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January 23, 2012

Yoga Injuries

I just ran across an old article in the New York Times regarding Yoga injuries from July 2010, When Yoga Hurts. The following quote from the comment field caught my attention:

Any time you’re forcing your body to do things it doesn’t want to do, you’re running the risk of damaging tissue. This will be exacerbated by the desire to be just like those flimsy little 22 year olds who are gifted with wonderful flexibility.

I discovered yoga when I was 17. A friend lent me a paperback book from the 1960s and I remember being somewhat horrified, yet fascinated, by the grainy black and white photos of an man contorting his body in ways I never knew possible. Why I chose to read the book, I don't know, but the concepts fascinated me. I began to systematically follow the asanas and got to about page 189 when my friend wanted her book back. My transformation was already underway.

I believe one of the reasons I took to yoga was because I owned a "flimsy" 17 year old body and found it easy to achieve many of the poses. Within 3 to 6 weeks, I was able to make physical changes that made me both stronger and more flexible. For years in my teens, I felt frustrated and rudderless, and the mental and emotional clarity provided by yoga was just what I needed.

In 1991, I was involved in a car accident. My doctor told me to immediately stop doing yoga. Physical therapy to treat whiplash and subsequent Alexander Technique classes, improved my posture and corrected some of the anomalous ways that I used my body that I picked up from my Yoga practice, such as standing with my feet together.

Sadly, I left yoga behind for the most part, dabbling a bit as a massage therapist, in a class offered at a local hospital and later with a former client who was a new instructor. What I miss about it is ability to revel in my body, rolling around on the floor in a open space, and the clarity of mind that yoga offered me.

But is with the New York Times most recent article about yoga injuries, such as strokes, neck injuries, spinal injuries, etc., that I may have stumbled upon my original yoga book: B. K. S. Iyengar's seminal Light on Yoga, published in 1965. Flipping through the pages through the Amazon site' Look Inside feature, I stumble upon Iyengar's description of standing on page 64:

People do not pay attention to the correct method of standing. Owing to our faulty method of standing and not distributing the body weight evenly on the feet, we acquire specific deformities which hamper spinal elasticity. [When standing properly,] our hips are contracted, the abdomen is pulled in and the chest is brought forward. One feels light in body and the mind acquires agility.

What a beautiful concept. What I remember about this first book was the clear step-by-step instructions about how to achieve the poses, the process. And it was the tweaks once inside the poses that were described that helped advance the position. Effects of the pose on the body are a nice addition, but it is the notes that are available for those too weak or too sick to go back to the most basic positions that I felt helped make this book safe for those teaching themselves yoga. The message basically says, if you are not able to do this, go back to page one and master this before you try to move forward.

Posted by linda at January 23, 2012 7:48 AM

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