Injuries from yoga
Since “yoga” has become a huge todo in the united states and the mass media has turned towards the conversation of injuries from “yoga”, I have decided to write an article upon the subject. It is not my focus to bash yoga or teachers in this article. Its focus is to educate on what IS going o out there behind sealed lips and closed doors.
In my profession of almost 25 years now, I work with injuries and health, rehabilitating them back to health and mobility…. naturally. I use many modalities from biomechanics, yoga, ayurveda, energy, food and lifestyle, meditation, and all from sociological and psychological lenses. I see many injuries from yoga not only in my private practice but in public classes that I teach as well. Injuries from “yoga” is not a new thing.
In yoga, it is said that the asana or posture that injured you is also the asana that will heal you. You can pull from this that an asana done incorrectly is also the asana that will heal your body when done in its correct form. Yoga is much more complex than we give credence to. Every asana has energetic individuality or every asana does something as a focus. It is easy to see from a deeper understanding of yoga that asana is only about energy. Prana or energy is subdivided into 10 energies in general from a yoga template. You can find this written about in past articles or you can even look it up on wikipedia. It is widely known. What is less know is that there are actually 30 different pranas that are distinguished in the gross body.
What is prana?
Prana or energy is what enlivens (animates) the body. It is what is responsible for all sensory and motor functions of the body. In english, this means it is what creates the ability for your senses to work, the ability for the muscles and all the organs to work in perfect health. It is not rocket science but it isn’t to far from it. Asana creates balance of those pranas creating health of the physiology, mind and sense organs. Well, at least when done properly. When done improperly or without any knowledge of such, it creates imbalances to the physiology, mind and sense organs. This is what injury comes from. It is pretty obvious to see that when asana is done from a western lens of exercise, this is not yoga. Western exercise has no knowledge or belief in energy or prana. It’s doors are only now starting to open.
In yoga there is a path. It has been laid out for you. It is there for you to pick up and follow. No matter what the lineage, if it is true it follows the basic path. Some lineages don’t even have any asana. Some don’t have the yamas and niyamas as anyone who leads a life of a meditator isn’t going to need them as they are obligatory part of that lifestyle. Patanjali has codified yoga in the Yoga Sutras around the 2nd century. This format is in brief:
Yamas and Niyamas – Ways of being externally in the world and internally in self. This is the first step as the first yamas is ahimsa or nonviolence which is the difference between a human and an animal….. choice.
Asana – Physical and energetic postures that create balance of prana thus creating health as stated above. In all of the ancient texts they state that the only important postures are anywhere between 2 and 6 postures depending upon the texts. All of which are all sitting meditative postures. You can see from this that the focus is not upon turning yourself into a pretzel or extreme flexibility and it is also only the 2nd limb of 8. The fact that the texts are saying that only the sitting meditative postures are important and that meditation is the second rung on the ladder also says alot. Please wake up, yoga isn’t an exercise based on Western exercise physiology. Yoga physiology and rules about exertion and capacity of exercise are very different that material world western physiology. The mere sweating is maximal capacity of the system in yoga and anything further leads to an imbalance in prana causing disease.
Pranayama – This is much like qi gong. It is not breathing exercises as there are pranayam that do not involve the breath. The Bhagavad Gita states that the only pranayam is kumbak which is a retention, not actually breathing. Pranayam build the capacity of prana in the body much as qi gong does. This is after balancing the prana with asana.
Pratyahara – Withdrawl of the senses. Turning the senses inward to the self. In yoga, the external is maya or illusion. Nothing more. The practice of turning the senses away from the world is the path of nivritti marga or the internal path. This brings the internal path to the external world life as well. One who practices this is not consuming the world but aware of there presence and actions in the world. They are responsive and responsible due to the enlightening of the self. It is when we have no inner and are externally focused that we are oblivious to our actions and reactive to the external.
Dharana – Concentration or one pointed focus. With this practice, it allows for the internal world to become the external, they merge. Non distinct. Non-dual.
Dhyana – Meditation. This comes in many forms. The Vijñāna Bhairava Tantra alone expounds on more than 100.
Samadhi – This is nirvana. A final step on the ladder but actually just the first because there are 9 levels to samadhi alone.
