This may not make sense to some of you. And as a yoga instructor I'm questioning why I'd tell you to NOT DO yoga...but a recent conversation I had on social media (Instagram) with a yoga influencer with 107K followers gave me pause, and something to think about. And I NEED to share it.
We tout yoga to be the be-all end-all for health. But it's not all healthy. Here's why:
1. Repetitive strain
Yoga is comprised of a set of poses. There are many different forms of yoga, and sequences of these poses. But of themselves, the poses are the basic same shapes, version to version. The problem lies in how you do them, over and over and over. Shearing action in the wrists, shoulders and knees happens over time. And micro tears in the joint structures (think hips) over time can cause arthritis and scarring. How do you know this is occurring? Truth is, you don't until it's too late. Alignment is important, but more than that, alignment for your specific body, is vital, and sadly it's an understanding most people don't have, and you absolutely won't get in your group yoga class. Don't take my word for it, even Yoga Journal published an article on this.
2. Hot yoga = physical stress and cardiac strain
Excuse me while I speak in my nursing role for a hot minute: Heat causes veins to dilate (get bigger) which means your heart has to pump harder and faster to get the blood circulating through your body. Feel like you worked "super hard" in that hot yoga class? You did. Likely because of the extra strain on your heart from heat. Read more about heat and heart health from Harvard here. For a healthy human this can be fine once in a while. But if you are a human who ages, have cardiac issues, or small problems that haven't been diagnosed yet, this strain is rough on your little love organ.
Heat also relaxes muscles, allowing you to go deeper into poses. Great right? Not so much. Muscles are tight for a reason. Our bodies are smart, intuitive beings and muscles HOLD US TOGETHER. Literally. If you bypass those, you run the risk of stretching out or tearing ligament tissue. And this type of connective tissue doesn't ever go back. Musculature is meant to flex and stretch and hold. Ligaments are meant to hold. If you stretch them, your internal support structure is compromised and can create a lifetime of muscle imbalances (because what holds them in place is no longer stable) creating pain and mobility, movement challenges. This is close to my heart. I have ligamental damage from a non-yoga injury. I have suffered chronic and acute pain on and off for the past 13 years. Trust me, you don't want that.
3. Muscle tears
Pushing yourself to try and get deeper in poses can be great. But pushing too far can create minor tears in the muscle fibers (a strain) or rip them apart (a muscle tear). Hamstings are especially prone to this in yoga, with all the forward folding we do. Even doing it correctly (which *good news* keeps your lower back safe!) if you go too far will literally rip you apart. And FYI it takes a long time to heal. 4 to 6 weeks on average for a hamstring tear.
Do you actually know how hard you can push yourself? Most of us don't have a clue...and when we push we push HARD (thanks societal conditioning and beliefs!) You only realize after the fact, once the injury has occurred, that you should have gone a bit easier.
4. Body Image Issues
Thank goodness this is finally being talked about in the open. I shared an article on facebook all about it from the New York Times here. There are so many people I've talked to who won't take yoga classes in public because they (pick one):
don't have "the clothes",
sweat too much.
Where did we get these ideas that our bodies have to "be" a certain way? You have a body. It feels good to move that body. So what's the hold up? It's in our head's. Again, thanks societal conditioning and beliefs. The fact that we have a body makes some of us uncomfortable.
It will never be the same as another person's body. Tall, skinny, fat, short, flexible, strong, tight, old, young, clothed, not clothed.
It's a body.
The rest of it is in your head. And though yoga can calm down your nervous system, and help you to see that your body is a tool you drive through the world (if you study yoga and not just go through the poses). Yoga won't change your beliefs about yourself. Only you can do that. Question your thoughts. There's a much more direct method to doing this then going to your weekly yoga class and then feeling badly about "not fitting in" (NOT TRUE by the way.) One method I've found useful is here, it's literally called The Work. But again, it's NOT YOGA.
5. Feed Your Ego
Ok, I'll be honest. It's hard to go to a public yoga class and not look around. Especially when the teacher suggests those "options". I mean, who is doing the most advanced version? And how DO you put your foot over your head? What does it look like? Why can't you do it? Look over there - SHE is!!!!
Yoga classes are an ego trap. And unless you work very hard mentally (or don't have a competitive bone in your body) you fall in. This is why so many people get injured (see physical stress, cardiac strain and muscle tears paragraphs above). This is a part of the reason I believe hot yoga is so popular (you can go deeper in poses, and appear more "advanced", at a cost). You can show up in the most expensive and newest spandex-type gear and show off the money you spent to be here! It's not healthy. It makes you feel crummy. And it benefits nobody.
So STOP. Stop all of it. DO NOT DO yoga if these are the things that you see in your practice. Change how you do things. There are so many options now. Throw on your ugly sweatpants and put on an online class in your living room, so your ego doesn't get involved. Stretch, and see how it feels in your body. Close your eyes when you practice. Go inside yourself. THAT is the real yoga. None of the external stuff will get you closer to feeling more in tune with your body, or make you feel more connected to the universe. You, finding yourself, and being true to yourself, is the only way to do that. And once you've done it; then, and only then, you are not DOing yoga, you are LIVING it. This my friends, is why I practice.
What's your motivation? Not sure where to start? Were you aware that I put up some classes online to help you with mobility and stability in your practice? See them here.
Do you like my blog? Want a little reminder when I put a new post up? Yes you do (click here!)
In fact, most of the time
I don't have a clue what I'm doing.
My personal mantra this month is:
"Quit complaining, see the good, move forward."
And it stems from something that happened to my daughter 2 weeks ago:
She was late for the bus, because she was dismissed late from class - all due to the epic snowstorm and postponed Valentine's class party, and a late-start for school. And, well everything happening late.
"Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that."
I stood stupefied and asked more questions.
"It's a quote" she said "from Martin Luther King Jr. And I think what he meant was, to try and see things from the other person's view. And getting angry at my bus driver would've just made things worse, so I thought the only way to make things better was to show her love. So I gave her my Valentine's candy, and thanked her for waiting for me today. Even though it was wrong for her to have yelled at me, and to have treated me that way. I wanted to show her kindness, so she could be kind to others."
That day. My nine year old daughter taught me a life lesson. (As she often does.)
Learning comes in all forms. So pay attention and listen.
Your teachers, your gurus, and life's inspiration surround you always. You just have to open your heart and listen.
Of course you did. You're a smart person. And smart is why we all (at some point) have signed up for a gym, or a class, or the newest thing. And sweat. A lot.
Sweat beading off our body like our body was crying (because, let's be honest, it feels that way sometimes). Smart right?
So we should all be doing it? Yes! Or maybe not...according to The Guardian's article on why exercise won't save us.
Do I exercise? Well yes and no. I don't go anywhere and attend usual classes. But I do consciously MOVE. I walk whenever I can. And I yoga on and off my mat throughout the day... and stairs, ALWAYS.
Resolve to enjoy life, and enjoy the outdoors, and your friendships (and do it all with movement).
You might never feel the need to exercise again.