Beautiful girl meditating in yoga pose

The New York Times has started a war. The most peaceful, zen-like war to ever transpire, but still.

As an avid yet fairly casual yogi, I was caught way off guard after reading their recent viral “sensation” entitled: “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body.” Every Monday I do my down dogging at Yoga To The People on St Marks in NYC, and last night I checked out “Hippie Yoga” at Crunch Gym, focusing on stretching and strengthening the hips, which I’ll be doing a blog post on soon. Now, this Times story reveals that some over-yogi’d instructor degenerated her hips so much that she had to have a hip replacement. Seriously?

Yogis new and guru’d across the Internet have soared to the defense of their beloved practice. Why not publish “How Running Can Wreck Your Knees?” or “How Moving A Refrigerator Can Crush Your Toes, Break Your Back, and Rip Your Rotator Cuff?” (Thanks Paul Raeburn.) This seems to be a pattern in our society – anything that sounds good has to be bad. Antibacterial gel can make you immune to antibiotics, tuna is healthy but too much will poison you with mercury, and sunscreen is bad for you! The truth is, there’s no fail-safe sport, activity or product on the planet. However, in this 5 page article, William J. Broad decided to collect every example of negative yoga experiences (fishing back to random incidents from nearly half a century) and jolt the 20 million Americans who have turned to yoga for fitness, mind/body renewal, and inner peace.

The ridiculous mocking photo with flannel and clown flowers is only half excusable because it’s the cast of Godspell. If those were just any old models, forget it! Many people in the yoga community look to the spirituality of yoga in an almost religious sense. If there are health risks associated with it, let’s keep that separate from the aptitude of the people who practice it.

The Times article certainly makes a lot of sense and is rooted in medical truths. Standing on your head for long periods of time for many years, what did you think was going to happen? The article should be taken seriously and remind you to take caution should you notice any strenuous moves, in yoga or any sport or workout you pursue. But do not let it discourage you from enjoying your yoga practice and reaping the many benefits of it. I, for one, look forward to continuing my Monday routine without hesitation.

Here are some general guidelines to follow to keep your yoga practice safe:

  • A good yoga instructor will not “push” you like a personal trainer does. He or she will make it very clear throughout your practice that you should be doing what feels good for you at that moment. If you find yourself in a class with a pushy instructor, leave.
  • If you have a particular joint problem or have had an injury, check with a physical therapist before practicing yoga regularly. Some look at yoga as therapy to heal injuries, but should always be at a doctor’s advisement.
  • If you are new to yoga, invest in a few very intimate classes or one-on-one instruction to make sure you get off to a good start doing the positions correctly. If you do start with a larger class, sit up front and be sure to tell the instructor that you are new and are looking for any and all guidance they can provide.
  • Be mindful of any pain or discomfort you may feel. Yoga is about balance and strength of mind as well as body, and that includes acknowledging what your body can handle. If something feels funny or awkward, take yourself a Child’s Pose.