I was wondering earlier if the New York Times would follow up its asana-busting article on how yoga can hurt you.
I suspected maybe a response would come at one of the paper’s blogs. And, to pat myself on the back — which doing all those Parsvottasanas has made easier! — that’s exactly how the paper has done it.
The focus, admittedly, takes on only a part of the story — the ego and narcissist part — but you get what you get.
The folks debating include the editor of Yoga Journal, the CEO of Kripalu and the managing director of the Jivamukti Yoga School in New York.
Probably the answer that will interest people the most is from the “recovering yogi.” She sure does product placement well:
I’ve been practicing yoga for about 15 years and have worked in the yoga industry for 10. After reaching the point of jaded burnout, I co-founded the website Recovering Yogi with two fellow refugees of the yoga scene. I still practice yoga, but with my eyes open.
I once worked for a popular “master teacher.” He ran a booming business selling yoga products, owned studios and led countless teacher training programs. I met thousands of sycophantic students who were completely enamored of his charisma. The starry-eyed deference with which they treated him belied the fact that he was, at heart, just a guy. He was a very good yoga teacher, but he wasn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination. He had his own issues and blind spots, and sometimes these came out in his interactions with students and his staff. Some of his behavior was actually pretty unethical and, yes, narcissistic. Unfortunately, he’s not an anomaly in the world of big-name teachers.
It’s just another facet of our litigation-happy culture that we don’t like to take responsibility for ourselves. We choose deities to worship, whether they are Hindu gods or modern-day yoga celebrities. We think of yoga teachers as being perfect, regardless of their level of training or experience. It’s true that yogis can be competitive and vain, and that’s where a lot of injury happens. But worse than our narcissism as students is our willingness to cede our authority over ourselves to a yoga teacher or to group-think. That’s when we get hurt. When we listen to the teacher — instead of to our knee. There’s a complete lack of critical thinking.
One of my favorite teachers, Rusty Wells, has a mantra I love: “If it feels wrong; it is wrong.” At the end of the day, yoga is just a tool. It’s up to us to use it wisely.
The bulk of these responses seem to miss the points that have the yoga world all ticked off, but… well, insert “out of touch New York Times joke here.” I do want to highlight the answer from Suketa Mehta, who is a journalism teacher at New York University:
The yoga that most Americans are aware of is hatha yoga, only one (and perhaps the least important) of the various types of yoga. Krishna in the Bhagvad-Gita defines them: karma yoga (the yoga of action), bhakti yoga (the yoga of devotion) and jnana yoga (the yoga of knowledge). Volunteering at a soup kitchen is yoga; raising your voice in praise in a gospel choir is yoga; trying to understand how the galaxies shift and why the poor lack shoes is also yoga.
Hatha yoga is not for everyone. The other forms are. Not everyone can — or should — stand on their heads, but everyone can use their heads to make the world a better place; yoke their emotions to their intelligence and feel more centered.
That is pretty close to my point: One of the problems with yoga in the West is that its meaning is about 99% asana (or Hatha Yoga, as he puts it). That kind of yoga can be dangerous and can hurt you. It’s the other yogas that bring the real reward. (Although I think it is easy to see that Karma Yoga isn’t without its dangers, too. Mehta cites Gandhi as the greatest teacher of yoga. His life provides a good model for what the pros and cons can be.)
I don’t know how we re-define asana / Hatha Yoga from its prominent place as “yoga.” But that really might be a route to take at this point.
Posted by Steve