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Should You Give Up Yoga? Experts Respond to the New York Times' "Yoga-Can-Wreck-You" Controversy

Experts debate whether yoga is really good for you.

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3. Patti and Gibby Cohen, body coaches who primarily teach strength and help people understand habitual patterns and how to change them found the article troubling as well, but on the other end of spectrum. While they don’t teach yoga, they do practice several types including wall yoga and aerial yoga. Gibby Cohen felt that the article was a scare tactic, pointing out that it only covered the bad things about yoga, none of the good, and focused almost exclusively on the extreme, worst-case scenarios. Both Cohens felt that if the article had just been about how yoga can help you, it wouldn’t have been printed. “Unless you have no indication of your body you’re not going to go into a position that’s going to injure,” Gibby Cohen explained,  adding that a teacher’s most important thing are his eyes: a teacher, and a student, need to pay attention to how a student is moving in space. Along those lines, the only danger Patti Cohen cited was “a teacher who just read through a script and didn’t notice individuals.” As for students, the Cohens advise common sense. “As you know, when you learn to ride a bike, you begin with training wheels. As you become more advanced and begin learning tricks, going faster, the risk/reward ratio increases -- same with yoga or with anything we venture to train our bodies to do.”

4. Adrian Molina, a yoga instructor, who teaches Warrior Flow yoga classes privately and at Equinox in New York City, told me that he read the article twice and both times he got upset, for many reasons. Molina was the first to mention the pictures that accompanied the article -- the cast of the Broadway play Godspell doing their “flexible best.” He acknowledged that though the pictures of actors struggling through poses were likely intended to be funny, he found them disrespectful to the physical aspects of yoga. Molina felt the article was negative and too subjective, along the lines of, “OK, I am frustrated about how yoga ‘didn’t help me’ so now I’m going to complain about it and put everything in the same bag.” Molina believes that the yoga he teaches should be fun, keep students happy, healthy and flexible. He acknowledges that injuries happen. “I wish I could say that you will never hurt your body doing yoga. But that is not true. But I can’t say that either for spinning, jogging, dancing, walking.” Molina, whose class I take weekly and enjoy tremendously, always includes an "easy posture" option to promote awareness and steer his students away from pushing too hard. And while he knows that sometimes students and teachers can do a little too much, he thinks the rewards outweigh the risks.

In talking to people who have given the New York Times article a great deal of thought, and having given it a great deal of thought myself, I still believe in the healing qualities of yoga, in its ability to calm, center, cure, energize and strengthen (facts the Times article mentioned as well).  I also think it’s important to acknowledge that worst-case scenarios, and even bad-case scenarios, do indeed exist: neck injuries can happen and in rare cases, much more serious injuries have happened. And grave accidents likely can’t be prevented by just being mindful and having a watchful teacher. It’s possible that some poses may be too dangerous to do, and it’s up to each yoga-practicing individual to use caution and judgment and know that with reward comes risk. I find that I do still agree with the initial concept of “being mindful,” as I feel everyone I spoke with does, too. But it’s more of a mindful-plus: be responsible to yourself, for yourself, and be aware of both your teacher’s and your own limitations. In yoga class, and everywhere else.

 
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