(Getty Images)

Yoga Journal estimates that Americans spend over $5 billion a year on yoga classes and products. And this should come as no surprise — yoga is credited with lifting moods, revitalizing sex and reducing stress. But a recent New York Times Magazine article focused on how yoga can also cause serious injury. We discuss the safe practice of yoga.

Guests:
Jason Crandell, yoga teacher and contributing editor of Yoga Journal
Baxter Bell, director of the Piedmont Yoga Studio's teacher-training program in Oakland and a board-certified family doctor
Glenn Black, yoga teacher featured in the New York Times Magazine article
Kaitlin Quistgaard, editor in chief of Yoga Journal
Moshe Lewis, physical medicine and rehabilitation physician at California Pacific Medical Center, St. Luke's Campus

  • Yoga is very good, good for health. I support

  • Anonymous

    Anything can be bad for you

  • Jennifer

    Read these two articles.

     

     

    Here
    is mine, up at the EQUINOX Q Blog:

    http://q.equinox.com/articles/2012/01/the-great-yoga-debate?soccid=SOC-fb-yogadebate

     
     

    Claiborne also wrote a great blog on it too:

    http://www.claibornedavis.com/claibornes-thoughts.html

  • Nan Karraker

    “If yoga hurts, it is not yoga. A student’s overreaching ego, a
    teacher’s ignorance –many causes may lead to injury while doing yoga,
    but yoga itself cannot be blamed. Nor can B. K. S. Iyengar, who more
    than any figure in modern yoga has made yoga safe, accessible and
    transformative for all.”

    That’s from a letter by Chris Beach, president of the Iyengar Yoga National Association of the United States, to the NY Times that was posted on facebook.  – I fully concur as a life long dancer and current practitioner of Iyengar yoga.

    Naneen Karraker, Berkeley

    https://www.facebook.com/#!/permalink.php?story_fbid=272928602772106&id=105796432818658

  • devaspark

    I think like physical activity, the participant needs to be aware of what they can or cannot do. Just like a person who wants to run a marathon, they usually don’t start off with a 26 mile run.

    Just like yoga, people need to ease into it if they haven’t practice yoga before. Because there aren’t any fast movements, it is deceptive to the beginner that they can do all the different stretches and stances at the first go. Maybe that is why there is all these injuries.

    People just need to be a little careful and approach it like all exercise activities.

  • Noelle

    One of the most important tenets of yoga is ahimsa: non-violence (against the self and/or others). People are taking yoga in gyms and bringing the competitive attitude with them. It’s up to the teachers to emphasize ahimsa, and it’s up to the students to listen to their bodies.

  • Sriram

    The goal of yoga is union with the ever-present Oneness at the heart of reality.  That is done through continuous breath and body awareness.  The asanas are secondary, as a way to lead you out of your thoughts and into that awareness.  Yoga done with that attitude can never injure the body.  Even lying on your back for 10 minutes in Shavasana is a form of yoga, and obviously that is not dangerous for anyone.

  • barbaramerschen

    As a massage therapist and Pilates instructor I notice the lack of supervision  in group classes,  In fitness centers instructors simply perform exercises.  They do not inquire about injuries in the interest of appropriate modifications,   I find many participants in classes executing moves incorrectly.  Someone genuinely interested in “teaching” a form of exercise does more than ask participants to emulate them.  Finding a teacher who observes students to insure the nuances and safely of exercises is rare.

  • Abby

    Many teachers tend to emphasize the relaxation and “warm fuzzy” aspects of yoga.  Students see asana as an opportunity to zone out and they ignore what their bodies tell them during the practice.  I see the teacher’s role as helping the student to engage his or her mind in the practice and to help the student be very deliberate.  Many teachers don’t do this. Why?  Is this a new thing?

  • George

    As a classical musician I need to practice yoga frequent. I would even go as far to say that the mindset I cultivate during yoga carries over to my musical practice. I think if people are injuring themselves they are going too far and need to take a moment before pushing themselves into each pose. I agree with a previous comment about how some people may bring a competitive attitude into their practice — this is not so good! I am glad this story is on Forum. Thanks Scott!!

  • Vijay

    I hope your program and guests will do justice to yoga by pointing out that today’s  yoga has not been  immune from the contemporary expectation for instant gratification. It is fortunate that Yoga is getting a lot of attention, even in India!, because of the Yoga fad in US. However  it is unfortunate that Yoga has been turned in to a multibillion dollar industry.

  • Mel

    I’m an yoga amateur but it seems like there are so many different styles it would be hard to generalize all yoga as “bad for you”.  Are some styles better/worse than others?

  • Gabe

    By the way, Baxter Bell is a doctor. And let’s talk percentages of injuries vs just the NUMBER of injuries. How many folks injure themselves running or weightlifting or cardio workouts or pilates? MANY. I would go so far as to venture that properly done yoga is better than doing NOTHING at all.

