2016 is almost upon us, and for many that means “Time to draft new [sic] new year’s resolutions.” Appeals towards becoming more physically active are typical list starters – perhaps a steady yoga practice is on your radar. If so, I’d like to take an opportunity share what I know about injury so you can be a better informed goal setter.
Yoga typically gets a bad rap for being dangerous. If you don’t believe me read what one New York Times columnist famously wrote four years ago. When I read this article for the first time years ago, I felt a little bit frightened. I seriously considered giving up my goal of becoming a yoga instructor, because I found the idea of harming another person sickening.
I eventually realized that if I were to do it right, I would have to make ahimsa (i.e. the precept of non-harming) my touchstone for helping students. I subsequently discovered other accounts which reaffirmed my previous belief that yoga can transform people’s lives for the better. The video below shows one such as inspirational outcome, perhaps you’ve watched Arthur’s story too.
Some of my favorite teachers have weighed in on overly ambitious goal setting in the following ways. According to David Swenson, “There is alway going to be someone whose practice is stronger, lighter, bendier, [etc.]” My immediate teacher Kathy McNames would reply by saying, “This person is actually doing the fancy poses for none other than you!” And of course, who can forget David Williams simple saying, “If it hurts you are doing it wrong.”
The ‘Right Attitude’ about practice makes a world of difference.
These days my favorite quote of all comes from Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki. He once said, “We should find perfect existence through imperfect existence.” To paraphrase his point, the success in Zen as well as yoga really has everything to do with how we feel, not the way our poses look. If one internalizes his message, it’s easy to see how foolish competitive yoga really is. To this effect, the ‘Right Attitude’ about practice makes a world of difference.
Even with so many great teachers saying so many important messages, bad information still circulates. For instance, some students still feel that they must transcend pain by becoming one with the pain and thereby defeat the source of pain in themselves. This strategy should be avoided at all costs because it is actually the superhighway towards further pain, loss of function, and eventual injury. Please remember that true progress in physical yoga is a really really gradual but rewarding process.
There are risks associated with all physical activities. Usually as speed increases, the risk of injury also increases. This applies to both physical speed and the enthusiasm which one applies towards a new routine. I typically recommend students who are interested in yoga to start slow and consistently by doing 15 minutes of sun salutation 6 days week. Although it may seem like a dismissive recommendation, I believe the safe method is the true shortcut towards lasting success.
..one more quote from the late Zen Master