I am still searching for answers on practicing yoga and the correlation (not causation) of F.A.I. and Labrum tears of the hip related specifically to the Vinyasa style of yoga. I was excited to see that Leslie Kaminoff, renown for his knowledge and his book, The Anatomy of Yoga, expressed his thoughts. Kaminoff's response: William J. Broad is not doing "Yoga".
What I love about Kaminoff's response is that he is speaking about YOGA - the whole of yoga, not just the physical aspects, the "workout". Kaminoff says, "Asana practice is a tool of yoga. Yoga is a much, much bigger tool than Asana practice."
Broad admits that his motivation for writing this series of articles on how yoga can hurt your body was because he hurt himself in an Asana class because he was distracted by a beautiful woman in front of him. He was not practicing YOGA! His latest article is here, Women's Flexibility is Liability (in Yoga)
The actual practice of yoga, of all aspects of yoga, has to do with bringing a certain consciousness to our actions. In which case, if we are practicing Asana, we should be able to bring that awareness to our bodies and thereby practice safely and within our limitations, while still challenging ourselves at the edges. Interestingly, this also fits within the Yama of Ahimsa (non-violence).
Kaminoff describes these three Niyamas as the "Prayer of Serenity" of Yoga:
Tapas (the fire, discipline, practice) = the things that we can change
If you are truly practicing Tapas, Svadhyaya and Ishvara pranidhana in an Asana class, then you ARE practicing Yoga.
That's not to say we don't injure ourselves. Of course the possibility exists. The possibility exists playing basketball, or in an aerobics class, or crossfit for crying out loud, or simply walking out your front door... darn-it, I broke my toe last year inside my own house, so now being home is a risk! I have also injured myself in yoga, and I am currently dealing with the exact injury Broad discusses in his most recent article - F.A.I. (Femoral Acetabular Impingement). But my injuries have come from a lack of awareness and connection - perhaps a regression in my practice of ahimsa, in my own body and practice and pushing beyond limits that I should rather accept as they are.
The difference though between yoga and other forms of fitness though is twofold:
It follows then, that if we are working on this level, we should be able to avoid injury.
Now, I fully realize that another important factor in this Asana practice involves the teacher - and a knowledgeable teacher should be able to mitigate the danger through careful cueing and guidance, to help the student cultivate a higher awareness in her body, her own challenges and her own limitations. The actuality is, not all teachers have that knowledge. Knowledge is a continuum, and gained through time, with careful study and experience. All teachers are well-intended, but on a different point along their personal journey. Practicing yoga in the form of a group exercise class holds its own set of risks. I cannot keep a room of 30 people nearly as safe as I can a group of 5, try though I do!
Tapas Svadhyaya, Ishvara pranidhana... these three principles should help us to find the introspection to learn to move beyond limitations but also to learn those limitations that we cannot move past. When we cultivate this, we can avoid injury (and non-harming, that is ahimsa).
The bottom line, one of the yoga sutras, which Kaminoff quotes, "all of the suffering you are about to experience can and should be avoided." How to avoid this? Through the mind-body connection that IS yoga.
This post is in reference to Waylon Lewis's response to the latest lululemon controversy, one in which the company directly stated that heavy women are not their target market. Read the article here:
I completely respect this response to the lululemon controversy. It's up to you, friends, where you put your money. Where you put your money reflects what is important to you. I personally don't care if you wear lulu or prana or inner waves om girl. Lewis says:
"It's the right of any company to target any demographic."
Yoga is getting a lot of flak these days for how it can hurt your body. Specifically I refer to a recent article written by the science journalist and author of The Science of Yoga, William J. Broad, Women’s Flexibility is a Liability in Yoga, published in the New York Times on Nov 2, 2013. The point of Broad’s article may have been to warn practitioners to practice yoga safely. It may have been a means for Broad to sell more books. The real-world result for yoga instructors is that we are also taking a hit, and a lot of that criticism is that we are not being trained enough to teach yoga safely.
As a yoga instructor who cares a lot about the safety of my students, yet who also wants them to challenge their own limitations, a tenet of yoga that is beneficial on a physical and a spiritual level, this criticism is difficult to digest.
(Please notice I never said, nor do I say to "push through the pain" as Broad quotes yoga instructors... I do encourage my students to challenge their own limitations and to develop an awareness of what their body is telling them - an awareness that we have numbed through habits and lifestyle, and one which a good yoga practice can help us to restore, but that's another commentary in itself!)
When an article such as this comes out, I pay close attention to what it says and its implications. This article speaks directly to me both as a practitioner (being a woman of more than average flexibility) and as an instructor (making sure that I am educating my students to be aware of their bodies, and while challenging their limitations, also feeling and sensing pain that might be bad). Then I find myself searching for answers. Wanting more information.
I found some answers in Paul Grilley’s, noted creator of the Yin Yoga practice, response to Broad’s article. You can read his response here. (Thank you from the yoga instructors of the world to Paul for his response!)
I kept searching, questioning, examining my own body and working with the pain that I have been sensing in my own hip area, pain that a doctor I highly respect hinted might be a labrum tear or the dreaded F.A.I. – femoral acetabular impingement - mentioned in Broad’s article. While I don’t believe that it is for me this issue that is supposedly for far too many women developing into “agonizing pain and, in some cases, the need for urgent hip repairs,” it is a red flag that tells me to examine my personal practice carefully - what causes the pain and what relieves it. But more than that, this red flag helps me to become more aware of my teaching, and how I can teach better, safer, how I can avoid the overuse of a pose or action that might be causing this injury in the long term, yet to still challenge my students and give them the yoga class that they want. And, being an advocate and instructor of the Vinyasa style of yoga, one of many variations of the Hatha (physical yoga) practice that tends to move more vigorously from one pose into the next, often repeating the movements several times in a sequence, being more aware of these injuries of overuse will allow me to guide my students more safely and effectively. Focusing on the transitions is important, and the quality of movement through those transitions.
The main point to understanding this article then, from my view, is correlation, not causation.
Today I found another article, “Preventing Yoga Injuries vs Preventing Yoga, Part I: The Hip Labrum” from The Daily Bandha, a website seeking to educate yoga instructors through explaining the anatomy of yoga. This article quotes a study performed on professional dancers and the extreme ranges of hip motions they put their body through repeatedly. Having started my love of the body and movement as a dancer, I am thankful for this perspective:
“These results do not mean that the dancers should stop executing these movements, but rather they should limit them in frequency during dancing class.”
We don't have to stop doing yoga to stay safe. We also don’t need to blame our yoga instructors for their lack of knowledge. As one of my teachers has said with compassion, “We all begin teaching too early.” True. But we all need to continue to learn, grow, experience, and be open to changing our ideas so that we are able to educate ourselves and our students to practice in the safest way while still pushing that physical edge that we all know and love in yoga.
Yoga has so many benefits - people who are strong but tight can become more flexible; people who are flexible (muscular or hypermobile) can become more strong. Not to mention the benefits of meditation, of relieving stress, of improving and even healing physical ailments to a greater or lesser degree. But knowing where you stand and how to approach yoga is key. And I will not let an article written by a guy who seems to be out to get yoga in general, ruin what I love and what I do and what I bring into my classes.
Kristen is the creator of Indieflow Yoga and Yoga For A Cause. She lives and teaches in Denver, Colorado