  • Ken Bridgeman

    As a long time massage practitioner, I have encountered serious injuries most often with those doing Bikram Yoga, especially among some teachers of Bikram.  The heated room can cause the soft tissue (tendons and ligaments) to no longer give the warnings of “going too far”.  The teachers aren’t generally as adept at warning their students to “back off”.

    • Electrorican

      “Fast food version of Yoga” yeah, sounds about as bad for you as fast food.

    • Meshcount

      I know many Bikram instructors amongst other forms of yoga. I think this says something more about their personalities. Bikram tends to attract type-A/aggressive /go-go-go types that like to push the limit in every aspect of their lives. 

    • lurcher

      I sprained my knee doing Bikram some years ago. My knees have loose ligaments, and during Eagle I was putting too much pressure on the grounded knee with the wrapped leg. Because of the heat, and the effect it had on my ligaments, I had no idea I was in trouble until the sprain occurred.
       Even before ever doing Yoga I had problems with my knees, though, and they will pop out given the slightest provocation. I have had an injury from tying my shoe (I was locking my knee out to the back)! But the sprain in Bikram class was the most serious injury I’ve had.So I avoid Bikram now, and do Vinyasa, which I love. It took some years to come back to Yoga, but I love it for the physical and mental affects. I learned that I need to respect my body’s limits. 

  • Annmarie in Berkeley

    Over the years (I am now 60a) I have given time to yoga (in bursts:)). Most recently “Hot Yoga” intrigued me. I usually begin with tapes or DVDs at home. When I have attended classes I feel that the mix of student skill level is far too broad for any one instructor. I have never found a class for absolute beginners. I can’t afford individual instruction. Thank heaven I have a strong sense of proprioception or I would definitely have hurt myself by now! But it always ends up feeling just wrong for my body especially the twisting.

  • Bill

    I hear a lot about the asanas and different postures but nothing about the spiritual aspect of yoga.

  • Paloaltogirl

    Isn’t the problem that we have taken a form of contemplation and turned it into an athletic competition–more, faster, better? I have injuries and am taking a class at Kaiser which is so gentle, I asked myself “is this really yoga?”, even though it is what I really need. It is hard to resist the competitive atmosphere in standard yoga classes.

  • ineffablem

    Somewhat informative, but some on the panel — which is heavily weighted towards the business of yoga — are a little too defensive and their bias shines through.

  • Jerry Derblich

    I have Parkinson’s Disease and I have founnd yoga to be invaluable. My life is so muh better for doing yoga. I am fortunately able to still do a non Parkinson’s class.

  • Gabrielle

    I tried yoga for the first time by going to an Astanga class.  The teacher in the class pushed my body into a pose and pushed me a bit too far.  I ended up getting some pretty strained muscles and didn’t go back to a yoga class for years.  Years later after doing more research I realized that I picked the wrong form of yoga to start with.  Ashtanga is a very active form of yoga and one in which you need to have good alignment and foundation to move through the flow quickly without injury.  I went back to hatha /ayungar yoga took an intro series at Piedmont Yoga and had a completely different experience.  I have now been practicing for over 10 years and have progressed amazingly in my yoga.  My lesson was to listen to my body, to be very insistent on the type of yoga I practice, to practice with teachers that have a certain level of experience and practice without ego.  It’s just not about how far you can push yourself and how you need to keep up with the person next to you…Yoga is so much more than physical movement if you are taught by the right instructors!!! 

  • Mary

    Asana (the postures) is only one aspect of yoga but in the U.S. it is largely all that people identify with as yoga.

    Asana was meant as a preparation of the body for pranayama and meditation, all aspects of yoga.  Asana was not meant as an end in itself.

    Yoga, inclusive of asana, pranayama and meditation, when done under the guidance of a well trained teacher can lead to transformation and enhanced well being in all arenas of a person’s life.  

    Healing Yoga Foundation and Chase Bossart in particular are providing this type of training, as one of the participants mentioned.

  • Aaron

    I love how this gets so much attention from KQED listeners while other subjects dealing with things that are actually important, like climate change, war, or public school financing, gets only a couple of comments.  

    It is kind of silly.  

    • Jim_OHara

      Disagree.  Society is a collection of selves.  Change the self and you change society.  The self is more accessible than the levers of society.

  • Codesusy

    I, also, am a yoga amateur, and although I love it, and have studied the many many areas OTHER than asana that are a part of yoga, I have found in myself, and in general in America, that the emphasis I yoga is ego-oriented athleticism. To me, the most valuable aspects of yoga are meditative, self-explorative, and not necessarily physical, and that encourage knowing ones own boys to facilitate good physical yoga practice.

