Warning: Yoga may seriously improve your health!

There’s been a lot of talk this week about the alleged dangers of Yoga practice...largely sparked by an article written in the New York Times by Mr Broad, who last week talked on BBC radio 4 in a programme entitled “Can Yoga Kill you?”

Ok: well, not surprisingly, this has got a lot of Yoga folks in a bit of a stew! So much has been said by so many that there is not a great deal I can add..except that i just can’t help myself, so here goes!

First of all: ‘Yoga’ does not kill anyone, has never killed anyone and never will. We need to be clear about this. Yoga means union. Yoga is the stilling of the mind, the linking of the body with the mind: the linking of the individual consciousness with universal conscious. This is not an extreme, dangerous thing.

What the critics are talking about is obviously ‘asanas’ or ‘postures.’ which make up just one part of a much broader science of transformation.

What is happening here is that Yoga is being received by our popular culture: which is initially mistrustful. Until a few years ago, Yoga (outside of India) was practised by a relatively small group of people and existed on the margins of our society. Today, things have changed. Yoga has gone global. It has become a multi million dollar industry and the word ‘Yoga’ has become popular currency.  The word Yoga has become synonymous with physical stretching as, in the west, this is the most visible manifestation of the Yoga phenomenon.

One of the most exciting things to come out of this debate is Mr. Broad’s own statistics that in 2001: 4 million americans regularly practised Yoga. In 2011: a staggering 20 million. That is amazing.

Yoga has become huge: so inevitably when something becomes this popular it is absorbed by mainstream culture. There is bound to be a little mistrust at first as many people still don’t understand what this thing is everybody else seems to be doing and talking about.  We are used to being told how bad things are for us. Especially if they feel good!

Apparently sex can also kill you: as can playing the clarinet!

On a serious note: I would agree that, yes: Yoga postures can injure you. Absolutely. I have personally experienced a yoga injury (through my own stupidity more than anything else.) It wasn’t the posture that hurt me, it was my own ego and it was a lesson I will never forget. Hopefully it will help me to do my upmost to make sure that my students don’t make the same mistake.  If yoga postures are practised with awareness and under the guidance of a well-trained teacher then there is no reason whatsoever why anyone should hurt themselves.  They are much more likely to improve their health and well being.

Its really important that those of us who are involved with training new teachers ensure that they are safe, conscientious and have a good understanding of the practice.

What Mr Broad won’t tell you about are the remarkable tales of people who’ve healed themselves through yoga: many with chronic conditions such as asthma and eczema. Yoga can seriously improve your health! Out of 20 million Americans: how many healed, transformed and felt amazing well-being from their practice?

When I talked about this subject to a group of students last night and told them about the man who says Yoga can kill you: the whole group burst out laughing! Thats the bottom line: anyone who’s practised Yoga regularly will tell you that it feels pretty good no matter what Mr Broad and co. may tell you!

Theres an old adage that there is no such thing as bad publicity. This debate has got people talking and thinking about Yoga: brilliant. Sri K. Pattabhi Jois (a pioneer of one of the more dynamic forms of physical yoga) summed it up beautifully in his book ‘Yoga Mala’ in which he points out that Yoga would not have endured for over 2000 years if it wasn’t of immense physical and spiritual benefit to the human race.

Besides that, 20 million americans cant be wrong!

Enjoy your practice,
James Russell


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