Keeping the Conversation Going—Why the Debate on Yoga Injuries Matters
The YogaUOnline Yoga Injuries – Facts and Fiction telesummit took a look at some of the key issues in the yoga injuries debate. Here’s a brief recap, and reflections just why it’s so important to keep the conversation going. If you haven’t yet downloaded the free report that goes with the telesummit, use the link below.
It is a curious fact that what we hold as truth is not necessarily actual facts, but rather the prevailing view of the culture in which we live. In the Middle Ages, the fact that the earth was flat was indisputable, because this was the common consensus of the powers-that-be—church, nobility, and scientific establishment.
In our modern society, consensus about what is true and what is not, is in large part shaped by the media. For good and bad, the media influences our view of contemporary issues, and who ‘wins’ the public debate on key issues all too often ends ups creating the “truth” in which we live. The climate change and the gun control debates are just two examples of how controlling the media message can control our view of reality—at least for some of the people some of the time.
Public discourse matters. It shapes our views, opinion, and inevitably over time, what we hold as self-evident truths.
This is why the yoga injuries debate is so important. In the court of public opinion, few newspapers hold as much authority as the New York Times. So when the venerable old gray lady tells us that yoga can wreck our body, result in sudden death, is incredibly injurious to guys and in all other respects comes with hidden dangers and downsides, it’s all too easy to assume that this must indeed be the reality of things. Add to that the fact that the writer penning these pieces, William Broad, has an unusually impressive pedigree, including being a Pulitzer-prize winning science writer, and most will assume that this must all be the up-till-now-overlooked fact of the matter.
And so is created a new perception, which all too easy turns into the new ‘truth’ about yoga in the public’s awareness, at least for those only casually familiar with yoga. As a result, we get students whose relatives call them urging them to stop practicing yoga, because they have heard yoga is dangerous. We get headlines in large media outlets drumming the dangers of ‘Death by Yoga.’ We get news reports quoting ‘a study’ that yoga is more injurious to guys, completely ignoring the fact that this assertion was based not on a study, but on a highly speculative blog post in the New York Times with no basis in actual scientific data or study.
And we get, no surprise there, the first high-profile law suit about yoga injuries. The suit involves yoga-teacher-turned-Mrs-Alec-Baldwin Hilaria Thomas, who stands accused of causing “severe” and “serious” “emotional upset” by a student claiming to suffer unspecified injuries during a yoga class led by Ms. Thomas.
For people with a lengthy yoga background or those familiar with the long list of scientific studies on the health benefits of yoga, the claims about yoga injuries feels like an outtake from Seinfeld’s Bizarro world.
For people, whose lives have been enriched by a regular yoga practice, which leaves them mentally, physically and emotionally stronger and even transformed, the claims about yoga injuries stand out as, well exaggerated to the point of being sensationalist.
Once one digs into the claims, again and again, they turn out to be a case of The Emperor’s New Clothes, or, as the little boy shouted in The Emperor’s New Clothes: “But he has nothing on!” In other words, if you look more deeply into the strongest claims about yoga injuries, there’s nothing to them. There is no real substance or reality behind to them.
Don’t get us wrong. Yoga injuries happen and yes, one yoga injury is one injury too many. And indeed, when it comes to repetitive strain injuries, without a doubt some yoga postures and some yoga styles may well leave some people more exposed and vulnerable. And without a doubt, with the growing popularity of yoga, yoga teachers are often called upon to teach people of such varying fitness levels and skills that all-welcoming all-levels drop-in classes may well have reached the limits of their usefulness.
However, when compared to the injury rates for other physical activities, yoga turns out to be comparatively safer. And, as Dr. Timothy McCall has repeatedly pointed out, the claims linking yoga to stroke risk, upon close examination, are based on insinuations with no foundation in actual scientific data.
Even the strongest critical voices in this debate, including William Broad himself, all agree that the benefits of yoga far outweigh the downsides. But that point, for the most part, is made in a cautious ending paragraph tucked at bottom of a long article delineating the perils of yoga, and hence, all too easily overlooked in the clamor of sensationalist claims.
The upshot easily becomes that what will linger in our collective chit is that yoga may be great, but it can also be ‘dangerous.’ Obviously, this such a lingering misperception would keep millions of people, who could otherwise have benefitted from the practice, from ever entering a yoga studio. And that would be a profound shame.
This is why it’s so important for yoga teachers and yoga lovers to familiarize themselves with the key arguments of this debate and speak up when they can. In the telesummit on Yoga Injuries: Facts and Ficition, we attempted to highlight some of the key facts that are known about yoga injuries, while also taking a look at some of the very real issues facing the teaching of yoga as a profession.
With leading yoga teachers like Judith Hanson Lasater, P.T., Ph.D., Roger Cole, Jason Crandell, Tias Little, Leslie Kaminoff, Ellen Saltonstall, Julie Gudmestad, P.T., Peggy Cappy, and medical authorities like Dr. Timothy McCall, Dr. Timothy McCall, and Dr. Baxter Bell, and many others, the telesummit contained a wealth of useful information, both on the reality of yoga injuries (and how to avoid every incurring any), as well as the teaching of yoga. We were very pleased to see the telesummit getting covered in leading yoga blogs like Yogadork.com, YogaforHealthyAging.com, It’sAllYogaBaby.com, Elephant Journal, as well as the Huffington Post.
But you too can help spread the word. If you haven’t yet had a chance to, download our free report: Yoga Injuries—The Story the Number Tells. The report takes an in-depth look at the key claims made about yoga injuries and the data, or rather the lack thereof, backing them up. Download, read, and whenever you get a chance, speak up to get the word out.