    Traditionally, yoga is a lifetime of learning, that encorporates all aspects of life, not simply a physical workout.

    Susy
    Santa Rosa

  • dean liman

    Yoga asanas are physical exercises, and yes you can get hurt doing them. The yoga community shouldn’t be overly defensive about this point. One can easily come up with reasons why safety is an issue when doing yoga asanas. Here are my Top 7 reasons:

        http://virtualsatsang.wordpress.com/2012/01/10/7-reasons-why-safety-is-an-issue-within-yoga/

  • Hethkelley

    I think an important point that has been mentioned here is about taking notice of your body while you are moving through the asanas.  For me, this is a point that helps me in life and I have gained this from yoga; take notice of your body and mind and you sit at your desk and stand in line and drive your car.  AND I also think that if practiced carefully, yoga is much better for your body then sitting at your desk all day!  Great show!  Thanks! 

  • Francesca

    My mother is the yoga director of a San Francisco gym, being a teenager I have found yoga a great way to find peace and acceptance within myself. But, I have experienced  “cult” like groups within the classes, similar to the pecking order of high school. This causes amateurs like myself feel and underling pressure to conform to these hidden standard causing injuries. I have fully realize that social pressures can cause a sort of pressure to improve quickly, causing a chance for injury.

  • Hilo Hattie

    Hatha Yoga as practiced in the West is essentially physical exercise , even a calestineque  (sp?) … as Gary finally brought to mind on his call in. And, ah, yes!, “self-knowledge” says the interview guest.  You’re both getting “warm”!  Hatha Yoga without spiritual guidelines can be just another ‘extreme sport’.  Hence, injuries and harm are inevitable.  Americans fear of religious content and the marketing of a purely secular practice has gotten us to this current discussion and problem.  Let’s bring back the Astanga context and its goal of spiritual enlightenment with qualified, spiritually-minded teachers!  

    • Everyman

      Yes, hatha yoga (asana) is merely a preliminary to mental discipline, like learning to tune a piano before studying music.  A piano tuner doesn’t tighten the strings until they snap; rather, he brings them to an appropriate pitch for their function.  The aim of hatha yoga is to reduce distraction from bodily disorders, so pushing to extremes is clearly counterproductive.  If the body feels “out of tune,” something is wrong.

      But preliminary to hatha yoga is moral discipline (yama, niyama), which would reduce egoism and competitiveness.  A yogin must avoid all extremes and excesses.  Posture is far less important than attitude.

  • Rbeverstein

    I agree with the comment that the heat in a Bikram studio can cause students to over stretch. I also notice that at the Bikram studios where I have practiced there is no assessment of new student prior to attending a class. Given the discussion in this broadcast and the NY Times article it seems that more attention should be given to new people coming to classes.

  • Lisa

    The NY Times article quoted Glenn Black who also was on the show.  He said he injured his discs from repetitive poses in yoga over a span of 40 years.  My question is did he continue to do back bends into his 50’s and 60’s?  As we age, we just cannot do the same things we did in our youth.  At what point should we stop?  What signs was his body giving him and he ignored?   I have been practicing yoga for @ 12 years.  I used to force my knees together in varasana and experienced knee pain.  I hardly ever do the pose anymore and if I do, I spread my knees apart and sit on a block.  We all have the potential to harm ourselves in yoga or any sport or exercise. For me personally, nothing makes me feel as good as yoga both physically and spiritually. 

  • Nina Zolotow

    For more from Baxter Bell on this topic (as well as how to use yoga to stay healthy as you age), see his Yoga for Healthy Aging blog at:
    http://yogaforhealthyaging.blogspot.com/

  • Sy2502

    Maybe people will smarten up one day and realize there is such a thing as too much of a bad thing, and that more is not always better. 

  • Serenalucchesi

    I just turned 73 and have been teaching yoga for over 6 years. About 2 years ago I noticed more people coming to class for the first time because a physician suggested they try it. They come with knee, hip, shoulder and neck injuries and/or limitations. In order to accommodate them and offer modifications it sometimes feel as if there are 2 or 3 classes going on all at the same time.
    Regarding spirituality: if you want that go to a studio and not an athletic club which is why I teach at a studio once a week.
    If you are a first timer in any of my classes I will explain pranayama, what the sanskrit word yoga means, what a mudra is as we bring our hands up to anjali mudra, what aumn means before we chant and what namaste means when we say it at the end of class. I do this so that they have a context for these elements  which are part of almost every yoga class.
    Last night prior to the class beginning a person new to yoga and sent by her physician asked if it was going
    to be a spiritual practice. Would she have to chant, she asked. I of
    course answered no, it is an option. But her fear kept her out even
    though another student told her she did not chant. A new person left because what she wanted was a work-out yoga and wasn’t interested in creating context. . All of that happened within the first 15 minutes of my arrival while I was trying to get my room set up and my music turned on! I am thankful for breath and centering.

