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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Claiborne Davis

Claiborne Davis, RYT, is a Certified Yoga Tune Up® Instructor in New Orleans. He appreciates the full-body maintenance Yoga Tune Up® provides as an antidote to muscular imbalances from years of swinging a tennis racquet and from lifting weights. A former television news producer, he appreciates the physical and mental release yoga offers as a counter to high-stress work. Claiborne teaches publicly and privately.

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Jolene

Great article and thanks for the link to William Broad’s article in the NYT. Both reinforce for me the importance of getting to know your own body and your own limitations. It’s a struggle for our society to accept ourselves as we are, both in and outside the yoga studio but we could all do with a little more compassion and understanding – of self and of students.

John

I totally agree – taking the time to invest in understanding the biology, biomechanics and physiology of yoga poses and movements (and really any modality of movement) is both imprortant and empowering. I am still a baby in this understanding, yet I’ve been able to use this knowledge and embody it in the last year or so to recover from a nagging and recurring shoulder injury. I can’t wait to delve into this more!

Sharon

“I’m more upright and less uptight.” This is just brilliant! Isn’t this what we all want from our Yoga practice? Simple and concise, and catchy too. I’m gonna hang on to this one if you don’t mind 😉 Thank you for a lovely post and for your personal story. Even in 2015, many years after Broad’s article and eventual book release, his assertions are still very much part of the conversation in YogaLand, and I believe rightly so. Although I do not agree with all this points or methods or assumptions, I do give him props for being bold enough… Read more »

Katie Alba

John-Mellencamp-Hurts-So-Good Hahaha! Love it. Finding movement coaches in any capacity is easy to do. Finding educated and intelligent movement coaches are much harder to come by. I’m proud to be part of the latter. Thank you for sharing the article and your journey.

Dawn

I totally agree with you — any discipline we undertake, yoga or otherwise, is very much our own responsibility. I do think it is important to practice with qualified teachers, however, with jam packed classes of 30, 40, 50 and more students at a time, one single teacher has his or her hands full, and may not be able to rein me back within my limits. My experience with Yoga Tune Up is just beginning and it is changing my teaching (I’ve been teaching since 2006), practicing (since 2000) and life. I’m happy there are others out there who share… Read more »

gabrielle archer

I am going through my own transformation right now. The third eye is definitely no longer in need of prescription glasses! I thought I was the only yoga teacher out their ‘doing my (your) best’ — my favourite class cue — to keep my students’ shoulder girdle strong and safe. how was I lucky enough to stumble, literally, on shoulder stability training. I took a deep breath and I prayed for help — and in walked Yoga Tune Up!! I am on day 3 of training, down dog day, and I must say, ALL of the yoga poses we are… Read more »

Emma

I truly enjoyed reading this article. Though I never had the chance to read the New York Times article referenced, I do remeber it coming out and reacting to it. I have always been a firm believer in the physical benefits of yoga until this past year when I began practicing more regularly and in turn continued to find myself with weird unexplained injuries. I am new to Yoga Tune Up but I am excited to see if it will play a role in reversing what ever patterns of yoga pain I have found myself in.

Elizabeth W.

Good, sound movement is good, sound movement–no matter what modality. If you sit in Central Park and watch the joggers for any length of time you quickly become aware that crappy, unsafe movement is everywhere. Practicing yoga is about mindfulness and presence. “Yoga” can be practiced in many shapes, paces, formats, and venues. About four years ago I largely let go of my asana practice in favor of strength training and rigorous conditioning. After many, many years of yogasana I needed to move in a new way. But I still practice yoga even when I am lifting weights or running,… Read more »

Lauren C

Thank you for posting. It is amazing to me how many times I’ve been in a yoga class and the teacher isn’t even aware of the limitations of my body or other students in the class. Receiving an aggressive adjustment in a posture that I am holding back from (because I know my body) is very frustrating and hurts! YTU is so eye opening to safely practice asana. I recently learned more about the external rotation of the shoulders in downward dog and how important it is. Before YTU I would never had known I was doing it wrong but… Read more »

Murray Arnott

An important subject. I found myself struggling this morning with a friend/yoga teacher telling me about a class she sat in on Friday night. It was the intro to a weekend ‘Certification’ as a teacher in Downward Dawg yoga. This is a style of yoga that uses a vigorous and high-paced yoga routine with little or no attention to alignment or mitigating risk of injury (the first pillar of teaching as pose as taught in my own YTT). Hip Hop music provides the energy will the instructor frequently offering challenges to the student ‘take it or leave it’. While the… Read more »

kathy

Although I heard a lot about it, I never took the time to read the NY Times article because for me it was a simple “yes, of course yoga can hurt you”, and I didn’t feel the need to read the article to validate this. The reason I am taking Jill’s training is because I want to feel confident that I can get in front of people and teach them. More importantly I want to feel confident that I won’t hurt them, or if they are hurt already, that I won’t hurt them further and that perhaps, I can actually… Read more »

Dana

Thanks for the article. I’ve never been the power yoga type, I like to stick with the gentle or flow & thought that I was being careful enough. Your article & the recent YTU training have once again reminded me of the fact that I really need to pay attention, be mindful & become a student of my body.

