William Broad has done it again. He’s ruffling the feathers of yogis with another article in the New York Times.
Directly after his first article, “Can Yoga Wreck Your Body?,” I attended a yoga conference quaking with reactions. The piece catapulted his book into the spotlight and sparked important discussions about the safety of yoga. The book presents extensive research into the promises of yoga, lengthy interviews with my teacher, Glenn Black, and controversial analysis.
With genius PR, Broad has returned with another New York Times article warning the women of yoga against the dangers of hypermobility. I appreciate his flair for raising the cortisol of yogis and this important issue.
I regularly notice very flexible women who love to stretch. Just last week, I talked with a seasoned yogini making the case for why she couldn’t do strength training. She didn’t want to bulk up and said she has a weak back. After dedicating years to a physical practice, shouldn’t she be more confident of her strength? I suggested that skillfully picking up heavy stuff a few times a week may be just what she needs.
It feels blasphemous to say but yoga is not the end-all, be-all savior. Diehards may balk: isn’t flexibility supposed to be good for us? Well, it appears to have it’s own complications. Speaking for myself, asana has never been a complete exercise program. Isometric poses or the engrained grooves of vinyasa don’t provide me with a balanced movement diet.
Generally, flexibility training is about convincing our muscles to lengthen. For many dudes this means grunting and desperately reaching for their toes while the woman on the next mat over flops her hands to the floor. I’d say that bendy girl often lacks the equivalent muscular contraction in her hamstrings, glutes, and entire posterior chain.
In both my fitness training and group classes I focus on movement competency: the marriage of mobility and stability. Mobility builds the suppleness of the joints for full, pain-free range of motion. Stability, as pioneering physical therapist Gray Cook, says is “the frictionless platform to build strength.” A perfect example of fluid strength is the basic “ass to the grass” squat. I emphasize these types of patterns instead of contorting into Gumpy-esque feats of flexibility. Being able to fold yourself into a pretzel doesn’t seem very useful if you can’t safely lift a small child or walk up a few flights of stairs without getting winded.
The yogic path offers more than posing. Pranayama (breathing exercises) opens a window into our nervous system and meditation is a doorway to our consciousness. A yogic approach uncovers our delusions. This may include a blinding love affair with asana.
As I’ve suggested before, the yoga girls might consider swapping with the veiny necked guys in the weight room. The bias of our morphology often dictates our exercise choices and exaggerates our myopia. A full practice includes what comes easily (love me some backbends) and what sucks (damn pull-ups.)
Asana is one of many healing modalities but mindful breathing and movement are not limited to the purview of yoga. We yogis don’t own this exploding marketplace of movement medicine. Sometimes I see the glass half empty: a Wild West of half-baked, self-appointed experts inflicting all sorts of danger moves on the general public. But I prefer the half full version: a renaissance of cross pollination not yet mired in regulation.
Hypokinetic disease is my favorite first world problem. So I’m thrilled to work in a wide community of passionate movement educators creatively facing our sedentary quagmire. The feisty debates that Broad sparks are all part of the fun. Yoga serves as my lens and hopefully not a blinder.