It’s always fun when Amy drops in on one of my advanced studies classes. This time, it was in response to the provocative question “is breathing an asana? It sparked a very interesting exchange. Enjoy!
Anyone who’s been following me for a while already knows the answer to this question, but you should watch the video anyway. This discussion is sure to be heating up again, now that yoga has been proven to be life-threatening, and its teachers so horribly under-regulated.
Another great piece from my friend J. Brown’s blog. He’s given me permission to re-publish on e-Sutra anything I think my readers will enjoy, and I’m sure this qualifies.
From J. Brown:
Infrequent visitors to the yoga blogosphere may not be aware of the recent kerfuffle surrounding a NY Times article about how yoga will hurt you, but there also has been some mainstream media coverage on the safety of yoga.
While the article seems to have broken a few glass jaws in the broader yoga community, practitioners with a therapeutic orientation have been sounding alarms about questionable practice for years and getting nothing but flak in return. Those with the courage to take a stand and level public criticism of overly aggressive and guitar-hero-like approaches are usually written off as haters who are just jealous of the cool kids with their feet on their heads.
I’m not going to address the article directly. This has been done well enough already by voices more qualified than mine (I recommend watching Leslie Kaminoff’s three-part video response.) But I am interested in people questioning what they are doing and whether or not it is safe, even if it is a byproduct of a sensationalistic and irresponsible ploy to sell books.
Unfortunately, the subsequent conversation has largely been dominated by a reach for easy answers that avoid deeper issues. More often than not, injuries in yoga are being attributed to a lack of proper alignment or understanding of anatomy. It is said either that practitioners are not doing the poses in a technically correct way or that their teachers are not educated enough about anatomy to instruct students how to do the poses in a technically correct way.
When it comes to alignment, I find it curious to notice teachers who are are usually quite rigid in their instruction are now bending over backwards to explain how they respond to the needs of students. Specifically, I was reading an excerpt from a new book, written by a senior teacher in a classical tradition, who was considering the instruction to “straighten your leg.”
Without referring to any particular poses, the author asserts that the instruction is a “very coarse truth [that] new students need to hear” and that the way to accommodate different capabilities is to offer different “levels of truth” in the form of more detailed directives (i.e. lift the quadriceps, resist with the calf muscle, root the three corners of the feet, etc.) The suggestion is that different students need different details as they develop the fully realized truth behind “straighten your leg.”
The problem is that finding different ways of articulating the same arbitrary configuration is not an example of how to adapt to the needs of students and certainly will not make the practice any safer for the large majority of people who benefit from bending their knees. The concept of “technically correct” is open to interpretation and much of what is considered proper alignment in the classical forms is contraindicated for huge portions of the population. Thus, it is possible to have perfect alignment and still hurt yourself.
For those who are inclined to rely on science, I have written a full length article for Yoga Therapy Today magazine entitled: Does Studying Anatomy Make Yoga Safer? In the piece, I ask several prominent anatomy for yoga teachers to weigh in on the role of studying anatomy and science in making yoga safe. What I think most people might find surprising is that even the experts in the field do not agree that anatomy is the key to ensuring safety in yoga.
As Neil Pearson, clinical assistant professor at the University of British Columbia and the chair of the Pain Science Division of the Canadian Physiotherapy Association, put it: “In the end, it is not Western scientific knowledge of the human body that will make Yoga safer. Changing the students approach to the discipline of yoga and the practice of asana will create the greatest shift.”
Instead of looking to alignment and anatomy as a panacea for what ails the yoga profession, perhaps we would do better to foster a different mentality around the physical work of yoga practice that minimizes any potential risks and encourages smarter choices.
Most of the professionals I have spoken to agree that the key to safe yoga boils down to the sensitivity and adaptability of the instructor, his or her capacity for dialogue with and responsiveness to a student, and the humble confidence of knowing what you know and what you don’t know.
In this video review, I accuse William J. Broad of launching an ad hominem attack on my friend Larry Payne. Realizing this may need further explanation, I offer the following:
“Ad Hominem” literally means “against the man.” It is the name of an often-employed logical fallacy that seeks to refute a person’s ideas by discrediting their character. For example, “Mr. Smith is known to be a drunkard, therefore his views on the economy should be dismissed.”
