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. 

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