I recently sent a link to an article about yoga injuries to a long-term client that I was currently seeing for a shoulder injury. My client’s response was brief – that although the article was interesting, she did not associate her injury with yoga. I felt compelled to respond to address this misconception of separating out cause and effect in movement and how we need to look at the integrated total effects of all our movements and how they are impacting our bodies. Here’s what I wrote to her:

I think there is great worth in understanding the prevailing trends of our yoga craft as they affect how and what we end up learning and consequently practicing more, rather than less, of. For example, the fact that head and shoulder stand are taught as the King and Queen of Poses or that Down dog is labeled a ‘basic’ beginner pose. A not-so fun newer trend development is the amount of shoulder and neck injuries from these ‘great; poses.  It begs the question: do we practice poses or just trends in poses? (Check out Mark Singleton’s book Yoga Body for more on this.)

Bottom line, as teachers, as long-time students, I think it would be negligible for us to not observe how the practice is evolving in our own culture and in our own time and with our own uniquely biased imprint on the subject.

As to your specific injury and whether or not it was caused by yoga, we actually will probably never know for sure. It certainly was not an injury you had during an actual class or practice. However, an ability (or an inability) to adapt to a situation of extreme usage, like what occurred at work, is a COMBINATION of one’s movement habits, posture and stress levels (both mental and physical). The poor posture and stress that resulted from the overload and work demand were obvious culprits in the short time span of the summer, but what about your movement habits/history that led up to that point? Perhaps if we consider it in that direction, the work demand was just the proverbial straw? How you choose to use your body in your yoga practice is just as important a question to ask as how you choose to use your body at your desk, in the car, in the kitchen, etc. As a bodyworker constantly assessing causal factors I have to ask, could the shoulder demands of your movement practice have set the stage for what happened at work? To that end, do you know what the physical shoulder demands are of the yoga poses you practice the most and how they may or may not be similar to the demand that faced you this summer?

I am seeing a surge of these types of shoulder injuries in my practice, (3 rotator cuff repairs/replacements in the last 3 months alone). Every single one is a long time (and in some cases, masterful) yoga student. Yet another trend in our craft that I see blooming is that our body of long-time practitioners is becoming a more aged one. Those who were practicing years ago are now in their 50s, 60s and 70s. Most (95%) of the injuries and surgeries I see are in this age bracket.

I do not say this to scare you or to poop on the yoga party in your life. I do hope it makes you BE(A)WARE that this is what is happening around you and your fellow yogis whether people are coming out to acknowledge this large elephant or not. (That open admission and acceptance (the pre-cursors to change) I think will be another trend–but hopefully sooner than later).

I know how beneficial yoga can be. But I also have seen what it can do to break the body down, slowly, gradually over time. Please hear me when I say, yoga can be good. Yoga can heal. Yoga can change lives. I believe, practice, and teach that too. But do you know what yoga poses are really the best and worse for you, and why?  It is certainly a tricky selection process to navigate in a classroom setting that presents a popular menu of choices that seem to satisfy the masses. Is your practice at home markedly different? I have seen yoga change bodies/lives for the good and for the bad. Can you say you really know what your practice is doing to your body? Most don’t until the damage has been done. (And I speak from personal experience here too.)

I want you to be informed and empowered as a yoga practitioner. Yoga, if anything, is about clearly seeing all that is and clearly choosing. I hope in my attempts to share my honest personal and professional experience that your curiosity and your passion for this amazing practice is piqued.

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