These four ‘most dangerous’ yoga poses don’t seem to be

I figured once the news story about some dude breaking his leg in Marichyasana B (B, even, not D!) got around, we’d get to enjoy another round of “yoga is soooo dangerous” stories and related hang-wringing.

Here’s one, from Details magazine. It uses the broken leg hook to unveil the four most dangerous yoga poses.

Funny thing. I can think of a lot of other poses that are waayy more dangerous. I suppose the caveat is that these are poses that most people probably encounter, unlike something from deep in Third Series. Still… not sure I agree. They are (and I’ll use the names from the mag):

  • Shoulder stand
  • Standing forward bend
  • Bound triangle
  • Camel

I’m especially confused by Uttanasana’s being on this list. Here’s what Details says is the danger:

Also known as Uttanasana, this pose is great for opening up hamstrings, calves, and hips, as well as supposedly stimulating the liver and kidneys—but forcing yourself forward can easily undo all that good stuff, especially if you have any pre-existing aches and pains.

Ah, right. Don’t force yourself into it. That does make sense.

Details, by the way, describes Marichy B as “an advanced Ashtanga yoga pose;” maybe we should introduce them to the actual Advanced poses.

What it seems to all boil down to is this: Type A personalities go out, push themselves way too hard, and get hurt.

If it weren’t for that, I’m not sure Ashtanga would still be around.

Posted by Steve

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New study: Yoga is as safe as other exercise

They’re still talking about that New York Times article. But good news! This time, it’s to point out (what we all know): That article was flawed, flawed, flawed.

A new study in the American Journal of Epidemiology determined this: “Findings from this review indicate that yoga appears as safe as usual care and exercise.”

So go ahead and do that shoulder stand, head stand and whatever else — while recognizing your limits.

Time magazine dives deeper:

Only 2% of people who did yoga experienced any adverse events, and some of those who did already had severe diseases. The study didn’t look at the types of injuries, but other data suggests that the most common kinds of injuries are musculoskeletal, like back pain, Cramer says. Other adverse events include aggravation of glaucoma in patients with the disease, especially in headstand or shoulder stand poses.

Serious yoga injuries are rare, these findings suggest; they bolster survey data last year that found less than 1% of yoga practitioners in the U.S. stopped because of an injury. Much more common than injuries are the benefits, find Cramer’s other meta-analyses.

What that means is: The danger of yoga is pretty darn small.

Posted by Steve

What’s the ideal temp for practicing Ashtanga?

Richard Freeman answers that question, in his latest “Ask the Experts” post. An excerpt:

In general one could say that having the studio warm, but not overly hot is ideal. Whatever the temperature, it is advised that the room should be well ventilated yet not drafty. The exact temperature is somewhat a matter of personal preference.

In Boulder—which is a very arid climate—we keep our studio at around 80 to 82 degrees F. in the winter and also have a humidifier running. In the spring, summer and fall we rely more on the outside air temperature to determine the indoor studio temperature and it seems that with a full class the studio temperature is usually between 75 and 80 degrees F. We are comfortable with that.

That’s the nuts and bolts. Richard goes on talk about how it is the practice, not the room temperature, that should make you sweat. (And, in my mind at least, he takes a least a little jab at hot yoga; I realize he’s far too evolved to do that, but my devolved mind reads it as such.) And he warns how injuries can occur; so check it out for that reminder.

I’m forced to recall the first Ashtanga practice on our summer Yatra. It was outdoors, essentially on the roof of our hotel in Calcutta. Even at 6 a.m. or so, it was warm and humid. And it felt great. Both Bobbie and I intended to finish up a pretty routine practice, and we both went above and beyond. I don’t remember exactly what she did, but I practiced First — I think that was my original plan — and then all the Second Series poses I do in the privacy of my own home.

That’s my “Bustin’ It Out” practice.

Neither of us got hurt, but we were a teeny bit drained. For my money, whatever combo temp and humidity that was — I’ll guess 82 degrees and about 85% humidity — felt just about ideal.