Cindy

I too was a little obsessed with getting to the next pose. Lucklily, I have not had any major injuries (knock on wood). As a kid I was not flexible, but for some odd change, when I started yoga, teachers would call my gumby. At first I didn’t listen to some when they told me that I should focus on strenghtening; I was more fascinated with the abililty to get both my feet behind my head. I was enamoured with all the things that my body could do, rather than what I should be doing to take care of myself… Read more »

Lana

“A LASIK procedure on my third eye” indeed! Jill’s training is both a curse and a blessing. Once you partake in it, you can’t (mentally) get away from it. I keep deconstructing not just the poses but my every move – from the way I pick up my son to the way I sit at my desk. Honestly, I’m starting to annoy myself. But then it’s a blessing because I keep correcting what I do notice and, in the process, learn to appreciate, heal and respect my body.

nicole

No matter what form of exercise we do there is a likelihood of injury if we don’t pay attention to form and to our bodies. That being said, it’s up to the teacher to teach sequences that make sense, systematically preparing the body for the poses to come. I love the deconstruction that Jill offers–who would think that it could take 2 hours to get to our first down dog! But we did, and with so much awareness of the body and what we need to do to be safe in this pose, not just today but 10 years form… Read more »

Robyn Capobianco

Jill’s approach to deconstructing the pose to see what is really required is definitely a big windshield wiper for the 3rd eye! For years down dog has been a warm up pose for me. After YTU training day 3, those dd warm up days are over. As a yoga teacher for 10+ years, I see lots of issues in down dog and its my most adjusted pose. I never thought about breaking it down and teaching the actions in a very clear way to dramatically improve the pose. I’m curious if you teach flow classes and if so how you… Read more »

Chris

Having read Broad’s book on the science of yoga and heard 2 different interviews with him I am left vexed. He presents some great information but he’s also sensationalizing some issues and aspects of yoga in a highly questionable way. In any activity risk is inherent and every individual who gets out of bed in the morning does so with their own risk. We are responsible for knowing and caring for our own bodies. We are also responsible for researching the credentials of our instructors and choosing them carefully.

laurelyoga

“…working with a teacher whose wellness knowledge is more Britannica than CliffsNotes.” — well said. These days it seems like a yoga teacher “gets certified” every minute. Due to the rising popularity of yoga, there’s been an increased demand for teachers. Complimentary to that, major job loss and economic instability has inspired a massive career migration where burnt out and jaded office workers reinvent themselves as struggling, yet inspired yoga teachers. Many of these “teachers” are still very new students of yoga. So this is pretty precarious time for yoga, because it’s in the hands of people with such varying… Read more »

Caitlin Rotkiewicz

As with most things in life, yoga is a double-edged sword. If it can heal, it can also injure. Moderation is key; not just in terms of dosage, but in exercising sound judgement as well.

Amanda

I agree with a lot of what you said, as well as many of the comments above. My yoga is an ever evolving living organism, and it’s already gone through several transformations since my practice began. I think it is sometimes difficult when we are going through a certain type of transformation or have a revelation, and the people around us aren’t in that place. We want to share our experience and what we’ve learned, but maybe they’re not ready or willing…just as we may not be ready or willing to receive something ourselves. Regardless of where we are or… Read more »

Amanda Tripp

This really hit home for me. I, too, once thrived on “levelling up” in yoga. I ignored a lot of warning signs, pushed myself and allowed myself to BE pushed (literally, hands-on, pushed by teachers) into all kinds of positions and to the point of injury. In pursuit of what? My post YTU training practice looks very different. My focus has switched from performing magnificent gymnastic feats to magnifying my body awareness and that of my students. Yoga Tune Up added tools to my personal practice and teaching tool kit that I am forever grateful for, learning techniques that allowed… Read more »

Annette

I just started my 200 hour TT a few weeks ago and learned how its so important to teach the students the proper way to do each pose. One major thing I took away from the Yoga Tune Up portion from Sara is, “I am a student of my own body.” I am definitely going to use this when I start teaching and explain to the students that the most important thing is to listen to your body and go only as far as your body tells you in a pose without compromising the correct form. Don’t let your ego… Read more »

Lisa Salvucci

Yes, the NYT article was sensational, but it certainly opened up the discussion about yoga and injury. As a teacher, who is in the process of Level 1 Yoga Tuneup certification, I have certainly realized how little I know about the human body. I too, wanted to do every pose in Yoga Journal but once I really delved in yoga and learned about my own physical limitations, I learned which poses may be possible and those which I should stay away from. As a teacher, I try to get my students interested in learning about their own bodies, because no… Read more »

Cathy Favelle

I was at first shocked by the NYT article..how could a prominent, respected teacher such as Glenn Black say such things as “ticking time bomb”, “injury” in the same sentence as my beloved yoga?That was until my recent enrollment in Jill Millers Yoga Tune-up Certifcation where light bulbs have been going on since day 1! I am just as guilty of wanting to “DO” a pose simply because it looked cool in Yoga Journal Magazine…but in reality….I was not physically ready to dive into that pose without possibly injurying myself… I may not even be anatomically designed to safely do… Read more »

Gwen

I found the NYT article to be dramatic and sensational in places, but I was happy about the overall message it relayed (aside from the fear about stroke stuff, which statistically is minute) and the discussion it elicited. Yoga is a healing art that can be injurious when practiced out of integrity. (Spoken by someone with a chronic shoulder injury that started by jumping back to chatturanga in a power yoga class years and years ago before I really learned about yoga was truly prepared to do that move.) I’ve been in classes where so many people were out of… Read more »

Linda Webster

I feel exactly the same way. Can’t wait to learn more so that I can help myself and others. It just makes sense to thoroughly understand what we are teaching