If your social circles include yoga teachers and students, then surely you know about and are a possible constituent of the Texas-sized uproar over a recent piece in the New York Times Magazine by William J. Broad.  The five-page, single-spaced printed article with amusing photographs of yoga poses (also available online) suggests very unamusingly that yoga has the potential to be a ticking time bomb for injury if the practitioner is unaware of his or her body’s unique physical limits.  In other words, one must be able to distinguish between the John-Mellencamp-Hurts-So-Good sensations of sound biomechanical exercise and the undeniable internal signals of imminent harm.  Failing to make this distinction would be non-ahimsic (that’s yoga language roughly translated as “self-destructive”).

Based on the sampling of abundant commentary I’ve read, longtime yoga teacher Glenn Black, the primary interview subject of the article, has been either utterly vilified or amazingly praised in the 500 bazillion response pieces in print and online (that’s an approximation).  My thought is that a lot of this is impulse reaction.  We just don’t often associate yoga with warnings and disclaimers. I’ve never had the occasion to work with Black, though I have been fortunate to work with his student and my teacher, Jill Miller, who came up with Yoga Tune Up®.

Photo courtesy of Alisa Clark. Using six blocks has dramatically improved my posture in a forward bend by accommodating my end range of hamstring motion.

Allow me to fill you in on my own road toward heightened awareness.  I’ve practiced yoga since 2001, the year that serendipity directed my eyes toward a fold-out yoga book on a Barnes & Noble shelf.  On impulse, I bought the book.  It wouldn’t be hyperbolic to say I had never truly stretched other than the reach-for-your-toes-for-five-seconds-and-I’m-all-done approach.  I carried out the book’s routines and began to feel new sensations of ease and relaxation.  I eventually moved beyond the book and sweated my way through my first practice in a studio setting in 2003.  Many classes, teacher trainings, yoga retreats and personal practice sessions later, I’m more upright and less uptight.  For a while, I thrived on advanced classes with dazzling postures.  As I look back at that period, I realize posturing is exactly what I was doing.  My mind and body sought real-world context into these practices. It’s a good thing, too, because – as I would come to learn – I was striking poses inappropriate to my constitution.

I think the takeaway from the New York Times article is that if you do choose to partake in yoga or any movement practice, there should be an essential blend of knowing one’s physical limits and working with a teacher whose wellness knowledge is more Britannica than CliffsNotes.  My discovery of Yoga Tune Up® was like getting a LASIK procedure on my third eye, a colossal positive shift in being able to visualize and sense my biological elements from within.  It was a proverbial spark that’s ignited a nearly insatiable hunger for knowledge of the body.  I’ve probably kept Amazon in business with the number of physiology and anatomy books I’ve bought in the past few years.  Biology, biomechanics and physiology should not be foreign concepts in yoga, even for those of us mostly intrigued by its meditative qualities.  Indeed, Swami Satyananda Saraswati, a prolific author on some of the more mystical aspects of yoga, says “the body affects the mind and the mind affects the body.”  The deconstruct-reconstruct approach of YTU has helped me manage a nagging shoulder injury, hamstring imbalances and a mind that had pretty much been anesthetized to what was happening from the neck down.  I’ve also had students and private clients tell me about their mini breakthroughs because of the innovative techniques of this practice.

A line in a song by the modern rock band Keane is a “clause” for concern: “If only I don’t bend and break…” Through a more embodied understanding of the vast organic wonders within your own skin, you can help the second half of this conditional statement be one of reassurance and safety on the yoga mat as you travel your own inner roadmap without fear of getting lost on it.

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