A lot of people have read the recent NYT article about how yoga will “wreck your body”. As a brand-new yoga teacher, I obviously disagree with a lot of what the writer says: I mean, I just spent a significant amount of time and money dedicating myself to learning about yoga, which would be kind of a waste if this guy is right. Here are my thoughts.
Of course many people have injured themselves doing yoga. It’s not difficult to do – I’ve done it myself, and so has almost anyone who’s practiced yoga with any dedication over an extended period of time. You can injure yourself hiking or dancing or playing video games or gardening, too, but that doesn’t mean that we stop hiking and dancing and gardening. These are things that feed our spirits, and so is yoga. To single out yoga as an activity that can wreck your body doesn’t make sense, because there are so many other activities that can wreck your body! We humans are equal opportunity wreckers. Accidents can happen no matter what you’re doing.
The key thing, for me, is to keep in mind what the true purpose of yoga is. According to the ancient texts, yoga is a way to get the body healthy so you can then sit in meditation. The point is not to sculpt the body or lose weight or to get a great workout, and people who approach yoga with that attitude (or, with that attitude only) may in the long run be more likely to injure themselves. The point is to be healthy: whatever healthy happens to be for your particular body. And the point of being healthy ultimately isn’t the body at all – we’re working on the body so that we can sit comfortably in meditation. A healthy body won’t be aching and complaining when you sit still for ten minutes. That’s the point we’re trying to get to: improving the body so we can focus on more important things.
Keeping your focus off the body and on the mind can actually help yoga practitioners not to injure themselves. You want to be aware of what’s going on in the body, certainly, and it’s really important to cultivate that awareness of how the body feels and the difference between work and pain. Being mindful of your body is crucial, but it doesn’t do any good to be looking in the mirror or comparing yourself to other students and forcing your body toward something you’re not capable of. And don’t think ahead to what this yoga class is doing for you; keep your mind right in the moment, on your own mat. Stay present and focused on the pose you’re doing right now.
When you take part in any activity, you do your best to be careful and to be mindful of what you’re doing. When you go hiking or ride your bike, you watch where you’re going, but if your mind wanders, your foot can slip or your bike can veer off the path. It’s the same thing in yoga. Staying present and mindful and focused on what you’re doing will help you to avoid inadvertently causing an injury.