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READER'S CHOICE: Does Yoga Wreck Your Body? A Scientist's Perspective

By Ninazolotow @Yoga4HealthyAge
by Brad

READER'S CHOICE: Does Yoga Wreck Your Body? A Scientist's Perspective

A Crow by Philip Amdal

There’s been a lot of buzz after the Sunday Times article on yoga and injuries, "How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body." My own take on this is that this is pretty shoddy journalism. The writer should have looked no further than the New York Times own Science Times format for Q&A.  Maybe a question like “Does yoga cause more injuries than similar exercise regimens?” would have been more appropriate? I suspect the answer would have been “no.”

In any case what’s the control here? No exercise at all, running, or lifting weights at the gym? All of these have both intended and unintended consequences on your physical well-being and injury status, especially as you get older. When I was a graduate student at MIT, I remember one of my professors invoking his own law to explain missteps in some scientific papers: “if you think you know the answer beforehand, you will undoubtedly find it.”  He used this to explain why some scientists misinterpreted their results by either overly fitting data to some preconceived notion, or ignoring or explaining away other types of information that was inconsistent. Makes for a good story, but this is not good science. Not good reporting, either.

My own experience with yoga suggests a different perspective on this question. I started yoga when I turned 50 because I thought that it would be more age-appropriate and not lead to as many injuries. In my case (Caution! N=1), I never injured myself in nine years of practice.  One reason was I had a good teacher (Baxter Bell), who did not push his students too far, and who also paid attention to preexisting injuries to tailor their practice. He was also well-trained and knew about anatomy and physiology. Not all yoga teachers have the appropriate training, so this is one of the most important first decisions in your practice:  choose a good teacher.  Finally, I did not push myself beyond what I thought was appropriate (if it hurts, back off a bit—you're not trying to prove anything to the teacher or other students).

While I did not injure myself in yoga these last nine years, I can’t say the same about other activities. I have suffered from tennis elbow injury (overzealous gardening and foosball), heel pain (bad shoes as a kid leading to something called Haglund’s deformity), and lower back pain (digging all day with a shovel a year ago to clear a section of the yard).  What’s interesting is how yoga has helped to alleviate and moderate these injuries. Downward Dog and other similar poses have helped stretch my Achilles heel and tendon, considerably reducing my foot pain. I use a strap around my arms now for various positions, and this has seemed to both strengthen and better align my arms and elbows. And, lastly, I have noticed that my lower back feels better after a yoga practice than before—as long as I don’t overdo things.  So, at least in my case, I can honestly say that yoga has helped alleviate injuries, not caused them. Maybe someone should write a follow up article, “How Yoga can Help You Recover from Injuries?” Not as sensational, but....

And speaking of shoddy journalism, Dr. Timothy McCall tells us that although he was quoted in the article, he was not actually interviewed by the author and that the quote from him was taken out of context, from an old article. To read his rebuttal and his advice about practicing headstand, see his website and read the article "How to Not Wreck Your Body Doing Yoga or, How I Really Feel about Headstand" on the home page.

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