There has been such a furore over William J. Broad’s recent article in the New York Times titled “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body” (an excerpt from his book “The Science of Yoga” (subtitle: “The Risks and the Rewards”) and I’ve found it quite entertaining to watch the to-ing and fro-ing with everyone jumping up and down and getting their wee in a froth about how ‘dangerous’ yoga actually may be, yoga devotees leaping to defend the ancient philosophy, couch potatoes cheering and throwing their chips and soda into the air to celebrate what they always knew: that being sedentary is the safest option after all.
The thing about Broad’s article is that he is speaking very much about injuries that happen to people with super-rigorous practices, at one point referring to a man who would “sit upright on his heels in a kneeling position known as vajrasana for hours a day, chanting for world peace.” Not really a moderate practice then, and does make me think about that age-old adage about ‘everything in moderation’, for there seems to be no denying that anything done to such an extreme has the potential to do serious harm.
Nonetheless, it has been a real eye-opener in terms of condensing the whole piece down to what I understand to be one of the most vital points in teaching yoga: teaching your students to listen to their body, to not do anything that hurts, to lose competitiveness and stop comparing themselves to others in the class, and to keep practicing ‘ahimsa’ or non-violence towards not just the world in general but specifically to themselves, the first point of the first yama in the classical eightfold path. Thanks to my teacher Anne Combrink at Ananda Sanga, I already had this message instilled in my mind and can almost hear her voice inside my head, repeating this message over and over, yet all this excitement about Broad’s article has brought it home even clearer. My students this week must be bored to tears of hearing me saying over and over ‘listen to your body’ but rather that than them feeling they have to follow every instruction I give, regardless of how it makes them feel.