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Is Yoga Really Bad for You? Om, Not Sure

Science of Yoga author William J. Broad has caused an outrage among yoga practicioners after noting in a New York Times article that the practice produces more injuries than benefitsBy Kristy Ojala
It was just after New Year’s party hats had been crumpled and candy stashes purged, the unsavory holiday excess pushed aside for fervent detox. My yoga class was full, and the master teacher began his now-nightly speech following the explosive yoga expose posted by Science of Yoga author William J. Broad in the New York Times. It quickly became the most e-mailed story on the paper’s website.

“Yoga is a tool,” my teacher noted. Everyone solemnly nodded. “If you use any tool the wrong way, you can break something.” We then began a slow, torturous class in that every pose was careful, calmly illustrated, and very, very safe. Is all this worry about yoga actually wrecking yoga?

As Broad—a yoga devotee since 1970 and a science writer for the Times—notes in his forthcoming book (out Feb. 7), “Yoga has produced waves of injuries… Overall, the risks and benefits turned out to be far greater than anything I ever imagined.” In his article, he not only notes aching backs and pinging Achilles heels, but more serious conditions such as broken ribs, strokes, and even teachers with shot hips and who are so worn down by their asanas that they must teach lying on their backs.

VIDEO: Broad discusses the risks of yoga

But as the Hindu American Foundation protests as part of its Take Back Yoga campaign, isn’t all this just desserts in the Westernization of yoga? An estimated 20 million Americans actively do yoga, which has become a roughly $5 billion industry (those asses in classes don’t want to be caught dead in ratty sweats, after all). When I took my first class back in 2000, there were less than 4 million yogis in this country.

For Broad, the benefits of yoga “unquestionably outweigh the risks,” though he has stopped doing certain poses and handles it with much greater care. And some defenders note that any sport with such an explosion in popularity will naturally equal more injuries, as say, the recreational rugby and trapeze classes that have gone before.

Personally, I’ve had enough injuries in the past year—from running, which made me turn to regular yoga practice for help. I have found that if I stick to the slow, restorative classes, it benefits me in other areas, whether work, sleep, or cross training. And for everyone who practices yoga for whatever personal reasons, those will have to be weighed against risk or reward.

Have you ever been hurt while doing yoga?


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