Nov 04

Uncoloring Not-Useful Thoughts

(A response to “Women’s Flexibility Is a Liability in Yoga”)

William Broad and the NY Times are at it again http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/03/sunday-review/womens-flexibility-is-a-liability-in-yoga.html?from=homepag —providing a few wise words about practicing restraint in Yoga, but hiding them amid scary headlines and sensational accounts of “unbearable pain” and “costly operations”.

Here are the salient points I pull from this article…

Yoga can renew, calm, heal, strengthen, lift moods, lower the risk of heart disease, increase flexibility and balance, counter aging, and improve sex

The benefits are many, and serious dangers tend to be few and comparatively rare

Extreme bends can result in serious wear and tear…if done without an understanding of the mechanical limitations of the joint

Pushing through the pain is not smartlisten carefully to your body

The above are all calm and rational considerations—but calm is not the feeling you are left with after reading this article because of the colorful descriptions of potential injury.

If I were to write an article meant to counsel Yoga practitioners, I would offer the following advice: if you are in a class where a teacher aggressively urges you past the point you feel comfortable, stop immediately.  If you are unable to breathe and listen to your body’s responses, you can injure yourself. If you forcefully strive to be the best or the bendiest, and get hurt, you may harm yourself in a Yoga class, but to be clear, that is not the practice Yoga in which you have engaged.  Once breath and self- awareness get obliterated by ego, you have moved to different activity that goes against the very tenets of a true Yoga practice.  Carelessness of this sort can be harming in all pursuits including Yoga and also in day-to-day living.

What is particularly disturbing about this article is the congregating of middle-aged female Yoga practitioners and dancers into the same club.  Dancers routinely spend years forcing their bodies into extreme shapes to achieve specific choreography, and yes, unfortunately, this leads to a myriad of injuries including hip replacements.  Dance is an art form, which often requires those participating at a profession level to achieve a range extending far beyond the norm.  Yoga, when practiced properly, discourages this treatment of the body and urges us away from extremes.

I wish this article had simply reminded us that  some women, particularly those whose bodies have more inherent flexibility, may be tempted forgo using their muscles in the asana practice, and abuse their range of motion in an unsupported way if trying to achieve a poster image of a posture, and this can cause problems.  Then the author could have advocated for finding an authentic Yoga class where the teacher emphasizes breath and an individualized practice to suit age, range and body type—and that would have been great advice.  Unfortunately, calmly dispersed sensible information doesn’t sell papers, nor does it induce the adrenaline jolt of picturing your daily Down Dog leading to hip replacement surgery!

The author has chosen his words and images to generate a strong fearful reaction.  This endeavoring to color the readers’ minds goes against the very principles of Yoga.

Patanjali’s Sutras advise that Yoga itself is practiced specifically to minimize the sort of colored thought patterns (Kleshas) that disturb the nervous system in an unwarranted way.  It is in the second chapter on practice (Sadhana Pada) in Sutra 2.2 that he gives us…

samadhi bhavana arthah klesha tanu karanarthah cha

The fancy Sanskrit words are simply advising that we get off the mental roller coaster of highs and lows born of ignorance, ego, attraction, aversion and fear if we want to find peace.

William Broad and the NY Times should consider how much ego and addiction for readership went into the crafting of this article.  We as readers should resist allowing them push us toward a reaction of aversion and fear, and then we would actually be practicing Yoga (most of which is practiced safe from physical harm off the mat) and find ourselves a bit closer to Samadhi, or the tranquility of mind, that we are all seeking.



  1. Mary Lou Quinlan

    Amy, Great job dispelling the fear mongering of this piece. William Broad seems to be the guru of yoga hating unfortunately, since this is at least the fourth piece of his that has warned against serious yoga injury. Perhaps for the most competitive yoginis as well as for the weekend warriors among us who can’t resist competing with the Yoga Journal cover girl on the mat next to us, his articles are a wise dose of warning. But I worry that instead, he puts all yoga practitioners and teachers in the same place–ohming ourselves into the ER. Your thoughts were so well grounded in what yoga is all about. Listen…to your body, to your spirit, with each practice. And our bodies will thank us for it. And we can thank teachers like you who are so attuned to individuals and to what is possible. Thanks! Mary Lou

  2. Dianne

    Phew. Thanks Amy, I have been having some trouble with my Sciatic nerve & thought that I must have done something at Yoga after reading his column the other day ! Thanks for being the voice of reason !

  3. WilliamExic

    very good post, i actually love this website, carry on it

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