The number one aspect in yoga, that makes all the difference when discussing fitness, is awareness. Before you begin a physical practice, you take the time to get centered and bring your awareness inward. In the beginning of every yoga class at my studio we start by getting centered. That means you are encouraged to let go of all the stuff you don’t need in the moment and focus solely on you. When you focus on yourself, you focus on every part of yourself from the top of the head to the smallest toe. We quiet the mind, not to make it blank; instead to open it up to the entire experience of yoga.
A point I want to make clear is that many people say they do yoga. If someone does a yoga DVD or watches a free yoga TV show, they say the do yoga. If someone were to watch a martial arts show or DVD, they would never say they do martial arts. In yoga, it’s different. I have many people who call or email me at the studio and want to start with the more challenging classes because they have been doing yoga at home or a gym. I explain that studio is yoga is very different and suggest they start with our Intro to Yoga 5 Class Series. Some people are very offended until they take the first class and realize what they were doing was not the same. I hear phrases like, “I didn’t know there was a right way to do it” and “I thought you just made your body look like the instructor” all the time. For those who may think the same thing, I will tell you there is a smart way to practice and your attitude, alignment and actions are important – more important then what the outside of the pose looks like.
One of the first things I teach my yoga teacher training students is to worry more about the flexible people they have an increased risk of injury. Yoga is not about bending farther or deeper. It is about finding a balance between strength and flexibility. I share this concept in that Intro to Yoga Series. If you are naturally more flexible than you need to focus on strength or muscular energy so you do not go too far or too deep. It doesn’t mean you can’t deepen, you just have to do it with intelligence. It doesn’t mean you don’t pay attention to the tighter folks. Of course you do! They usually don’t go too far because their tight muscles stop them. We carefully focus on gaining more flexibility, while keeping the strength. This is not the place to talk about the anatomy and physiology of flexibility. However, you should know that one part of flexibility is range of motion and another is laxity of the connective tissue. Your yoga teacher should have a working understanding of this. There are many factors that influence flexibility, one includes hormone release, another is joint structure.
Most doctors do not know much about yoga. Some practice, it is true. However, many of them find fast, more aggressive types of practice to go with their Type A personality. Not all, but many. They also need just as much help as the next person turning inward and letting go of the competitive nature to push harder. I have helped a number of doctors heal themselves from prior injuries. They are amazed when I teach them about body awareness and alignment. Not that they are not brilliant and knowledgeable about the human body. However, they do not relate it to yoga. I remember years ago watching Oprah and Dr. Oz was on talking about doing yoga. He practices and recommends it to his patients. That is great. What is not great is that he doesn’t completely understand it. Oprah asked if you should have your heels down to the ground in downward facing dog, he clearly responded, “Yes.” Sorry Dr, Oz – that is just not true. There are many factors involved, one of them is anatomical structure of the bones that make up the ankle joint. Some people will never be able to get their ankles down –even after stretching for years. The point is that when it comes to understanding yoga, doctors are not the best at it.
I have many middle aged women who come to the studio because a friend recommended yoga to help with their hip pain. Many women have had hip pain for a number of years before they enter into a yoga
class. William Broad’s article doesn’t give full histories for the women in the studies. He doesn’t even make a distinction between yoga and dance. They are different types of movement. Below is the exact quote from the University of Berne’s research paper with main investigator Reinhold Ganz, MD
“The pincer-type FAI produces a rather slow process of degeneration and occurs more often in women between 30 and 40 years of age engaging in activities with high demands on motion like yoga and aerobics.”
Not much for strong research regarding yoga and hip injury. It was casually mentioned rather than scientifically studied for this specific group. William Broad is nothing more than a man who manipulates texts to suit his fancy. I cannot find information to support his other statements. He mentions an Orthopedic surgeon from the Mayo Clinic who annually performs 10 to 15 hip replacements on people who do yoga. Again, I would like to see full patient histories before jumping to conclusions. Did the patients need hip replacements before beginning yoga? Were there pre-existing conditions? Were they involved in other forms of exercise or movement? The Mayo Clinic puts out a variety of yoga DVDs. Yoga for everything from high blood pressure to lower back pain. Do you think the Mayo Clinic puts out DVDs in order to injure people’s hips to keep their surgeons in business? Does that sound as absurd to you as it does to me? Maybe, the connection Broad makes to yoga and hip injury is weak, very weak. If the only study he can come up with linking yoga and Femoroacetabular Impingment (F.A.I.) is the Ganz study, there really is no connection at all.
I am not saying you cannot injure yourself doing yoga. You can. You can also injure yourself walking, brushing your teeth, shampooing your hair, sneezing as well as, any other form of movement and exercise. Mostly all automobile accidents occur when one party is not paying attention to driving or impaired. When you pay attention to what you are doing, you decrease your risk of injury. Yoga is about paying attention, full attention, to what you are doing. It is about moving into and out of each pose and transitioning from one pose to another with full awareness. It is not about winning, going fast or being better then someone else. It is about being fully present in your body.
Like any form of movement you want to study, find a well qualified instructor. You want to find a yoga teacher with at a 200 Hour Certification from a qualified Registered Yoga School. Most people do not look into their yoga teachers qualifications. They find a teacher they like because they say sweet things and make them feel good. That is nice. However, it may not be enough. You want a teacher who knows what he or she is talking about. A teacher that can explain terms and phrases instead of just use the same words a popular teacher uses. Overall, yoga should create space in the joints and allow you to move freely without pain. That doesn’t mean there won’t be challenge and even discomfort. The discomfort may be due to hard work in an area that is not often engaged, but not pain from impingement. Your teacher should be able to help you understand if you are experiencing discomfort or pain. If you are in pain – stop. Let your instructor help find a better position for you so you can experience the pose without pain.