Bending over backwards to defend yoga

by admin on January 24, 2012

I have never made any secret of the fact that I hate yoga. Mostly because I have spent a lifetime doing sports that compact all my muscles and here comes this ancient exercise or meditation or whatever you want to call it that pulls everything out and forces me to stretch parts of me that don’t want to stretch and twist things that shouldn’t twist and have me assume positions that are just not natural. So when I recently saw an article in the New York Times saying that yoga might be bad for people my initial thought was “yeah, I was right all along.” The article said all that twisting and bending can be bad for you, it can strain muscles, rip tendons, pull your back out of shape.

But then I thought

Why am I doing this?

Wait a minute, any exercise can do that to you. If you haven’t played soccer in years then you can hurt yourself doing that. If you used to love ping pong as a kid and took it up again as an adult you can hurt yourself. And maybe yoga is a slightly exaggerated form of any exercise because it really works every single part of your body, but the basic premise is the same. If you do it properly and carefully and with good guidance it can be safe and really beneficial.

That’s not to mean I like it any more, but it does mean that it isn’t dangerous just because you do it wrong or have a crappy teacher who teaches you bad form or you try to get into a full lotus when you have spent the previous ten hours sitting in front of a computer screen and wonder why your tendons just don’t want to go there.

The point is, exercise in any form can be bad for you if you haven’t done it before – or for a long time – and you do it badly. You need to know what you are doing or work with someone who knows what they are doing and knows how to show you how to do it.

Good form is essential

The other day, the other month actually, I pulled the heck out of my calf muscle playing squash. I wasn’t doing anything I hadn’t done a thousand times before. I wasn’t moving in a way I hadn’t done a thousand times before. And yet this time, for whatever reason, my calf went kablooey. Maybe I was just pushing it too hard, or my form was bad. All I know is that as soon as I hit a great cross court shot and was moving back into position in case my opponent – damn you Austin – got it back, my calf went bang and that was that. I’ve been slowly getting back in shape since then. But it takes time. And patience.

And that’s why when I read that article about yoga being bad for you, much as I wanted to jump on the blog and say “see, the NY Times agrees with me” my own experience taught me otherwise. Yes, of course yoga can be bad for you. Playing tiddlywinks can be bad for you if one of them jumps up and hits you in the eye. Anything, done badly, can be bad for you. But that’s no reason to dismiss the enormous potential health benefits of yoga.

Downward facing “you dawg you”

Don't try this at home folks

I once met an 83 year old man who had become a devotee of Bikram yoga. That’s the kind where they heat the room to 110 degrees so you sweat like crazy. It’s meant to warm up the muscles and tendons in your body so that they are more flexible. It’s also meant to replicate the conditions in India where yoga first was practiced. This gentleman had only taken up yoga when he was 80 and swore by Bikram, saying it gave him more energy, made him feel healthier and happier.

Frankly I think he just liked watching lots of young, cute women bend into positions that in his youth would have been unthinkable.

I still don’t like yoga. But I would never tell other people not to do it. For my 83 year old friend it’s the highlight of his day. And that’s reason enough to do any exercise isn’t it.

 

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