yoga in the news: a pain in the neck (and butt and wrists and back and shoulder and…)

amazing sketch via

Ouch. Yoga takes another critical hit from the NY Times this week (you may remember this from December), in the mince-no-words exposé “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body.”

So how can yoga wreck your body? In so many ways, author William J. Broad says: specifically, compressive and straining postures that put pressure on the head and cervical vertebrae lead to swelling in arteries, clots, brain and eye trauma, and stroke. According to Broad, healthy, young, experienced yoga practitioners have suffered from yoga-related injuries that have led to ER visits, intensive rehabilitation, years of recovery, and stymied physical ability. All from practicing commonly taught postures, like Shoulderstand and Headstand, and from rotating the neck beyond the “normal” limits, like in Extended Side Angle.

I usually approach these reports with some grain-of-salt skepticism, especially in the fear-mongering world of journalism. But I couldn’t help but feel scared, and completely sympathetic to one research subject mentioned: a 28-year-old woman who suffered a stroke while in (and as a result of) yoga. In 2008, while undergoing yoga teacher training I also suffered a mild stroke that started as a tingling in my left arm, eventually becoming a violent migraine, accompanied by vomiting and trembling. The episode lasted all of 15 minutes, and my doctor later attributed it to the pill. I’ve since been healthy, normal, and practicing more than ever. At the time, I couldn’t help but wonder if the increase of yoga in my life had anything to do with my “mini-stroke.” Four years later, my brain is fine (no strokes, at least), but my chronically tight hamstrings remain resistant, my thoracolumbar mortice joint (anatomy nerd?) is freakishly and dangerously hyperextensive, and other little creaks and cricks all over the place give me some trouble. Some of it’s just because I’m getting older. Some of it’s because I’m careless, and a little reckless with my precious spine…

But look. Yoga is exercise, and all exercise poses risk of injury. And what do you always hear from every yoga instructor in every yoga class? “Practice with awareness.” “Move into this pose with care.” “Be aware of how you feel physically and mentally here.” “Awareness is true yoga.” There’s a reason “awareness” is forever engrained in your yoga teacher’s vocabulary: we don’t want you to hurt your dang self!

Yoga on, good people. Yoga on with consciousness, with clarity, with awareness, forever and ever…


3 responses to “yoga in the news: a pain in the neck (and butt and wrists and back and shoulder and…)

  1. more backlash to read here, at my teacher’s blog. As usual, Eddie nails it:

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