It’s not too easy to replicate in LA.

Any of you have an ideal tempt/humidity? Or do you want to share hot yoga horror stories?

Posted by Steve

 

Where those mysterious little aches and pains come from

During our Yatra, we are re-posting some of our top posts from the past 16 or so months. We’ll also try to get new posts up from India, Internet access-willing.

***

Yesterday I was going about my usual afternoon business when I reached up to scratch behind my right ear, and I discovered a sore spot. “Ow!” I said out loud, to nobody. I poked around, investigated, and found a quarter-sized bruise behind my ear. “What the….?” I wondered. Then I started to think about it. “Ah!” I thought, “That’s from my left ankle bone.” Dwi pada sirshasana.

It made me start to think about the variety of goofy mystery bumps and silly boo boos we get in Ashtanga. My favorite of all time is when I kept splitting the pinkie toenail on my right foot as I jumped through. When I complained to my teacher about it, she said, with a bemused look on her face, “Lift your foot up higher.” Genius! It worked. And I felt like a dope.

During the Second Series teacher training with Tim, I had a gnarly bruise on the inside of my left knee that Tim’s assistant Holly Gastil figured out was from an overly exuberant fold in parighasana. Stupid bony shoulder. “Don’t fold so much. Twist more.” Oh. That’s better. Thanks, Holly. Bet you know what I felt like.

The sheer idiosyncracy of these small annoyances can be frustrating. Am I the only one who gets rug burn from pincha mayurasana? And please don’t tell me to fold back the rug. I’m a sweaty girl. Skinned elbows are better than face plants.

Sometimes these silly owies are a source of commiseration. At Tim’s training, I noticed a fellow student had both big toes taped. I asked him about it, and he told me the skin on the bottom of his big toes splits in the same place all the time. “Mine, too!” I said, in the exact same tone you’d say, “Hey, I’m also from that small town in Texas nobody’s heard of!” I asked if he knew the cause. He told me he doesn’t know why they split, but someone told him it was from “vata derangement.” Knowing what I know about how lame the causes turn out to be in the end, some sort of derangement makes perfect sense.

The most common thing I see in my fellow practitioners of Second is an array of bruises on the triceps, arranged in varying degrees of delightful bruise colors: yellow, purple, greenish—a veritable sunset on the backs of the arms. This, of course, is from letting gravity do a little too much of the work for you inkarandavasana. “Ooof!” you’ll sometimes hear in the Mysore room.

There’s also the bruise at the top of the thigh from the heel in ardha baddha padmottonasana. Now that I can get my heel into the hip crease, I don’t miss that one.

Because I live in Southern California, I’m tempted to count sunburn among the less intelligent problems in the practice. Nothing makes you feel more like an idiot than a burning sensation that didn’t need to happen in marichyasana D—like that pose isn’t hard enough, you couldn’t be bothered to reapply your sunblock yesterday.

What can we learn from all this? I think that Patanjali is correct: “Future suffering can and should be avoided” (2.16).  Also, there’s my own motto: There’s nothing that yoga breaks that yoga can’t fix. Except maybe sunburn.

Posted by Bobbie

Ashtanga and the lessons of facing difficulties

During our Yatra, we are re-posting some of our top posts from the past 16 or so months. We’ll also try to get new posts up from India, Internet access-willing.

***

At the last Confluence (2013), a question about the challenges of Ashtanga was directed at the affable David Swenson. “I don’t do Ashtanga anymore,” he said, “It’s far too difficult.” Laughter.

The author with Tim, not too cool for school.

“One of the main reasons to do this practice,” said Tim Miller, “is to teach us how to face difficulty. You learn to be calm when facing a difficult pose, so that when life throws something really tough at you, you don’t freak out.”

The past month of my practice has been tough. Every now and then, the arthritis in my joints flares up, and I am en fuego—everything hurts. Feet, hands, knees, elbows, shoulders.

