Thursday, January 9, 2014

9:47 PM
Note: No Pressure on the Neck is a Good Thing
Today, over a lunch of vegetarian Udon noodle soup (I only mention it because it was my first ever and especially delicious), I finished reading William Broad's book call the Science of Yoga: The Risks and Rewards. I heard William Broad interviewed on NPR several months ago, but even that in-depth interview only touched on a few of the many topics presented in this exceptionally well-researched and accessibly written book that details the history of yoga and presents the science that has either proven or debunked many of the claims that have been made about yoga and yoga practitioners through the ages. A few of those that particularly stood out to me as are summarized below:
  • Yogic breathing does not increase level of oxygen in your body. Your body's consumption of oxygen does go up and down, but in relation to muscle activity, metabolism and heart rate - not breathing styles.
  • Yoga is extremely effective at reducing stress (and all the nasty side-effects), depression, and lowering the risk of a broad range of cardio-vascular and other diseases.
  • Yoga can minimize the negative impacts of aging. The physical benefits include increasing strength, less deterioration of the disks that lie between the spinal vertebrae, and increased flexibility and balance. Most amazing are the psychological and cellular level benefits - including increased levels of telomerase.
  • Practicing yoga in absence of any other type of exercise is not sufficient to achieve cardiovascular fitness (i.e., a typical yoga session does not meet the minimal aerobic recommendations of the world's health bodies).
  • Because yoga causes your bodies metabolism to slow, it actually "creates a propensity for weight gain and fat deposition".
  • Yoga injuries are pervasive, serious and sometimes even deadly.
  • Because it lowers stress and causes increases in testosterone production, yoga can greatly increase sexuality and arousal (as opposed to vegetarianism and running, which reduce testosterone).
  • Kundalini is some crazy stuff.
  • My favorite pose, shavasana, is also one of the most beneficial.
I strongly encourage people who do or dabble in yoga to read Broad's book, especially the chapters related to injury risks. Broad argues that the unregulated training and teaching and ego-driven nature of the classes that we attend have resulted in the less-than-mindful and poorly-informed practice of yoga that too often results in injury. I have often cringed in classes hearing certain instruction from teachers lock out your knees, pull harder, push it! and have too often witnessed the casualties of those kinds of teachings (e.g., the pulled groin of a man in the class I attended last night). For those of you not willing to read the book, a NYT article by Broad entitled How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body, covers some of the key points, especially related to potential injuries.

Both reading Broad's book and articles, and talking to Michaelle Edwards, founder of YogAlign, have made me even more committed to listening to my body, not the teacher or my ego while practicing yoga. Bottom line, if a pose doesn't feel good for your body, you should always feel fully empowered to back off, adjust or just rest. A good instructor should recognize what is appropriate for you as a student and should never, EVER chastise or force you into anything that pushes you beyond what your body or mind are ready for. A gentle nudge to teeter on the edge is okay - as long as you know how far the fall will be.

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