For the Birds?


Apparently, many people were upset after reading William J Broad’s article
How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body, in last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine. I missed the original article, but saw enough headlines by the end of the week that I decided I needed to read it. After all, what if I was missing out on something valuable, if for no other reason than to keep me from not returning to yoga classes. Even though I haven’t been in — ummm….let’s see…three years?

When I started yoga a few years ago, I initially thought that it could help me recover from a serious foot injury that had left me in an orthoboot — something more akin to a 5 pound metal bucket than a boot — for five months and needing a cane to keep my balance when walking. I think I secretly held out hope that I might also recover my 19-year-old self — or at least her body — that took Yoga for PE credit in college, and then continued to go to the class twice a week the following semester, even missing out on dinner and the dorm community’s ritual of watching M*A*S*H reruns before the evening news, because there were a few cute and seemingly cool guys in the class. Turns out one was a real stoner and the other two were there to pick up cool, cute girls — cool, cute girls who were not me. The yoga helped for a while, but mostly just the tree pose which my physical therapist had also shown me without calling it “Tree” and without telling me to envision my chakras while standing like a tree. Months after standing in tree pose in my office during lengthy conference calls, my foot began to feel like its old self and I began to believe that dreams of wearing fashionable heels again in the future might really come true.

But I didn’t keep attending yoga classes. I stopped going when my instructor recommended that I seek treatment from an “alternative holistic” who would do some sort of non-invasive bloodletting of my foot while drinking tea. I really wanted to tell her about how I had had a Lisfranc injury which didn’t happen too often but, interestingly — at least to me — was named after Napoleon’s gynecologist. I thought this was a funny oddity. Napoleon’s gynecologist that is, not the injury. Ms. Yogi just sniffed about the medical establishment. I asked her if she had a cold. I don’t think that she missed me. I never found out if the holistic practitioner drank the tea or if I would.

Several weeks ago, another blogger pointed me towards this article by Sarah Miller Why Yoga Can Be So Irritating, Although You Should Go Anyway in The Awl. I laughed so hard I almost choked on my coffee. Instead I spit it through my nose. I’ll get some good stretches in when I get around to scrubbing the coffee stains off the wall. Good thing I wasn’t doing a head stand at the time. I recognize most of these yoga class-related issues. But, in fairness, I should point you to Miller’s follow-up (also in The Awl) to the NYT article: Six Reasons to Ignore the New York Times Yoga Article

Despite this, I am considering returning to a yoga class. I can’t say whether it is good or bad for you. Like most things, you should know your limits — and it shouldn’t take the wisdom of an advanced yogi to know them. Chances are, if you want to scream in pain or giggle uncontrollably, you probably aren’t in the right place to do a specific pose. If you must find an excuse, be sure to tell the class that you aren’t in the right place — then ignore their hugs and well-wishes that you make your peace with the pose.

My limits, as far as I can tell, involve being careful that my lunch doesn’t make an expelling noise while doing downward facing dog. And finding a place in the classroom where I won’t be downwind of others with the same issue. Or learning to really relax during the relaxation at the end of class, rather than being so concerned that I might fall asleep and begin to snore. And finding the place in room with the best access to the air conditioning. Along with no mention of alternative wacko bloodletting practitioners, if I could have these things, I think I could do yoga classes again.

On the other hand, though, I look around and wonder if yoga isn’t just for the birds:

What's the name of this asana?

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