Monday, May 28, 2012

The Science of Yoga by William J Broad; Part V Healing

So you've injured yourself doing yoga as predicted in Chapter IV: Risk of Injury.  Or maybe you've injured yourself somewhere else.  At any rate, you are hurt and it's not getting better.  Why not try yoga as therapy? 
If you can avoid the quacks and find a legitimate yoga therapist that is...

This fifth chapter discusses using yoga as a means to heal the body after injury, to assist in healing oseoporosis, at fighting the stiffness caused by arthritis, and many other physical ailments.  But there is a dark side to this prescription (which should come as no surprise to the reader at this point) in the distinct lack of qualified yoga therapists.  Just as with the teacher training programs that have become the mainstay of nearly every studio, yoga therapy is croping up everywhere and often these people do not have the experience behind the certificate. 

This chapter looked at that more so than the whole teacher training phenomenon, and perhaps it is because of the nature of the "prescribing" of yoga as alternative therapy that this raises so many red flags.  Broad discusses the nuances of a "yoga teacher" calling themselves a "yoga therapist" to distinguish themselves in some way or to enhance an existing degree. 

Yoga Alliance, one of the largests corporations that certifies yoga teachers, allows for the use of the term Registered Yoga Teacher or RYT (either a 200 hour or a 500 hour training program) once a person has completed a certified program.  However, what the industry is seeing is Registered Yoga Teacher is morphing, in some cases, into Register Yoga Therapist.   The two are mutually exclusive terms and qualifications. 

As of today, Yoga Alliance has not expanded it's registry to include Yoga Therapist.  There is a separate International Association of Yoga Therapists.

Broad states: "...the continuing lack of regulation and the hundreds of false claims that aspiring healers make about their credentials are helping fuel the fields rapid growth....Dozens of books hail yoga therapy as a sound treatment for most every kind of ailment - including cancer and AIDS, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.... The surger is creating not only a lively commerce but, as the last chapter showed, a threat, since yoga in unskilled hands can bear risk of serious injury.  Patients can get hurt."  (pg 153).

Which is kinda scary when Broad goes on to point out, "In 2008, Yoga Journal released a market study done by Harris Interactive.  The survey of more than 5,000 people - a sample large enough to be considered statistically representative of the entire population of the US - showed that yoga therapy had achieved wide acceptance among patients and, arugably more important, among the nations health-care providers." (pg 154)

Oh goodie!  So when I hurt myself doing yoga, I can be prescribed yoga therapy for my recovery, and when I hurt myself doing that, at least I'm covered by insurance....

Okay, maybe a bit harsh, but with elements of truth in it.  Overall this was a pretty good chapter, driving home the point that if you do agree to or opt for yoga therapy, maybe you should do some research before signing up, or at the very least, ask some pointed questions about experience and background.

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Science of Yoga by William J. Broad; Part IV Risk of Injury

Part IV: Risk of Injury

This was the chapter that the NY Times article was based on, the one that has inflamed the yogic community. 

First paragraph: injuries are unsettling because of the disciplines image as a path to exceptional heath.  Many people turn to yoga as a gentle alternative to exercises that leave them hurt or intimidated. the idea of damage also runs counter to yoga's reputation for healing and promotion of superior levels of fitness and well-being.  Few practitioners anticipate strokes and dislocations, dead nerves and ruptured lungs.  (pg 103)

As I've noted before, I practice Ashtanga and Vinyasa.  I have seen first hand the injuries people walk out of class with.  I was at a teacher training event in 2004, and one gal in class had that special athletic tape around both wrists, both feet, knees and at least one elbow.  I have seen my fellow practitioners endure hamstring pulls, achey wrists, stubbed appendages, tweaked backs and, recently, one instructor who admitted to dislocating his collar bone.  During a workshop I watched as a fellow newer to power yoga hurt his back and had to spend 25 minutes sitting in childs pose.  He never came back to yoga.   A friend told me about an older woman who suffered a massive heart attack during a basic hatha class at the facility where she works.  Injuries happen in yoga.

If I thought the chapter on Moods was the most positive, I took delight in reading this one.  FINALLY someone (the author) is talking about the dirty little secret in the yogic closet: yoga can cause injuries at all levels. 

Case in point: I recently had a new-to-yoga student come to my vinyasa class. They had been encouraged to do so by a good friend who found positive benefits from their own practice.  The student introduced themselves and went on to tell me they had had a herniated disk, two vertebrae were fused together, a fractured cervix and fibromyalgia.  Yikes!  Spinal conditions are nothing to mess around with (the simplest of backbends, forward folds, and twists can all be detrimental to spinal health), but because they had heard how awesome yoga was, they didn't know that a vinyasa class was not the best place to start. 

This chapter went on to discuss postures that threaten to reduce the blood flow to the brain through extreme bending of the neck (such as shoulder stand, upward facing bow and even updog/cobra) and set up the potential for strokes; how other postures could cause nerve damage through repeated or long term exposure (seated forward fold); that even standing on your head has the potential to cause arterial blockage and lead to strokes.

Some of these injuries are being exacerbated by other situations - hot yoga, where the "...penetrating heat could raise the risk of overstretching, muscle damage and torn cartilage. One specialist noted that ligaments...failed to regain their shape once stretched and that loose joints could promote injury."  "Mirrored walls...encouraged students to neglect the traditional inner focus of yoga for outer distractions and the pressures of a room full of competitive individuals, also courting injury."    (pg 123)

A survey of 1300 yoga teachers, therapists, and doctors from around the world, conducted by Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons and with cooperation from several organizations had some interesting results.  The survey participants practiced Hatha, Ashtanga, Vinyasa, Anusara, and Kripalu amongst several offshoots of those. 

