The dispute over Yoga as a means to a healthy end or harmful end has emerged again. Just a few weeks ago, a concern friend sent me a new post from the News Straits Times reporter expressing concern over the rising percentage of severe injury in Yoga which involves Yoga Teachers and also practitioners.
All the dig-up stories about Yoga injuries among Yoga Teachers themselves who further causing injuries to students no longer remained a dirty little secret in the Yoga community. While the NST coverage may have been overly generalised, all the attention it generated that got everyone talking about the risk of injury is to my opinion, a good thing.
In response to this controversy, as part of the Yoga community, I feel the need to address this concern to regain public confidence towards Yoga as the practice has been always rewarding for me and also many people that I know over the years. My aim in bringing this out is to spark some thinking minds to start to venture into how to improve the safety aspect of Yoga.
Albert Einstein is widely credited with saying, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” The way Yoga progressed has taught me everything except to follow those who came before us in the name of Gurus and Masters following the Yoga traditions.
Often, Yoga Teachers and students aren’t sure how they got injured. Although an obvious and sudden injury can occur during class, many of them are cumulative from repetitive strain injury. While we could not directly point finger at Yoga Teachers for there are little evidence to support the correlation, to teach Yoga in the 21st century necessitate acceptance of the end time to blind faith and devotional Yoga practice. Taking “ignorance is bliss” is no longer a virtue in Yoga teaching profession.
As Yoga studio owner and representatives of Yoga, the practice that I have chosen to adopt should attract more confident of the public at large to the world of Yoga. Yoga, to me has to blossom that way without expecting people to lose their logic and intelligence while accepting that everyone walks into the Yoga class should be uniquely viewed and treated.
Class categorisation into beginners, intermediate, advance level certainly serves little or no purpose except to create division between sense of inferiority and superiority among practitioners where the advance classes are taught by more senior or top Yoga Teachers on the list where success is measured by the ability to squeeze students into poses the teachers could achieve in a timely manner. If that doesn’t sound scary to you, you are not alone and that is the reason for rising numbers Yoga injury all over the globe. Senior Yoga Teachers contorting body into an upside down pretzel on Instagram or Facebook further enhance public misconception that, that’s the way to “Yoga”.
For most studios, gyms where Yoga classes are easily available, there are little differentiation made between the more vigorous and intensive yoga classes (I called it “Normal Yoga”) which injury appear to be more common and which are clearly not suitable for everyone and the other styles that are alignment based where individual needs are addressed.
Normal Yoga is the approach used by Yoga Teachers, fitness instructors, personal trainees and many other physical exercise providers who lead what we commonly known as Flow, body balance, sunset sunrise Yoga, Ashtanga flow etc. Such exercise aims to improve superficial muscles tone and increase flexibility in the body. It is a good life routine if you aim for solid six pack, bulging biceps, visible thigh gap, super ability (If you are discipline, many will experience improved general range of movement. If you could not touch your finger to the floor, now you can.)
While everything worked the way it should be, I feel the need to make a difference that common Yoga exercise may be ignoring the underlying spinal issue caused by bad posture. This type of Yoga work really well for those with good body alignment and symmetry (which is the rare, near to extinction minority) but if you give the same exercise to someone asymmetry, hard stiff muscles are made harder and weak muscles weaker, body compensating the blocked part in all direction perpetuating your imbalances in the body.
The other type of Yoga can be defined as alignment or therapy based class (under supervision of a specialised posture therapist) designed to realign position of the spine towards neutral alignment, most of the time using specific techniques coupled with props. This will usually tailor with detailed posture assessment and identification of structural issue in’s function and movement.
Yoga industry suffered its mid-life crisis because 90% of Yoga classes appear to be Normal Yoga. There are only few Yoga Teachers who have studied the geometry of the spine in great details. Such teachers talk in terms of posture type i.e. sway back, kyphosis upper back etc and coordination of movement.
It is my wildest dreams to see the way Yoga mature into adulthood where Yoga Teachers will response to this challenge by taking responsibility over their own and students’ body. The aim is to prevent more people who could benefit enormously from Yoga being scared away. Unless more teachers are equipped with techniques to solve the underlying cause of the body alignment, the change will not be possible.
It has taken me over years of practice, teaching hundreds of people how to improve their posture using the same techniques I used to maintain my own posture using Critical Alignment Therapy technique. This to me, should be the way of Yoga.