Now, I’ve had arthritis since I was in my mid twenties, so it’s no mystery to me. But thanks to Ashtanga, I have long stretches of time when I’m free and clear of pain. I think, every practice, “Whew!” and have a blast.

Then things change, and I wonder, Is this it? Is this the corner, and now the new normal?

Morning practice, not happening. Even in the afternoon, when I’m warmer, less achy, movement is slow, deliberate.

Sometimes I have to play music or I won’t make it. (Hey, don’t judge—if Nancy Gilgoff can play Santana I can play Led Zeppelin.)

The real fight, though, is not against pain. It’s against self-pity, self-indulgence, self-centeredness. Stopping myself from wallowing. The poet G.M. Hopkins called this “carrion comfort”: indulging in your suffering. Maybe feeling a little pride in it. It’s a test of adversity.

So it was in the middle of this pity party that Tim’s words were brought back to me, because a friend of ours passed away after a long fight with cancer.

Suddenly I remembered what Ashtanga is. It’s nothing, really. A daily lesson in what’s important, a daily reminder that it’s not important at all. Every day, you get tested. Why are you doing this practice? And every day, you either pass or fail.

Grief over great loss. Something really tough. It stopped the massive flow of pointless pity I felt for myself, shifted my pain around out of the center of my life and moved it decidedly into the minor inconvenience category.

And from there, the pain I’m feeling now became something to be appreciated, in a way. I can still do the practice, in the face of the pain, and that makes the pain unimportant, really.

In the memorial service program for our friend, I found this poem, a reminder of where to put the emphasis:

Four things are beautiful beyond belief:

The pleasant weakness that comes after pain,

The radiant greenness that comes after rain,

The deepened faith that follows after grief,

And the re-awakening to love again.

Posted by Bobbie

The point of pain: Progress

My practice on Sunday was one of those practices.

Stiff. Achy. Unusually tight. Lots of things hurting a little.

We’ve written a bunch about pain and injury in Ashtanga (and often, so have readers). We all know that no two people have the same definition or understanding of what pain is, of what “good pain” is versus “bad pain,” of whether all pain is inherently bad, or whether Ashtanga should be pain-free.

On Sunday, the experience wasn’t so much one of a single, major moment of pain. It was little hurts and discomforts, lesser than normal but more frequent, more consistent. My hip in this pose, my shoulder in that, and, hey, I don’t remember my shin hurting like that lately.

It was, in a word, distracting.

And because of those constant distractions, my practice was also one of those practices: with tons of dinking and pausing, too much looking around and lack of focus.

We’ve all had those practices, right?

So, question for you: Do you beat yourself up for it?

I suppose I tend to. After all, all I’m asking of myself is 75 to 90 minutes of focus, of controlled breath, of effort. To dink around, and think about this and that, to muddle things, I mean — c’mon on.

As I was going through that process (is there a Five Stages of Ashtanga Remorse?), something Eddie Stern said during the Moksha workshop last night came to mind. He was talking about gurus (and we’ll get more to that in future posts). It went something like this:

The guru relationship isn’t supposed to be easy. (Think about all the stories you ever heard or about your own relationship to your guru). And the yoga practice isn’t, either. Why? Because without challenges, there’s no progress. (For our Blakean readers, I’ll remind you: “Without Contraries is no progression.”) Nothing grows without struggle, without resistance.

My practice on Sunday was full of little challenges, minor resistances. And thus it was full of little opportunities for progress. (I assume that coming to this realization was that progress.)

On a larger front, more significant challenges during our practices — more difficult moments of pain or injury than I experience (on Sunday, anyway) — offer us greater opportunities for progress. And, the contrary, I suppose, is true: Yoga practices that are easy don’t provide the challenges we need, the lessons that help us peel away our self-misperceptions, our lacks of understanding — avidya — that keep us from liberation.

So, I realize (again, or for the millionth time), yoga practice should be hard. That’s the point.

Posted by Steve