Incidents reported:
231  lower back injuries
219  shoulder issues
174  knee injuries
110  neck issues

Respondents knew of 43 herniated disks resulting from yoga, 17 fractured bones, and 5 recorded heart problems. 

Yes. Yoga can cause injury. 

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Science of Yoga by William J Broad: Part III Moods

Part III: Moods

I thought this was probably the most positive chapter of the book, examining how yoga can lift moods and refresh the human spirit. 

Mr. Broad states, "The studies began with the muscles (and how yoga can relax them), went on to study the blood (and how yoga breathing can reset the chemical balance), and eventually zeroed in on the subtleties of the nervous system (and how yoga can fine-tune it's status).  The discipline was found to lift and lower not only emotions but also their underlying constituents - the metabolism and nervous system."  (pg 78)

The author found first hand accounts here, in both the yogic community (through Amy Weintraub) and therapists.  Now here, as with his other chapters in the book, he found questionable practices amongst so called regulatory and scholastic organizations, and other authors who were perpetuating yoga myth., The grossest errors once again being that yoga can increase your metabolism and that breathing practices increase your oxygen consumption.  He debunked those in the first two chapters.

"Chaya, the physiologist in Bangalor who had practiced yoga since childhood, told me that the secret of weight loss had nothing to do with a fast metabolism and everything to do with the psychological repercussions of undoing stress, 'Yoga affects the mind - and desire,' she said, 'so you eat less'.  (pg 98)

I loved this statement toward the end of the chapter: The portrait of yoga that emerges from decades of mood and metabolic studies is of a discipline that succeeds brilliantly at smoothing the ups and downs of emotional life.  It uses relaxation, breathing and postures to bring about an environment of inner bending and stretching.   

Yes - "and environment of INNER bending and stretching".  Internal flexibility of the mind.  As I've been taught, Yoga is what you CAN'T see.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Tim Feldman at Yoga House, Edina, MN May 4-7

I had the opportunity to attend a four day, five session workshop in the Cities the first weekend in May, hosted by Yoga House and led by Tim Feldman.   I waited about five years, maybe more, to attend this session and it was worth every drop of sweat!

The weekend focused on breaking down individual postures from the Secondary Sequence in the Ashtanga Tradition.  While I am familiar with the sequence, I do not practice the Secondary Series (not knowledgeable enough) but I DO practice the postures.  As I've noted before, I do not do a Traditional Ashtanga practice, preferring instead to enjoy a more Contemporary Ashtanga workout.   In essence, I made the practice my own.  However, I do appreciate the nuances and dedication a Traditional practice requires. 

But! Workshop details:

Friday, 11:30-2:00p  Nadi Shodana               Pattabhi Jois  "It is primarily a breathing exercise and the rest is just bending."

Tim broke down the three locks integral from the practice (from his website): Bandha (valves or locks): Moolabandha, Uddiyanabandha and Jalandarabandha helps you integrating your physical and energy bodies. Through the use of the three bandhas in your practice, the body comes together to one entity, creating bounce, flow and grace. It accumulates the generation of purifying heat deep in your body and, yet again, makes for a strong internal focus point for your mind to rest.

As well as the Ujjayi breath (breath of victory): The core of the practice. Facilitates movement in the physical body, creating ‘room to roam‘ between your bones underneath your skin. quiets the mind from unnecessary entanglements. distributes appropriate energy through-out your body and unifies the physical, mental and energetic bodies to one solid entity of motion, transformation and power. Generates purifying heat in the body.

And we worked on integrating these four things into our  bodies.  It was interesting to learn that the Ujjayi breath in and of itself should be used as a pranyama exercise and that for the Ashtanga practice (and I will also infer a vinyasa practice) "breathing with sound" is the appropriate methodology. 

Saturday 7:30-9:30a Guided Primary   11:30-2:00p  The Backbends and Twists

"In Ashtanga we tend to identify our practice with where our body is in space. We actually want to line ourselves up with our breath-body."

The morning session was the Primary series as led by Tim.  LOVED IT!   It just flowed

The second session was focused on lots of technique and breaking down twists and backbends.  Not a lot of time to take notes so I'm hoping that as I do some of the postures down the road the small ideas will come back to me.   A very complimentary session yet intense session as there is a lot going on in the lower lumbar to do these postures. 

Sunday, 11:30-3:00p  Foot behind the Head and Headstands

"Work with what you have.  Treat the pose as a journey.  When we see X pose we stop working.  What do we need to obtain X?  Ask, What is the obstacle?  Is it the mind? Strength? Flexibility? And focus on working toward  X."

This was a class of dualities.  For the first half, we became well acquainted with our hamstrings and hips.  For myself, this was excruciating.  There is something going on with my hamstring insertion points that in certain poses feels like someone is driving hot pokers right into that spot.   Needless to say, my foot does not reach behind my head.  I need to figure out what's going on down there and find some resolution before moving that deeply into my hips. 

The second half was challanging and fun.  I have never attempted all seven variations on headstand (I can comfortably do two) as done in this sequence.  I think I can start working on two more now. 

Monday, 2-4:30p,  Arm Balances

Some of the best breakdown of arm balances I have done to date.  We worked extensively on Bakasana (Crane Pose), Mayruasana (Peacock), and Pincha Mayruasana (Feathered Peacock)

I felt this was an outstanding workshop.  He has a great rapport with students, a lovely sense of humor and an ability to break the postures down enough to capture the essence of the asana yet provide the framework and platform to build confidence and experience to grow in that pose.  I see on the Yoga House Website that he will be returning in Nov 2013.  I do hope I can attend!