  • Anne O’Brien

    I have been a practitioner and teacher of the practice, history and philosophy of yoga for nearly 20 years. I enjoyed the thoughtful, articulate comments from your guests. However, I was saddened and surprised that the panel consisted of 5 people, 4 of whom were men and only 1 woman. The vast majority of yoga practitioners are women–as high as 87% according to a recent Yoga Journal statistic. KQED — you could have done a much better job to more accurately reflect the yoga world demographics and in so doing may have enjoyed a much fuller discussion of the topic. 

    My suspicion is, that other very important elements would have come to light about how helpful yoga is for many people, especially women in so many stages of life — something nearly overlooked in the discussion–pregnant women, menopausal women, people with arthritis, depression, auto-immune syndromes, and so much more. No athletic posture grabbers there, simply people looking for and finding relief via simple yoga poses, breathing exercises, meditation and more. 

  • Tiffany Youngren

    I saw someone on the Today Show reference possible health problems with yoga. I have lower back pain – have to start yoga slowly, and work through the pain gently. After the first two weeks (with professional guidance), it has made a huge difference in my health!!

    ~ Tiffany

    Transfer of Health
    Healthy Living and Recipes

  • peter_rabbit_the_original

    Well, the consumption of water can be bad for you too. Try to inhale it, or consume it in excessive amounts. In similar fashion, the practice of Yoga requires self-awareness, mind and body, and the ability to breath properly, which so many of us get out of kindergarten not even aware of…

  • Amy

    There has been so much discussion about the NYTimes article, which is a good thing! One of my yoga teachers addressed the issues raised in class and stressed, as she always does, that we need to listen to our bodies, each time we take class, as things change from day to day. I use props to help me into poses as needed. And some poses I just don’t do (like Crow — hurt myself twice) or I’ll do a variation, etc. I enjoy yoga too much to stop but I have learned that I don’t need to do everything in order to enjoy or benefit from my practice. A good, guiding teacher is also a plus and I am lucky to have two!

  • Sharon Frost

    Just a thought: Jason Crandall suggested that prospective students should read bios of teachers posted at studios before selecting classes.  In theory this is great, but there has been a trend in recent years to make these bios ridiculously vague.  That AnandaShakti “fell in love” with yoga is simply not helpful, or that they “like to play”.  For some reason concrete description: teachers/disciplines/other relevant activity is too often avoided or evaded.

  • ” Iyengar Yoga, a form of Hatha Yoga , focuses on the structural alignment of the physical body through the development of asanas (postures). Through the practice of a system of asanas, it aims to unite the body, mind and spirit for health and well being. Iyengar Yoga is considered a powerful tool to relieve the stresses of modern-day life which in turn can help promote total physical and spiritual well being.” – Wikipedia – Iyengar Yoga

  • Karolina

    I have done yoga regularly for 22 years of my life.  I have studied in India with some of the world masters.  But a year ago, I had to stop because I have two seriously bulged discs in my back and neck, causing me outrageous daily pain.  I will never again put my nose to my knees.  

    The injury is one thing.  But the fact that I couldn’t feel comfortable saying out loud that I was injured doing yoga astounded me.  Teachers were skeptical.  Fellow students were skeptical.  Everyone wanted to attribute it to something else. Nobody believed it was possible.    

    What the world of yoga can learn from this is that they are not immune.  They can recognize that students DO get competitive about poses.  They can discuss openly that people do get hurt and they need to feel safe to discuss concerns with their instructor and learn to modify poses or drop poses altogether.  Not everyone should arch their backs.  Not everyone should stand on their heads.  Not everyone should try to put their nose to their knees.  How do we know until we get hurt?   

    In a practice of humility, there is an awful lot of bluster and taking of offense going on about this NYTM article…

  • Hi – Over at 
    http://www.yoga-assist.com/  we are interested to know what Yoga Teachers/Therapists are thinking about this article. Is it a case of of teachers emphasizing Ahimsa, or of student not bring negative attitudes into classes in the first place? We are hoping to get a discussion going at 
    http://www.yoga-assist.com/yoga-community-discuss-safety/

  • Kendra

    I totally understand why people use the example of ‘yoga at the gym or YMCA’  as an example of yoga w/spirit or awareness to the body – but I also have to say:  I teach yoga at a YMCA, and I try to bring as much of my own practice (which is Iyengar-based & includes a LOT of body & breath awareness) into that setting – which allows many people who would never come to a yoga studio to have that experience…
    I also ask about injuries & offer modifications (as much as I can w/the limited props available to me)…
    Thanks for the GREAT discussion!

Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor