose. In other words, bringing awareness to every single part of your practice.
IYNAUS, the Iyengar Yoga Association, wrote a letter to the editor of the NYT that opens with “if yoga hurts, it is not yoga.” What IYNAUS and Karuna’s community are expressing is that yoga, as a whole, following the 8 limbs, guided by the yamas and the niyamas, is a practice that should not be injurious to the practitioner. We can’t just separate asana from yoga. When asana is separated there is potential for injury. The Yama Ahimsa, non-violence, is at the foundation of the practice of yoga. This practice of nonviolence is in thought, deed and act. Practicing asana with ahimsa requires us to be gentle with our bodies, to back off when pain is present, and to look for ways to prevent pain by communicating with our teachers so we can learn. The Niyama Santosa, contentment, is an essential observation in yoga. Practicing asana with santosa requires us to be truly ok with what is. In asana, if one cannot do a pose comfortably, ahimsa tells us to back off and santosa tells us to be ok with that. A certain amount of emotional pain will come up because we are working on the deepest level of our samskaras. This is okay and we learn from the 8 limbs and from Ahimsa to work with this. If we don’t employ these teachings, among the vast amount of other teachings available to guide us in our practice, it is arguable that we are not doing yoga.
We recommend that you read these articles to help guide the clarity of your opinions: