you do yoga, yoga does not do you

There has been a lot of discussion about yoga and safety lately.  With the recent New York Times article, How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body,  students are lining up to ask how yoga might be hurting them.  As with any journalistic piece it is important to evaluate the validity of the claims.  What are the sources of information from which the author bases their claims?  Is the article opinion or fact based? If the conclusions are based on a few case studies, what are the ‘bigger pictures’ of the case studies used?  What are the credentials of the ‘experts’ used to back the conclusions?

Just like the study of yoga asks us to think deeply and be discerning, so is the nature of determining the value of information.  Mark Stephens states, “The idea that “yoga can wreck your body” reifies yoga – makes it into a thing that is given the power to affect other things (say, your body). But yoga is not a thing. Rather, yoga is a world of practices that one can do; you do yoga, yoga does not do you. Once one gets this basic idea, then it’s a simple step to realize that how one does yoga along with what sort of yoga one does will have different effects.”  (How Yoga Will Not Wreck Your Body)

Ultimately your approach to your practice will be the determining factor most responsible for the outcome of your efforts.  Listening intently to the messages from your body (also mind and spirit) is of utmost importance.  This is not just another esoteric thing yoga teachers say, this is the key to your safety and enjoyment gained from your practice.  Below I have provided some basic guidelines for a safe practice.

Basic Yoga Guidelines

Mental Focus

  • Focus on being non-judgmental  and accepting of yourself
  • Concentrate on feeling the breath
  • Be curious about your internal sensations

Breathing

  • Slow, deep and even
  • Engage the diaphragm/feel the belly moving with the breath
  • Notice the expansion of the ribs with the breath

Movements

  • Be mindful  and attentive
  • Notice the subtle movements of the body even when holding a posture
  • Use your imagination to ‘become’ the posture from the inside to the outside

Posture

  • Long spine and chest broad
  • Shoulders down and back
  • Head over torso without chin jutting forward

Body Alignment

  • Solid foundation/connection to stability
  • Knees bend in line with toes  & Knee over ankle when bent in standing postures
  • Thighs and abdominals engaged in standing postures

Groups Settings

  • Practice tolerance, empathy and non-competiveness
  • Be supportive and encouraging
  • Focus on your experience on your mat
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