Betsy Rippentrop, Ph.D., teaches yoga classes at Heartland Yoga in Iowa City.
The New York Times published an article last week entitled “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body.” Its gist was that yoga is creating lots of injuries, and that most people should not be doing yoga at all. It was the most read article of the week, and had over 800 comments online. One of the main criticisms of the article was that it was highly sensationalized and biased because all forms of exercise—and life in general—can create injuries.
As yoga continues to gain popularity, there will be more injuries: this is undisputable.
However, yoga has something all other forms of physical fitness do not have, and that is encouragement to mindfully and actively listen to the signals and sensations of the body. Yoga is not designed to be a competitive sport or to push you to endure great physical strain. It also demands us to be present, not zoned out. Have you noticed the lack of mirrors at Heartland? It was a conscious choice designed to reduce our tendency to get pulled out of ourselves and to lessen the comparisons we make.
We are reminded in yoga to base our practice on ahimsa, or non-violence. We come to it with an attitude of compassion and gentleness toward self, not a need to push through the pain. Pantanjali, in the Yoga Sutras, encourages us to balance effort (sthira) with ease (sukha). There is hard physical work, yet it must be balanced with a sense of ease and equanimity or we miss out on the real sweetness of the practice.
It is my belief if we come to our yoga practice consistently practicing ahimsa, staying mindful of the sensations in body and mind, and working to find the balance between effort and ease, we will be far less likely to hurt ourselves. And as a bonus, we may even gain deeper wisdom of self. What other form of exercise can do that?