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Yogis Get Hurt Too January 10, 2012

Posted by Simon Maxwell Apter in Essays.
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Unlike some of my teaching colleagues, I wasn’t angry with the New York Times Magazine article about the dangers of yoga. And actually, I’m a bit confused by the yoga-teaching community’s reaction to a thesis as elementary and anodyne as that of author William Broad; that is, that Practicing yoga can lead to injury. I’m not sure what’s controversial about that statement.

I’ve been injured many times over the course of my practice—sometimes worse than others, sometimes because my ego tricked me into attempting that third wheel before my back was ready, sometimes because a well-meaning and well-trained Jivamukti teacher fudged an adjustment and did my hamstring more harm than good. (That last example, performed during Extended Side Angle C, resulted in a bhav-shattering pop, my dead-weight thudding onto the floor, and the spontaneous halting of class when everyone turned to gape.) I don’t blame anyone but myself for each of the times I’ve gotten hurt, and the Jivamukti teacher in me urges me to search for the lesson to be learned from each overexertion. But though I make a point of maintaining my yoga practice specifically by using my injuries as gross and subtle teaching tools, the fact remains that I sustained—and sustain—the physical damage in yoga class.

Though yoga aims to shrink the ego and merge the small self with large, the inconvenient paradox remains that, for all but the most enlightened of us, a healthy-sized ego is necessary in order for one to recognize that it needs to be shrunk down in the first place. Our egos work as unwanted conduits that cause the energy we devote to our spiritual intention to leak into our physical intention. We try not to identify with our bodies, but until we actually, ultimately, succeed at that, we do. In other words, you may not care about toned arms and a yoga butt, but trust me, your body certainly appreciates them in an eight-breath Warrior II. You can detach yourself from the physical body, but you cannot leave it behind.

We don’t enter class in a state of samadhi, and though we spend the next ninety minutes sandblasting them, our egos practice alongside us on our mats. Excluding living saints, then, every yoga practitioner deals with his or her ego throughout sadhana. So, if ego is the source of so many bodily injuries, and ego is always with us, then wouldn’t it make sense to educate and elucidate ourselves about the physical dangers that, in our self-liberating practice, can cause us pain and suffering—indeed, the opposite of liberation?

Broad’s article has been called an attack on yoga. One yoga teacher complained that, “[The article’s] talking about yoga like it’s another sport fad. It’s not just another thing. It’s not just another Pilates. It’s meant to be so much deeper than that.” Now as a certified teacher and daily practitioner, I can agree that to me, yoga is not just another thing. But I can’t say that for any of the other 20 million practitioners out there. I don’t know the breadth and depth of their individual sadhanas. Though it is certainly true that intention and mindfulness can prevent injury, you can’t expect thoroughly Western, thoroughly skeptical, and thoroughly cynical Times readers to naturally understand this esoteric, hard-to-grasp principle. Nor is a relatively short item in the Times Magazine about injury the place to discuss the ins and outs of vairagya.

If we play out this notion, then, that yoga is special and must therefore not be discussed plainly, we arrive at a place of isolationism; that is, that only yogis are fit to discuss yoga and, even then, only with other yogis. Yoga doesn’t belong to yogis; neither do its discussion and study. Should we avoid discussing the dangers of teenage smoking because to talk about lung cancer would be to miss the point that the purpose of teenage smoking is to look cool, something we adults could never understand? As a cigarette-smoking teenager myself, I felt any surgeon-general’s warning intrusive, completely unsympathetic to the 8-limbed path of looking cool as a teenager. It doesn’t mean that I didn’t deserve to know about the nine hundred kinds of nastiness that I was inviting into my lungs. True to my intention, I looked cool—the samadhi of sixteen—but physically, I was terribly abusing my body.

Of course, teenage smoking and yoga aren’t totally comparable to one another, but they both illustrate the real danger of ego-caused physical side effects that can and do result from the pursuit of a “higher” intention.

If we’re to believe the masters—that yoga itself is an empty vessel to be filled with one’s intention—then any attack on “yoga” is silly. The article certainly doesn’t impugn my sadhana; it merely reminds me to keep my intentions pure and to watch out for my ego.

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Comments»

1. paula didonato - January 10, 2012

Very very well said!

2. Derek Goodwin - January 10, 2012

is it only the ego that causes us injury? hmmmm. is it esoterically our past karmas? sometimes we must work through injuries to move towards deeper health and mobility. muscles are torn in order to grow. egos are torn in order to mature. all great physical achievement is accompanied by the dangers of injury. how wonderful that we walk this path, and that it is not always easy. give thanks.

3. Quando lo yoga è pericoloso » Yogaholic - Blog - Repubblica.it - January 11, 2012
4. Gayatri - January 11, 2012

The ego is often behind the mindlessness that causes the injury. The key is to be mindful. I didn’t get angry at the NYtimes article & hold Glen Black in the highest regard. I actually agree with a lot of what he said. I do think yoga enthusiasts need to be more mindful especially in those fast paced vinyasa classes that don’t leave much space for deep breathing.

Thank you for your words Simon!!

5. Schalk Viljoen - January 11, 2012

Hear, Hear! well said

6. Starre - January 13, 2012

You’re going to have to explain this one to me: ” because a well-meaning and well-trained Jivamukti teacher fudged an adjustment and did my hamstring more harm than good. (That last example, performed during Extended Side Angle C, resulted in a bhav-shattering pop, my dead-weight thudding onto the floor, and the spontaneous halting of class when everyone turned to gape.) I don’t blame anyone but myself for each of the times I’ve gotten hurt,” I don’t understand how a teacher giving you an adjustment that directly results in injury is NOT their fault. Now you can forgive the teacher, or say it’s part of the practice of yoga, but ultimately, it’s not your fault (except for coming to class), it’s theirs.

Simon Maxwell Apter - January 13, 2012

Even if someone is at fault for something, I still don’t derive any satisfaction by blaming him or her for it. I feel like there is a difference, however subtle, between my passive acknowledgement of someone’s fault–and my active laying of blame on him. I think blame is an unhealthy fixation, which (as you know) is the one thing I don’t like about McCoy on “Law & Order”. To me, blame feels like mean-spirited retribution. Fault doesn’t have to have anything to do with me unless I reinsert myself into the equation by choosing to lay blame.

7. Orlando Chiropractic - March 3, 2012

Hello there! I could have sworn I’ve visited this web site before but after going through many of the articles I realized it’s new to me. Anyways, I’m definitely happy I stumbled upon it and I’ll be bookmarking it and checking back frequently!

8. Yoga Lessons - March 23, 2012

Yoga, a form of physical, spiritual, and mental exercise, has been in follow since the ancient era around the world.


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