Lately there has been alot of press on yoga and how it can “Wreck Your Body” or warning on the “The Perils of Yoga for Men” and telling scary stories of people who have suffered dislocations of the knee, torn cartilage, even strokes as the result of a yoga pose gone bad.
As a (part-time) yoga teacher, I’ve had friends/family come me with these concerns-mainly “Will yoga hurt me?????” And, my honest answer has to be “It COULD……”
Sounds depressing, doesn’t it? That the practice which I love and which has changed my life could, admittedly, hurt someone. In fact, ALL of the activities that I love (yoga, running, hula hooping,fire spinning-hell, even walking down the street) -ALL could hurt someone. Any activity entered into mindlessly, especially where movement of the body is concerned, has an element of risk.
So, what to do? Do I allow the people I love to be scared off of yoga? Should I advise my dad (who has had multiple back surgeries) or my overweight aunt to steer clear??
In addition to being a yogi-I am a Burner. And, within the 10 Principles of Burning Man-there lies the answer.
Burning Man is a festival held yearly where 60,000 people make their pilgramage into the Black Rock Desert-an ancient lake bed which offers harsh, desert conditions. On Burning Man’s site it states “Weather on the Playa is often violent and unpredictable. Dust storms, high winds, freezing temperatures, rain — Burning Man has seen each of these at various times.” To be prepared, one must pack for extreme heat in the day and cold at night and ensure to pack 1.5-3 gallons of water to drink PER DAY or become dehydrated. Add in the additional risk of sharp objects everywhere (tent stakes, generators, climbable art projects) and the party element (which may or may not include alcohol and drugs) and you’ve got a situation ripe for injury
So, how to get 60,000 people through these conditions with the least amount of casualty?
Luckily, Burners are very smart people and the organizers put together 10 Principles of Burning Man to help acclimate the newbie to what’s expected. Burning Man Org realizes that to enter into this risk -just like entering into any other risk-you’ve gotta haves some ground rules to keep things safe. One of which being:
“Burning Man encourages the individual to discover, exercise and rely on his or her inner resources.”
Ironically, yoga has the same type of guidance.
The ‘asana‘ that we Westerner’s consider to be yoga is just one part of the 8 Limbs of Yoga created by Patanjali. In this model, before you embark into asana practice you should build a good foundation built upon moral restraints. The very first of those is Ahimsa which means “non-harming” or “non-violence”.
Patanjali was a smart guy: he realized that you cannot begin any sort of physical or spiritual practice without first committing to a practice of non-harming and that begins with YOU. He realized that to be of service to others that you must commit to taking care of yourself-FIRST. This sets the foundation of a vigorous physical practice where it’s necessary to know your boundaries, be truthful with your limits and check your ego at the door. When you stop and LISTEN to what your body is telling you, then you are respecting your body in a manner that is non-violent and non-harming. (Believe me, my body will speak to be in 4 letter words to get its point across!)
The point of yoga is to find that union, that place where you recognize yourself as Divine and others divinity as well. Coming from that space, you will naturally treat you and those around you better and form a strong community of empowered, enlightened beings who enter into new experiences with a healthy sense of Self.
Yoga is a beautiful practice that does carry some risk (as do most experiences in life). But, if you enter into it with Self-Reliance and a state of Non-Harming, it can lead to deep transformation that goes way beyond stretching.
Sounds pretty Radical, doesn’t it?