As I mentioned in the video, as a longtime friend of Larry Payne and teacher of the anatomy section of his LMU course each year in Los Angeles, I am hardly a neutral observer regarding Larry. This does not reduce my ability to offer objective criticism of Broad’s tactics in this part of his book.
On page 154 of “The Science of Yoga,” Broad lays the cornerstone of his attack: “If the origins of the modern field [yoga therapy] can be traced to a single person, it would be Larry Payne.” Here, Broad is preparing a case of guilt by association in which he will try to discredit the entire field of “modern yoga therapy” by assaulting the character of the person he is identifying as its key founder. He will go on to portray Larry as an opportunistic huckster who, unlike Loren Fishman, M.D., one of Broad’s heroes, took what he considers an easy path to credibility by obtaining a Ph.D. from a questionable school. Broad goes on to point out some commonly-held physiological errors that ended up in Larry’s book “Yoga for Dummies” as a way of further discrediting him.
Broad’s clear goal in the chapter in question (chapter five for those following along) is to cast aspersions on the organization Larry helped to found, the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT), by drawing a parallel between what he perceives as Larry’s lack of a valid credential and the certificate one obtains upon joining IAYT. Broad observes that the IAYT membership certificate resembles a professional accreditation, but “a quick read shows that the document is in fact quite meaningless…The phony credential does an injustice to the talented yoga therapists who have labored for years and decades to develop their healing expertise and have helped countless people.”
This is a classic example of an ad hominem attack, setting up guilt by association. Forget the fact that Larry Payne is also one of the “talented yoga therapists who have labored for years and decades to develop their healing expertise and have helped countless people.” Forget the fact that IAYT has never represented their membership certificate as anything other than what it clearly states on its face. Forget the fact that never – to my knowledge – has any yoga therapist, whether a member of IAYT or not, expressed outrage over misrepresentation via a ”phony credential.” Forget the fact that there is a real, live human being named Larry Payne at the other end of this attack who has been walking around for the past week feeling like he’s been simultaneously kicked in the gut and stabbed in the back by the writer to whom he granted – in good faith – full access and lengthy interviews.
William J. Broad makes a strong case for accurately representing oneself in the professional sphere. Did he do that when he approached my friend Larry for the purpose of writing an authoritative book about the field in which he has faithfully labored for four decades? I’m sure Larry Payne, Ph.D. welcomed Mr. Broad with the same open heart he offers to everyone he encounters. He deserves far better than what he got in “The Science of Yoga.”
Last week’s video got quite a lot of attention on YouTube – over 12,500 views as of this writing. This week’s follow-up includes an apology to William J. Broad, the author of the NYT article and the book “The Science of Yoga”, which was sent to me by the publishers this week.
In last week’s video, I had taken Broad to task for under-reporting the “normal” range of motion of the cervical spine in axial rotation as 50º. In fact, that is the same number I give in the 2nd edition of Yoga Anatomy! Oops. Egg on my “neck”.
In retrospect, I believe I used outdated numbers in the book and I’m in the process of researching how to revise that page (34). Here’s one of the research articles I’m referencing that gives a good overview of just how variable these range of motion (ROM) measurements can be. For example, compare the lowest ROM—for a male in his nineties—at 26º. The greatest ROM was a teenage female with a whopping 94º! So, what’s normal?
I’m about halfway through Broad’s book now, and I’m pleased to report that it’s a great read. I will have a full review when I’m done but even at this point I can safely say I’m going to recommend every serious student of yoga read it.
The New York Times proclaimed the other day in a Global Update from Uganda:
Male Circumcision May Help Protect Sexual Partners Against Cervical Cancer
My friend Gil Hedley and I are in in complete agreement about not mutilating infant male genitalia, so I sent him the article, and he replied with a particularly (and characteristically) funny rant, which he has given me permission to share…
HYDERABAD, India (AFP) – Doctors treating Indian spiritual leader Sai Baba, one of the country’s most famous gurus, said on Thursday his health was deteriorating fast as devotees massed to pray for his recovery.
About time. We’ve been telling the truth about orthotics for years.
Money quote: “As for ‘corrective’ orthotics…they do not correct so much as lead to a reduction in muscle strength.” Continue reading