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Yoga teachers react to NYT article on yoga hurting you

January 11, 2012
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The story from last week’s New York Times magazine on how yoga can hurt people, cause brain injuries, etc. — mostly, it turns out, if you’re stupid! — is having at least half the effect the author is hoping it would.

It’s causing people to talk. (The other half: that people buy his book. We’ll see about that.)

Today, the Daily Beast — Tina Brown’s online pub that’s partnered up with Newsweek — has a piece on how yoga teachers feel they have to respond to the piece.

The reaction from them seems to be pretty much the same as we’ve seen written online by the likes of Eddie Stern. Some folks think it is wildly unfair, inaccurate and too based on anecdoctal evidence, while others believe it raises valid points about the inherent dangers of doing something extreme and physical. (My point, from earlier.)

The illustrations to the NYT piece are riling some folks up.

The Beast’s piece probably falls victim to the same problem with the NYT piece, which is a danger that is nearly unavoidable when a journalist is trying to capture a “trend” piece. It’s anecetocal, too. It paints a broad picture — yoga teachers feel the Times piece is “the elephant in the room” — of how yoga teachers are responding.

I’m sure in the Beast’s circles, that’s true. I wonder how many yoga teachers really are having to respond to the piece. (Note: Certainly more than in the past, given the Internet with its blogs, chat rooms, etc. Someone taking yoga classes in a small town outside Kansas City now has instant access to the Times and almost all things yoga. So it probably has spread; the Beast says the piece has been topping the Times’ most emailed list. Hmmm… why does this topic sound familiar?)

I’ve only practiced once since the article came out (I do have some related thoughts, which I’ll post at some point), but given I practice at an Ashtanga yoga shala, I really wouldn’t expect to hear any teacher address this. Maybe I’d expect to hear students talking about it.

I do think the teachers who just out and out dismiss the piece — and from the Daily Beast’s piece, clearly some are — are missing a valid and important opportunity to talk about the dangers that do exist from doing the physical, asana part of yoga. (Some of the teachers quoted in the Beast seem upset that the Times piece effectively defines yoga as asana. Well, aside from that more or less being the case in America — an entirely different subject — one can’t ignore that extreme twists and harsh demands on the body are part of the asana process.) As I wrote in an earlier post, this is a chance to begin to define the asana practice more appropriately.

Asana isn’t without risk. Asana is part of a fuller practice of yoga. Asana, and yoga, done with right thought and right intention can have great benefits.

One New York Times article, or even a book, isn’t about to change that. If you think it will, then your faith in yoga is pretty thin.

Posted by Steve

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