Monday, December 13, 2010

The Dangers of Yoga

People seem to think yoga is the answer to everything. It isn’t.  In fact, it can be responsible for causing and/or exacerbating a myriad of problems. Unless yoga is practiced with the utmost awareness and clean intention, it is an approximate fit at best and dangerously harmful at worst.  The practice is meant to be personal. It should be slightly different for each person. 
Yoga has many great benefits. Among them are an increased self-awareness and a practice that encourages many different types of movements and positions, to keep the body and mind agile. But following the lessons of a teacher, no matter how charismatic or seemingly knowledgeable the teacher may be, can be a bad idea if you’re not aware of what your specific needs are. 
Contrary to popular belief, yoga is not perfect and is not universal. Yoga is actually an exploration of yourself.  Being in a room full of students all striving to achieve the same pose is ludicrous.  There are thirty different bodies in thirty different shapes and needing thirty different practices. Having all thirty of these diverse people doing the same positions is not what yoga is about. In the west, we have turned the practice of yoga into a ‘class’ that we attend.  And in many tragic cases, the practice isn’t given much thought outside of that one hour on the mat; and even that hour is simply spent following the lead of someone else. 
We see many yoga teachers come into Tatz Studio. And many of them suffer from chronic pain.  Not only despite their yoga practice, but in many cases BECAUSE of their yoga practice. 
Whether it is an overemphasis on certain ‘favorite’ poses, or over reliance on certain strong muscles at the neglect of other weaker ones, or incorrect form or alignment, or hypermobility in the joints, something is wrong. Some people, even yoga teachers, are unable to move without tension; they may not even realize that they’re constantly holding onto tension patterns. 
In the end, what’s going to make a difference for these people is twofold.  One, is to become very aware of themselves and to be constantly inquiring into what their body needs and responds to. And another is to be occasionally seen by an expert. This doesn’t mean following the instructions in a book of yoga, or even going to a master yoga teacher for class, but it means going to see someone who’s going to see your body in it’s uniqueness.
I am an example of someone who practices yoga. You will very rarely find me in a class, although I do attend them once in a while.  But when I’m in class, I take the teacher’s instructions with a grain of salt.  I don’t put her guidance above my awareness on the scale of importance.  I see her teachings as an adjunct to what I’m noticing and practicing. My reality is unique.  As is the reality of every student in class. True yoga is a private practice of increasing awareness.  In most yoga classes, I would be willing to bet that most students who are practicing a pose, don’t even know why they’re doing it.  Except for the fact that the teacher says to do it, that it’s in a book, and that everyone else in the room is doing it.  But why?  What are you seeking to accomplish?
When I practice yoga, I don’t have a plan. I don’t follow a prescribed set of poses to the letter.  I do have a series of poses that I work with, but I’m constantly exploring new variations based on what my body feels like that day.  I also tend to work based more on my body and it’s needs than on the poses.  For example, my goal is not to perfect the pigeon pose, but rather to use the pigeon pose to help align, stretch and strengthen my hips and back.
I also recognize that using the body in any way is going to create compensations. Having a balanced practice is a good start towards reducing the effects of compensations, but another very important thing is to get regular body work.  For every five to seven hours of activity, its a good idea to have an hour of body work done by a professional. 


When I teach yoga, I don't actually teach a standard yoga class.  I teach a technique called Yoga Tune Up® which uses the approach I describe. Jill Miller created this technique that combines the best of physical therapy and body tuning with the traditional practice and poses of yoga. The attention is on the body, rather than the pose. Having the attention on the body gives each student a chance to maximize his/her experience of yoga and get the best results.
If you’re in pain or have tension that you can’t seem to get rid of, come and see me for some Body Tuning.  At Tatz Studio we help people live pain-free.  Just last night, Shmuel Tatz and I taught a class on Body Tuning to eight students.  Each one of the students received ten minutes of hands-on body work by Dr Tatz (In a real Body Tuning session, you’d get three or four times that amount of hands-on work and possibly additional modalities like ultra-sound or electrical stimulation.) Afterwards, each one stood up and remarked on how much better they felt. The tension or the pain was gone.
There is no shame in seeing a body worker. What is a shame, is being uncomfortable. There is no excuse for it. There is no level of pain in the body that is acceptable. If you have discomfort, seek professional help.  Also, please approach yoga intelligently. Explore, and ask questions. Question everything.  And if it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. 

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