DATELINE: Yoga mats everywhere: It seems as if the real world has finally caught up with what my joints have been telling me for years. An article in the January 8, 2012 edition of the New York Times reveals that yoga, for years thought to be healthy, spiritual, and something that every schlub in America ought to be doing, is actually not good for you!
It seems that yoga teachers all over America have a dirty little secret: years of awkward positions and impossible stretches have caused nerve damage, stenosis, ruptured discs and worse in the elite ranks of Hatha, Bikram, and “hot” yoga. Those yoga teachers are hurting! This means that the rest of us amateurs out here in the heartland are risking our necks every time we hit the mat, so to speak. The “downward dog” is dangerous!
I feel vindicated. As a longstanding yoga failure, I have been blaming myself. I suffer from “lotus envy.” I have been calling my hamstrings dirty names for years. But now, the tables have turned, and the truth is coming out. Yoga was designed for people who live in places like India, where sitting cross legged is customary, and Lazy Boys don’t exist. For us Westerners, attempting to do head stands, pretzel twists, and something called “the plow” is hazardous! It can cause all kinds of problems. This is worthy of the news, in spite of the fact that Americans like me have been hurting ourselves in YMCA’s all across the land for decades.
For me, it started when I felt a little soft around the edges. There was a show on television in which a lovely woman with a long, dark braid who lived in Cincinnati showed us how to breathe like a lion, massage our inner organs, and achieve peace and tranquility by “saluting the sun.” I bought in. However, my salutes were never very enthusiastic, since touching the ground without bending my knees was impossible. I passed on giving the sun its due. There were other positions that paid homage to cats, dogs, spiders, snakes, etc. Some of them seemed doable, but then again, they all required certain flexibility that I couldn’t seem to muster.
I felt like a failure. Other yoga students on the show, some of them with bigger thighs than mine, seemed to be able to stretch, put their legs over their heads, and balance on one thumb and their big toes (while taking cleansing breaths) with ease! I tried harder. If those chubs could do this, so could I, damn it! I joined a class at the YMCA. “Competitive Yoga for Beginners,” I think it was called.
I learned. After a trip to the emergency room, the doctor there told me that I had a little rip in my subphrenal hortizon ligament. I think that was the term. He asked me what I had been doing. When I told him about the yoga, he laughed. I thought that was rude. After he stopped, I asked him what I should do for exercise, and he suggested a brisk walk around the block.
This was ten years ago! I should have been warning people! If I had had the nerve to tell the truth, thousands of ligaments and discs could have been saved! But I would have been a voice in the wilderness, and no one would have agreed with me. We were all on our yoga mats, doing our best to achieve nirvana. Thanks to The New York Times, we can all finally relax. But actually, that was my favorite part of yoga class: at the end, when they played the soothing music, and we focused on the tension leaving our foreheads, moving down our arms, and filling our abdomens with warmth. I loved it. The music, the deep breathing, the release, and that guy on his mat in the back of the room, snoring.