What is in your yoga?
Most people in the West today think yoga is exercise. Sorry, it is not. If you think so reread the above or pick up any of the ancient texts. really think about this, if you go to a “yoga” class, it is an exercise class. It is based upon western exercise and it almost alway has none of the rest of the limbs of what yoga is. Think about it.
In the discourse on injuries in “yoga”, I believe what needs to be asked first is what is being taught as yoga. Being around this for quite a while and working with students, teachers, and students of other teachers as well as the general public, I can say that what is being taught out there has very little to do with yoga or any form of what you have just read above. Almost every newbie to my classes and business have never done pranayama as much as heard of it. Most think that meditation is closing your eyes and trying to clear your mind. This is the hard truth. We, in the world of Western yoga would like to think that it is not true. Sorry, it is.
In our hectic, survival and profit based culture creates a marketing venture for everything, including yoga. Certification is only around $3000 and maybe 6 weekends of your life as most certifications are only 200 hours. What is taught in these certifications hardly puts anyone in any authority to teach people, work with people, touch people and much less call what they are doing yoga. After reading what you have above you now know more about yoga than most teachers of it out there in the United States. It is hardly understood much less taught.
My question is would you go to a physical therapist who has only 200 hours in training? A doctor? A psychiatrist? A lawyer? A dentist? Would you call a plumber who has only 200 hours in training? How about having your taxes done by someone who has only done 6 weekends in training? What about having your new house built by a contractor with only a certificate of a week long certification course in the Bahamas? Then why is it okay to certify people to teach yoga that have only the same? Do we think it is that superficial? Do we not have any respect for it? Maybe it is because we don’t have any knowledge of what it truely is? It must be that easy to learn right?
Well, it is not that easy. There is so much to yoga. It is not whatever anyone wants it to be. It is a science that is well codified and is also part and parcel with all the other vedic sciences.
And yes, we do have very low education in the US in yoga as well as extremely low standards behind any certifying association. Yoga Alliance will collect money from the teacher doing the certification as well as the students with no checks or balances on the knowledge or abilities of the students being certified. In my journeys I have even ran across a teacher in AZ that is certifying people and he has never read nor has any knowledge of the yoga sutras and had never heard of the bhagavad gita. After a long conversation, he decided that he does not teach yoga but teaches asana. After a continued conversation on asana he was left baffled by what he does teach. He continues to teach and certify people today.
So do you still wonder why there are so many injuries in “yoga”?
There is an average of 57,000 injuries per year among an estimated 37 to 45 million practitioners of “yoga”, or roughly 0.12 to 0.15 percent, about 1.2 to 1.5 out of every 1,000 practitioners.
On average, it takes me about a year of seeing someone three times a week to rehab their body from the extensive damage that has been brought about by practicing “Bikram Yoga”. (hyperextended knees, adrenal fatigue, depletion, digestive disorders etc) I have worked with many of the very “popular” and top “yoga” teachers out there in the US, rehabing their bodies from the damaging abuse of practicing yoga the Western way. Some of them were students of Iyengar originally. (mostly destroyed joints, no cartilage, etc) Lots of bad injuries from Yin Yoga. (long holds per pose are said to lengthen fascia, truth is fascia does not lengthen when static and cold, major joint injuries) The list goes thru almost every trendy “form” of yoga out there. I have pretty much seen it all. On a good note, I have hardly ever seen anyone from Viniyoga. This is T.K.V.Desikachar’s form. This is also not a plug for it, I am just stating fact.
So as the mass media writes just another article on injuries from yoga -or- research is done to the detriments of yoga -or- the new statistics show _______ many injuries have occurred from yoga in whatever year -or- a listing of different injuries from yoga is tallied………. please realize….. that isn’t from yoga.
A quote from a comment made by a seasoned teacher recently “I got the 500 hour certification for all of the years of teaching, running a center, etc. I have done. Last week I gave a talk about the five yogas to a whole bunch of yoga teachers and students. Many of them have absolutely no idea what yoga really is. One Pilates teacher thought is was developed out of Pilates. What can you say? 🙂 God loves fools and idiots. That is the secret of my success.” – Anonymous