A recent article published by the New York Times suggested the many ways yoga can wreck your body. While this is true, it is important to understand that injuries can be avoided. Without knowing much about yoga, especially the myriad ways yoga is practiced in our modern day society, one might read that article and take it as a reason to toss out their New Year’s resolution of trying a yoga class for the first time. But the reality is, yoga doesn’t do the body wrecking, you do, and it happens when you neither honor your limits nor trust in your abilities. Having a qualified yoga teacher also helps prevent needless wrecking and wrenching of our fragile bodies, but ultimately, we are our best teachers.
The bottom line is that with any type of physical activity we all must trust ourselves, our own inner teacher. There are times when it is appropriate to dig in a little deeper to move past self imposed limitations of movement, and there are times when it is completely acceptable to bow out of a pose or an exercise if it hurts. Also, no two styles of yoga are exactly the same. It is best to find one that fits your body type, rather than try to fit your body into a style that does not suit you.
While some yoga poses will be extremely inappropriate for you, some yoga poses are necessary to counter other poses in an effort to avoid muscle imbalance and instability. A qualified instructor will lead you in such a way that you have no choice but to listen to your body’s needs. You will know when too much is too much, and you will understand why some poses are needed to keep you aligned.
However, leading a sedentary lifestyle disconnects us from an innate sense of our body, and the less we can feel the position of our joints, the stress on our muscles and the intensity of our efforts, the more we are apt to open ourselves up to potential injury. That is why it is important to start slowly, improve gradually, and work at a sustainable pace that does not create stress in the body. In addition, those who tend to push out of a need to compete also expose themselves to injuries.
Most yoga teachers in modern times do not adopt the extreme disciplined styles of ancient yoga sages, the kind that pushed and pawed their students into the perfect pose. Today, teachers recognize the needs of their students and are even trained to diffuse a situation where ego presides over honoring the body.
If you happen to fear your first yoga class because you have an image in your mind of a twisted up, emaciated man that appears to be in pain while his teacher is assisting him, don’t worry. In today’s world the emphasis is on comfort, not control. You are your best teacher, and when you honor yourself, you protect yourself from harm.