Category Archives: yoga

More on Yoga Injuries

Pertaining to my Yoga and Transformation post on 1-22-12 the following article from The New Zealand Herald gives actual statistics from the national accident insurance that all citizens there have largely free access to (ACC).

The article reports that 1000 yoga related injury claims were filed last year. Most claims were for back and neck injuries. To put this in perspective 300,000 claims were made for other sports/exercise injuries.

Also an average of $600 NZ was paid out for each occurrence, indicating that the injuries were likely relatively minor.

The article did indicate injuries are increasing and suggested inexperienced teachers, new ‘fad’ forms of yoga and poor attention to alignment in yoga poses all played a part.

Thomas Martin LAc.

Yoga and Transformation – A Response To The Article – “Yoga Can Wreck Your Body”

An article by William Broad appeared recently in The New York Times, titled How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body

Firstly I support any clear-eyed look at the practice of Hatha yoga, as any activity that proports to be good for health will tend to oversell the benefits and deny possible harms. This is unfortunately how the market works. Also there continues to be a lack of critical thinking when it comes to practices of Eastern origin. There’s an assumption of unquestionable ancient truth and submission to its supposed superior authority.

The teacher-pupil relationship, at times, can be corrupted by a downward dynamic of “the one who knows” to “the many who don’t”. This limits learning to acquisition which in turn corrals awareness which has a natural open-ended, self-reliant, learning-dynamic inbuilt. It also binds the student to the teacher and to a particular style, further retarding true learning.

That said the article is surprisingly poorly written, especially as the writer is supposed to be a highly awarded journalist. There are several extreme anecdotal examples of supposed harm being done by yoga and very little solid data. Ironically the main Yoga teacher cited in the article teaches very aggressively while at the same time stating that “most people shouldn’t do yoga”. Also there is little attempt to separate minor injury from serious injury. Setting up his poorly differentiated claim that yoga leads to serious injuries the author states-

More troubling reports followed. In 1972 a prominent Oxford neurophysiologist, W. Ritchie Russell, published an article in The British Medical Journal arguing that, while rare, some yoga postures threatened to cause strokes even in relatively young, healthy people.


I checked this “article” to discover a two paragraph letter to the editor of the British Medical Journal. The stroke syndrome quoted by William Broad is also, in that small note by Dr Russell, attributed to the following activities — being in a dentists chair, at a hairdresser, picking fruit, painting a ceiling, presiding over a meeting. Clearly in some rare instances any type of daily neck extension may be dangerous to health.


Any arduous exercise regime or activity has the potential to result in injury, is yoga any different? If so where are the comparative data? How many are injured in comparative exercise classes for example.

I do agree with the need for the scientific evaluation of harm in current yoga teaching/practice. The problem here however is that the term yoga covers many and varied styles, with each style interpreted differently by different teachers. There are also fairly aggressive styles that push practitioners away from quiet, slow feedback awareness.

My own experience with yoga — practicing most days in the week since the early ’70s — has shown me that if practiced with clear cognizance to some basic ground rules for beginning, holding and releasing a stretch, yoga is a safe practice. The potential for injury however is ever-present, requiring a “this present moment” watchfulness, independent of length of practice, fitness , etc. Based on this attitude a teacher should be listened to and not listened to — immediate sensitivity is the arbiter of when to listen and when not to heed direction to hold longer or deepen a stretch. Even so, minor muscle strains and soreness do occur from time to time, these can be skillfully folded into the process, stimulating renewed awareness and adaptation.

Slowness, watchfulness, constant feedback reflexivity has long been central to good yoga teaching and practice. Paying attention to the present state of the body despite yesterday’s flexibility, watching for aggressiveness, impatience, tiredness or withdrawal; pausing and sensing are all active protocols for moving into, holding and releasing from postures.

Any sustained physical culturing has similar need for intelligent action and skillful means. Potential for injury increases with the current tendency for large classes, lack of home practice away from class and the sheer popularity of yoga. Short attention span and impatience with the body, frequent patterns of our times, play their part. Seeing a yoga pose in a book and true to our current mentality wanting to do it now or at least in a couple of weeks.

Yoga is an excellent activity in which to gain insight into conditioning and imbalances on all levels, physical, emotional and cognitive, as it deeply encourages symmetry and open-ended feedback awareness. There is no end to depth of exploration, to subtlety of discovery.

The art of learning not to go against, not to try to conquer, but to see the presence of things as a deeply integrated whole, even if painful, unpleasant etc  and to work skillfully with them, is the timeless wisdom of yoga.

This timeless wisdom is superbly elucidated in the following link to an article written by Joel Kramer an adept of yoga as a practice for the transformation of conditioning on all levels, titled Yoga As Self-transformation.


Yoga involves far more than either having or developing flexibility. Being able to do complicated postures doesn’t necessarily mean you know how to do yoga. The essence of yoga is not attainments, but how awarely you work with your limits — wherever and whatever they may be. The important thing is not how far you get in any given pose, but how you approach the yogic process, which in turn is directly related to how your mind views yoga.

There are different basic frameworks of mind — what I call “headsets” that people bring to yoga. One involves viewing a posture as an end to be achieved, a goal: how far you get in the posture is what counts. Another one views the posture as a tool to explore and open the body. Instead of using the body to “get” the posture, you use the posture to open the body. Whichever framework you’re in greatly influences how you do each posture.

Approaching postures as goals makes you less sensitive to the messages the body is sending. If your mind is primarily on the goal, the gap between where you are and where you want to be can bring tension and hinder movement. You push too hard and fast instead of allowing your body to open at its own pace. Paradoxically, if you’re oriented toward the process instead of the end results, progress and opening come naturally. Postures can be achieved through struggle, but the struggle itself limits both your immediate opening and how far you ultimately move in yoga.

Valuing “progress” is a deep part of our conditioning. It’s natural to enjoy progress, but problems come when your yoga is attached at its core to results, instead of to the daily process of opening and generating energy. This attachment imposes one of the real limits to your yoga.




Here’s the link to the entire article, it’s well worth reading and will change the way you do yoga or inspire you to start.