The Checkup: The New York Times Magazine Doesn’t Like Yoga

OK, that’s a bit harsh. They just think yoga will “wreck your body.”

• How this item slipped under my radar is beyond me, but here goes. Last Sunday, the New York Times Magazine ran a lengthy piece slugged “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body”. It’s actually an excerpt from a book by Times writer William J. Broad called The Science of Yoga: The Risks and Rewards. In the excerpt, Broad, a yogi himself, argues that sometimes—in fact, many times—yoga does more harm than good. Of his main subject, New York yoga-teacher-to-the-stars Glenn Black, he writes:

Black has come to believe that “the vast majority of people” should give up yoga altogether. It’s simply too likely to cause harm.

Not just students but celebrated teachers too, Black said, injure themselves in droves because most have underlying physical weaknesses or problems that make serious injury all but inevitable. Instead of doing yoga, “they need to be doing a specific range of motions for articulation, for organ condition,” he said, to strengthen weak parts of the body. “Yoga is for people in good physical condition. Or it can be used therapeutically. It’s controversial to say, but it really shouldn’t be used for a general class.”

Well, OK then. The article goes on to detail horrible-sounding yoga injuries like popped ribs, torn Achilles tendons, and hip joints degenerated to the point that they require surgery to fix. Scroll down to the comments (there are 734 as I write this), and you’ll see arguments on both sides of the fence, kudos from people who think the practice is just a giant accident waiting to happen, and scathing diatribes asserting sham science, poor journalism and bad sources. Someone published this pretty hilarious rant against the article just yesterday, offering six reasons to ignore it altogether. Among them: “Did yoga really cause that stroke/aneurysm? … My aunt died of a stroke too, and no one wrote an article about how eating Stouffer’s creamed chip beef and being married to a drunk asshole with orange hair causes strokes. Sometimes people just have strokes.” So, Philly yogis, what do you think? Is yoga as scary—and hazardous—as the Times makes it out to be? I’m dying to hear your comments.

• In other news, too much vitamin D is bad for your blood vessels. And if you’re looking for a more uplifting read this Thursday morning, I suggest this piece from TIME about nursing mothers offering their breast milk to an infant whose mother died of cancer a month after giving birth.

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  •!/Beckles85 Becky L

    I think that any kind of physical activity can cause harm to your body if you’re not careful. People try to push themselves before they’re ready and it causes injury. That’s also true of running, weight training, and any contact sport.

    • Jodefs

      That is fantastic. I am really happy as to what I read.

  • Jennifer Fugo

    As the popularity of yoga rises, there are bound to be more injuries and I feel that in certain respects, this article was a good reminder that you can injury yourself if you do not learn the practice from the ground up, listen to your body, and communicate with your teacher.

    As a yoga teacher myself, I see a lot of funky things that people do to push themselves into poses they aren’t ready for. If it’s my class, I made adjustments or verbally call the class back to neutral and re-focus where the class is going. But there are many times when I take classes as a practitioner and am not in the place to chime in or add something that the teacher is either ignoring, not seeing or doesn’t know to correct.

    One issue at hand is the rising number of 200-hour yoga teacher trainings that do not properly train a teacher on all levels necessary to begin teaching. They’re big money for studios and teachers who host them and should not be entered into lightly. I did a lot of research before entering my own 500-hour yoga teacher training of which I’m in the midst of, and even that has holes which I supplement by seeking out other schools of thought to learn from.

    At the end of the day, there’s risk in everything we do. I don’t think that practitioners or those interested in trying yoga should abandon it. Rather, I’d encourage dialog with your teacher(s) and bringing awareness to a more moderate practice that’s focused on embodying postures to their fullest as opposed to trying to yank and push to get into them.

    • Sabine Grandke-Taft

      I applaud Jennifer’s comment fullheartedly. As a Physical Therapist and Feldenkrais Teacher for over 30 years and yogini for almost that long I have been in the field of injury and healing from both sides first hand and my only complaint to Yoga [as to other body/mind/spirit professions] is the quality of their teachers to be able to reign in any uneducated overambitious western egos in class. On the other hand Yoga can be the miracle path back to a life of movement after injury/surgery that left people hopeless and physically stuck in pain.

  • virtual satsang

    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: